When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, it seemed like one of the rare events that affected everyone in the same way. It was democratic, in a sense: it changed everyone's lives, and couldn’t discriminate between its victims… or so it seemed.
Across many countries, the true inequity of the pandemic was only revealed months later. While we were all vulnerable to serious illnesses, losing loved ones, prolonged anxiety and economic distress, some of us were better able to isolate ourselves than others, as well as access healthcare, work remotely, and spend time with loved ones.
Across the world, one community that was disproportionately affected by the virus was migrant workers. In Singapore, the asymmetrical impact of the pandemic on migrant workers, including more than 300,000 construction and shipyard workers from neighbouring countries, caught our attention when the COVID-19 virus ran rampant throughout crowded dormitories in April 2020.
The inability to isolate themselves made these foreign labourers more exposed than most. And whether or not they did contract the virus, there were other challenges such as being subject to significant restrictions on their movement and obtaining appropriate mental healthcare throughout this highly distressing episode.
Much was done to address some of their challenges. Many started campaigns online to raise donations to support these workers. Meanwhile, volunteers also banded together to donate food and clothing to them. Alongside long-established organisations in this area, many members of the public also advocated for improved conditions for these workers.
At the same time, the Government paid close attention to the community, ensuring that most of the community was vaccinated early, establishing dedicated health care centres and relooking dormitory standards, amongst other things.
Nevertheless, many challenges remain for the community. Aside from the many restrictions still in place on their movement, deep seated structural issues also mean that many migrant workers will continue to be marginalised, working for low wages, struggling to negotiate fairly with their employers and living in significantly more cramped conditions than the average Singaporean.
A year and a half after the pandemic began, it is timely to revisit some of the challenges facing the community and to ask ourselves what more can be done to help them.
At Impact Films, we hope to provide a platform for different voices exploring such issues. We have partnered with *SCAPE’s National Youth Film Awards (NYFA), which has been a launchpad for up-and-coming young filmmakers in Singapore since 2015. Together, we have curated a deepdive into the issue featuring three short films by local filmmakers: Invisible Voices by Liu Longhao; Bangla by Nelia Phoon; and Kasih Sayang Untuk Layla by Nur Munawarah.
These films are from the NYFA Selection, and showcase the life of migrant workers from the perspective of a young and financially successful Singaporean; a snapshot of an injured migrant worker moonlighting at a struggling hawker stall; and the longing of a daughter ‘back home’ when her mother goes to work in Singapore. The humanity, thoughtfulness, and cinematography of these films made them perfect fits for our event.
For this edition of our short film social, we'll be showing films related to the challenges faced by migrant workers in Singapore. Please visit https://www.scape.sg/event/short-film-wpmw/ to register!
For this edition of our short film social, we'll be partnering with HOME, a local nonprofit that seeks to empower and provide support to migrant workers in Singapore. To learn more about their work, please visit https://www.home.org.sg/
We'll be sourcing our films from the rich library of films that have premiered at the National Youth Film Awards that highlight the challenges faced by migrant workers. To learn more about the awards and NYFA's initiatives, please visit https://www.scape.sg/me/nyfa/