Rancid food on the menu for foreign workers

by Hannah Norton20 Mar 2015

Employee catering has come under the spotlight again after foreign workers’ horror stories of rancid, foul-smelling food and gastronomical problems.

And one Singaporean catering company has acknowledged the problem within the industry.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore and non-government organisation Health Serve doing an on-going study of the nutrition levels of meals catered for foreign workers, by way of interviews and focus groups with around 60 Bangladeshi workers living in the Tai Seng area.

The workers claim their meals– usually rice and tinned meat or curry – are often delivered hours in advance.

“Breakfasts and lunches are delivered to workers’ dormitories as early as 6am. By lunch time, the food smells rancid,” said Mr Manishankar Prasad, a researcher from NUS’ Centre for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation.

The meals are also sorely lacking in nutrition value, and some workers often complain of stomach problems, he told TODAY.

Workers interviewed by TODAY said that it is too expensive for them to buy their own meals, and too hard for them to cook given the long hours and lack of cooking facilities.

Aysha Catering has acknowledged to the claims, saying in a statement that the article in TODAY “highlighted many valid points about the foreign workers catering industry, and the cost and quality implication faced by our clients”.

“We work very closely with all our clients to ensure that their workforce are properly fed with quality highly-nutritious food at a reasonable cost.”

Penta Ocean construction deputy general manager told TODAY that his firm generally delivers food to work sites an hour before meal breaks, as well as having areas set-up on site where workers can cook.

The complaint of poor nutrition for foreign workers is not a new one. 

In October last year, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) case work director Valli Pillai told The Straits Times that as many as eight in 10 foreign domestic workers who seek help from the organisation do not get enough food.

Last year, reports of foreign workers needing assistance with food and shelter prompted the Ministry of Manpower’s divisional director for Foreign Manpower Management, Kevin Teoh, to hold employers to account to house and feed their workers, even if they have cancelled their work permits.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza, who has spoken up for foreign workers’ welfare in Parliament, hopes the situation can be addressed. 

“I hope the workers who give up much to support their families in their hometowns will be provided healthy meals to sustain them through a hard day’s work,” he said.

The Singapore Government’s Health Promotion Board’s website encourages employers to get involved with employees healthy eating.

“Healthy employees are an asset. And one of the keys to having healthy employees is that they eat right,” it said.

“Like the fable, keep your golden goose healthy. Feed them right.”

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