How WFH exposes inequality in Singapore |

by Zhiqi Wang

Work from Home, or WFH, has become one of the most popular buzzwords since the start of the Circuit Breaker in Singapore. As the nation took to working from the comfort of their homes, it exposed the extent of inequality in Singapore which is exacerbated by this restriction.

White collar vs blue collar

First, the impact exposes the divide between office and factory workers. Despite the restrictions, many office workers were able to quickly adapt to the new work environment with (mostly) lightning quick wifi and online tools with their personal laptops. The transition was painful but not undoable, with most people being able to sleep in for an hour more before turning up for virtual meetings.

However, things were different for blue collar workers – many stopped working altogether because the place they once spent the bulk of their time at has become a prohibited zone. This particularly affects people who were already paid meagre base salaries; with no work to do, some may not have enough money to cover rent and basic spending. Nowadays, many need to find alternative forms of work to support their families.

Wealth gap is highlighted

This conveniently leads to the next question of housing, which is an especially tricky issue in Singapore because of our limited land. Flats in Singapore are generally not sufficiently large enough to have space for big families, especially if multiple people share rooms.

Comparing two employees, the colleague who resides in a spacious accommodation has the absolute advantage over their counterpart in a smaller, perhaps shared room. This may reflect in the performance between the two, potentially jeopardising career opportunities for the colleague with the smaller living space.

Smaller homes do not just affect working adults, but children too. Due to the Circuit Breaker, many students have to take assessments and revise in their homes, although for some, there just no sufficient space (e.g. number of tables, rooms) to provide a conducive environment for learning.

Perhaps the worst off are the impoverished and migrant workers in Singapore. The topic of migrant workers has been abuzz recently, with loads of media exposing the conditions of their dormitories. More than 20 people live in a single room, with almost no amenities. The same crowded conditions are also present with poor families living in rental apartments, with entire families squeezed into a single-room apartment. Having a decent internet connection is a luxury, and crowded conditions can mean that residents may have to deal with pests. How can we expect children from these households to stay focused during HBL in these conditions? 

The pandemic is not an economic leveller

While the coronavirus attacks rich and poor alike, this pandemic has all but openly exposed the inequalities in Singapore. Many of the issues are swept under the carpet under normal times, but now they have surfaced to the front cover of our newspapers.

Perhaps, before we complain about how the Circuit Breaker is restricting our freedom, think about those less able to take advantage of spending more time at home. It is clear that communities need to come together to render much needed help to those less fortunate so that we may fight the virus together.