Catering To Migrant Workers – The Issues

Recent surveys have revealed that 9 out of 10 migrant workers have been given unclean and non-hygienic food by unscrupulous caterers. The study highlighted that Bangladeshi construction workers were given low-quality food and an appeal has been made to the government to fix the regulations.

Salary disputes were thought to be the biggest issues faced by migrant workers initially but from the complaints and heath incidents reported, it has been revealed that food safety is the bigger problem. Food, which is integral to health, should never be overlooked.

A research was conducted for 2 years which was by an NUS research centre and HealthServe. It highlights the major issues migrant workers encounter when it comes to catered food in Singapore.  HealthServe and CARE also had a TV commercial made along with advertisements on the MRT on this issue. A 10-minute documentary was also created to educate the public on this issue.

The Food Issues

Here are some of the issues that have been highlighted by the report and survey:

  • As per the report, the first issue was the dispute of regulations on the storage of food and the food labeling. Many of the food packets do not have labels indicating how long they can be stored. Workers got sick eating from the non-labeled packets after being stored for too long.
  • Workers reported that companies prepared food more than 12 hours prior to actually serving them allowing them to go bad.
  • Another issue was that there are a large number of unlicensed operators who are offering catering services without any accountability. They mostly work through the middlemen and hence there is no control on the food quality.
  • Even the simplest form of bread that is given to the workers is so tough that the workers complain it feels like they are eating a tyre.
  • Most of the caterers start making the food for breakfast and lunch during midnight. The food reaches the dormitories at 5 am, but the workers receive lunch at noon.

Solutions and Regulations

To reduce food waste and ensure the health of migrant workers, The National Environment Agency Regulations will have to step up on regulatory checks on food caterers providing for migrant workers. Food businesses catering Singapore migrant workers must ensure food packages now must be stamped with the following instructions:

  • Time it was cooked
  • When it should be consumed by (usually 4 hours if stored be between 5 and 60 degrees celsius)
  • Storage instructions.

The chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower suggested the idea that workers must be made aware of the practices of the Singaporean caterers. Some of the simple food migrant workers receive are nasi lemak and mee siam. They must be given the right to liaise with the catering companies directly so that they are given the opportunity to verify with the caterers themselves about the safety of the food they are going to consume. He further suggested that caterers should use food warmers that can keep the food heated at 61 degree celsius and safe for at most 4 hours. However, not many companies are willing to bear the cost of food warmers.

There are some catering companies that have already started taking action. They are now using food preparation machines to cook food and pack the veggies quickly or some have even setup canteens onsite to prepare food on the spot. This will let them prepare food at hand and the chances of storing premade food for too long will be reduced.

The dilemma is serious and it was being neglected from years. It is high time to take care of the rights of the migrant workers.

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