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Post-GE2020 analyses and the still-high COVID-19 cases among migrant workers

(I've given up on issue numbers because who keeps track, anyway)

Here we are, back to our regular weekly round-ups!

Getting over that GE2020 hangover

We’re still getting over the general election, and there are, unsurprisingly, a lot of takes. There’s plenty of advice for the PAP about what they need to do to win back voters. Chan Heng Chee says the party will have to understand the youth better, Calvin Cheng says the PAP shouldn’t bother with “pseudo-Western liberals” and become the true “workers’ party” and former PAP MP Hong Hai says PAP needs to find a new governance paradigm.

Personally, I’m not sure why Singaporeans should be concerned about whether the PAP can win back voters or not. That’s the party’s problem, not ours. The rules of the political game are far more important*, so I’d like to highlight my friend Kyle’s petition calling for a commitment that funds will be given to the new Workers’ Party Sengkang GRC town council. (WP has said they’re considering setting up a new town council rather than merging it with the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.) Constituencies held by the opposition have been known to get less funding than PAP ones, which is just unfair. These funds come from public money, and shouldn’t be politicised. Signing Kyle’s petition is one way to demonstrate that Singaporeans are watching this post-GE2020, and that we care about fair play.

*Here I have to highlight the Hong Hai’s op-ed also talked about overhauling the concept of meritocracy, making the playing field more level, and ending the nonsense of making losing PAP candidates grassroots advisers in opposition constituencies. 👍🏼

For those who like data, Chua Chin Hon has a fascinating post-mortem based on Facebook traffic and activity.

Checking in with migrant workers

In April, I published a story about the outbreak of COVID-19 in migrant worker dormitories. Back then, a worker I interviewed over the phone told me that Singaporeans wouldn’t be able to stay for even 10 minutes in his hot, stuffy, crowded room.

It’s now July, and thousands of workers are still confined to their rooms. Even if you thought you had cabin fever during the lockdown, you probably still can’t imagine what it must feel like for these men.

The numbers are still in the three digits, daily, which means the authorities are still finding men who are getting infected, months after the first dorms went into quarantine. Experts say that while the government is actively clearing dorms, the number of COVID-19 cases being identified haven’t been going down as quickly as they’d expected. As of 16 July, 44,404 COVID-19 cases are dormitory residents, which means that 13.75% of all the migrant workers living in dormitories have tested positive for COVID-19. Given what we’re beginning to learn about the long-term effects of the coronavirus, many of these men could potentially end up grappling with health issues for the rest of their lives.

Migrant workers’ conditions could likely get even worse, too. This slipped under the radar during the election period, but migrant labour rights groups HOME and TWC2 have expressed objections to changes made to Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, which now say that work permit holders living in dormitories may only leave their dormitories with their employers’ consent:

The fact that this isn’t in temporary COVID-19 law also raises questions about whether this is only a temporary rule that’ll be lifted once the pandemic is over, or if this level of policing of movement is going to be a “new normal” for migrant workers. 🤬

Let’s talk race and religion

Perhaps we’ve all learnt something from the police investigation into Raeesah Khan’s Facebook posts, and the ensuing uproar. Or maybe we’ve learnt nothing at all…?

In any case, the Ministry of Education says they’re going to work on equipping their teachers with the skills to facilitate conversations on race. This sounds like a very good move, but I’m still a little sceptical about what’s going to happen, because what I’m reading in that Straits Times report I’ve linked doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that the focus is going to be on the right things.

First, we’ve got Education-Minister-until-whenever-Parliament-is-convened-and-Cabinet-reshuffled Ong Ye Kung talking about the importance of context because kids are getting “Americanised”: “We are constantly under the influence of American social media, American pop culture, but we are not American. Our histories are totally different.”

Taken at face value, there’s nothing much wrong with this. Of course context is important. But what does Ong mean when he says this? Does he mean that we can’t just import discourse on American race relations wholesale into the Singapore context (yup), or that young Singaporeans shouldn’t get to carried away because Singapore doesn’t have racism like the US does (🤨)?

Then there’s this:

In a Secondary 3 class The Straits Times observed, students discussed various scenarios and how they would respond to them.

For example, a given scenario was someone being surprised that a Malay student does well in mathematics, and complimenting the student that "you are actually really smart for a Malay".

In response, students said this was a backhanded compliment with improper tone and hurtful phrasing, as it sounded sarcastic. They discussed how they would let the person know that it could be offensive, without using aggression.

I hope that it was explained to the students that the comment in question isn’t problematic only because the tone is “improper” and the phrasing “hurtful”. I hope the teachers go into the racism inherent in that statement, and how it has real impact on Malay lives. Dismantling racism isn’t just about teaching people not to make sarcastic, backhanded compliments, but about teaching them to recognise power and privilege, and how that has real impact and consequences.

I’m also a little “hmm 🧐” about the focus on teaching people to point things out without “aggression”. Sure, it’s important to be able to engage in difficult situations without losing it completely every time, but it’s just as important to teach people to deal with conflict and disagreement even if it comes in “less palatable” forms. We need to be able to recognise that anger is sometimes an entirely valid response, and to think about why people get so angry and upset — then focus on what’s hurting them, rather than putting our own feelings and egos at the centre. If we’re getting more upset about someone saying “fuck you” than about the harm done to them that pushed them to lash out, then we’re not dealing with the issue at all.

I’d love to learn more about what this new effort to facilitate conversations about race look like. Are you a student? Or a parent? Or a teacher? Feel free to get in touch!

Activism in Crisis

Here’s a blurb from the organisers:

Activism in Crisis is a virtual festival aimed at building stronger links between environmental groups and social justice activists, drawing on the intersectional nature of the climate crisis. Building off the momentum of an unprecedented General Election, and spring-boarding from thematic and interpersonal connections created at civil society gatherings such as Apa Itu Activist?, Activism in Crisis hopes to continue developing conversations and practices that will allow us to facilitate meaningful structural change in our socio-political climate.

Registration begins today so head over to their website!

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