'I'm worried about getting Covid-19, but there's no choice': A migrant worker on moving to Singapore during the pandemic

Like most people living with the pandemic in the past two years, Soe Lin Aung is worried about getting Covid-19.

The 34-year-old Myanmar national is also concerned about leaving his wife and three-year-old son behind while infection rates continue to spike worldwide.

But speaking to AsiaOne from a hotel room in Myanmar in February, Soe says that hardship and few job opportunities in his home country has led to his decision to seek a better life elsewhere.

Soe says: "I have no choice but to work abroad.

"What will my son know? He'll just play and eat [as per usual]. But my wife is sad that our family will be separated."

PHOTO: Soe Lin Aung

Soe flew to Singapore on March 1.

Describing his feelings of moving abroad for the first time, Soe says: "Time is running out for me to say goodbye. I'll see them in time [to come].

"I'll definitely miss home, but I can always chat with my friends and family online."

How migrant workers make their way to Singapore during the pandemic

PHOTO: Soilbuild Construction Group Ltd

To prevent the transmission of Covid-19, additional steps are set in place when bringing migrant workers to Singapore, shares Toh Yiqiang, a spokesperson from Soilbuild Construction Group Ltd who is a service provider for the pre-departure preparatory programme to bring in migrant workers from Myanmar.

In Soe's case, he was quarantined in Myanmar for seven days and given two antigen rapid tests (ART) and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. After this 'bubble-wrap' process, he still had to be Covid-19 negative before he was allowed to board a chartered flight to Singapore.

Migrant workers on a charted flight to Singapore. PHOTO: Soilbuild Construction Group Ltd

While Soe is counting down daily until the end of his quarantine, he said that he is grateful for being given the opportunity to work abroad despite the travel restrictions.

Upon arrival in Singapore, Soe headed to an Onboard centre to complete a seven-day settling-in programme and medical examination.

"It feels like a vacation now," says Soe, adding that he's been spending his downtime watching television and listening to music.

"The hotel staff are friendly and helpful. Everything is fine with quarantine, even the [Covid-19] tests," he adds.

Despite the language barrier, Soe is not concerned with how migrant workers like him are treated here.

He shares: "I know that Singaporeans are friendly people and we'll get along with each other well."

After his 'vacation' is over, Soe vows to "work hard and provide a better life for my family".

"After five years, I will return to my family. Until then, I will try to make them happy [from Singapore]."

Soe Lin Aung (centre) with his family. PHOTO: Soe Lin Aung

With housing project delays rampant as of late due to the pandemic, the authorities are finding ways and means to fill this manpower shortage with people like Soe.

"Through a 'bubble-wrap' programme like this, we are able to bring in workers in a safe and organised manner while helping to solve the manpower crunch issue for the construction industry," shares Toh.

With effect from March 13, migrant workers will undergo a shorter two-day pre-departure preparatory programme in their countries before flying to Singapore.

Their settling-in programme at an Onboard centre in Singapore is also reduced to three days.

This article is brought to you in partnership with Soilbuild Construction Group Ltd.

chingshijie@asiaone.com

The programme attended by Soe was part of an industry-led end-to-end-process initiative to serve the Construction, Marine and Process (CMP) sector by implementing health protocols such as quarantine and pre-departure testing at the source country before migrant workers are brought into Singapore.

This arrangement helps to maintain a steady flow of workers even when travel restrictions were imposed. When the source countries experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases, it was observed that there is a remarkable reduction in import cases for travellers under the industry-led initiative.

It was announced via a joint circular issued by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on March 6 that from March 13, the industry-led process will be streamlined into a shorter two-day pre-departure preparatory programme (PDPP) in the source countries. This is targeted to help the CMP sectors accelerate the entry of necessary workers for ongoing projects and alleviate the labour shortage that the sectors have faced over the past year as the Covid-19 situation improves.

The PDPP will adopt the health protocols (e.g. pre-departure testing) developed under the industry-led initiative. The PDPP is intended to be the main channel for new CMP WPHs going forward and will enhance the resilience of the CMP sectors. In the event a new variant of concern emerges, the CMP sectors would be able to tap on these established protocols to maintain inflow of workers to guard against manpower shortage concerns due to border measures. The duration of the PDPP is intended to be flexible, in line with the global situation for Covid-19. On arrival in Singapore, workers who undergo PDPP will be subject to shorter onboarding regime of three days at the MOM Onboard centres in Singapore. This is shorter than the current duration of up to nine days.