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Asad is the man above. The picture on the left was taken in August 2011 before he left Singapore; even then he was slim, around 60 kg. The picture on the right was taken in March 2012, seven months later. He had lost 13 kg and looked ten years older.
While in Singapore, he was part of the project providing the air conditioning at the wave-like building at Gardens by the Bay. “That building so many rooms inside, one thousand room I think, [or] over.” Unlike the case with most other foreign workers in Singapore, no company transport was provided, he told Transient Workers Count Too. Instead, he would ride the MRT to Marina Bay Station, and use his bicycle from there to the worksite. One morning in early May 2011, as he was coming around a bend in the road, a lorry came from behind and hit him. His right foot was crushed.
And this is where a quirk in the law comes in. An accident while a worker is inside a vehicle provided by his employer is considered a workplace injury, but not if the worker isn’t in one. Thus, had Asad been provided transportation by the company, he would have been covered under MOM’s W0rk Injury Compensation Act (WICA). Because the company didn’t offer transportation to work and told him to get there on his own, he wasn’t covered. One might take issue with the apparent unfairness of the WICA including transportation accidents when the company is generous and able to provide it, but not when the worker must make his own way to the worksite. But that’s another issue.
Both his mother and father have passed away. He had borrowed money from his six brothers to go to Singapore to work. They might have given him the money outright, but they loaned it to him and they’re now asking for him to pay them back. He was able to return 2.5 lakh of the 3 lakh ($4,600 at the present rate) he owes, so is still under pressure from his brothers to repay the rest. They assume that everyone who goes abroad comes back wealthy so can’t believe that he can’t pay back the money. After his accident and he stopped sending money, they felt further justified in their suspicions that he was hoarding money to avoid repayment.
This is a problem often faced by injured men. They hold back the bad news of an accident not only to spare their family the heart-wrenching news of an accident in a foreign country where family isn’t able to provide love and support, but also to conceal the troubling information that the salary will no longer be forthcoming. When debts are still owed, the creditors can be unforgiving.
Asad worked eleven months prior to the accident.
An ambulance was called and he was warded in Singapore General Hospital for a month and eight days. The initial hospital bill came to $22,000. Diagnosis: right ankle open trimalleolar fracture dislocation. The employer is responsible for this cost, as hospitalization and medical treatment must be borne by the employer. But that still left medical leave wages and permanent injury compensation excluded, meaning that he had to go home empty-handed.
At least he had received his salary every month while he was working though was never asked to sign any salary slips until after the accident. It was only when the Ministry of Manpower wanted to know if he’d received his full salary when they reviewed the accident report that the employer, needing to prove it, had him sign all the papers during his recuperation. He had earned $1,600 a month the last two months he’d worked due to the long overtime hours. Every other day in May and April 2011 he worked 24 hours at a stretch (this 24 hours included a mere 4 hours of rest).
Did the punishing schedule lead to such fatigue that it contributed to the accident? In that case, how does one say that the company has no liability?
The employer wanted to send him home after his first operation, but fortunately, one of his doctors passed a note to the main doctor saying: “. . . kindly provide a memo for the patient for extension of stay in Singapore. Memo is to be submitted to MOM and has to indicate that patient is not fit for travel hence, needing to stay until the removal of screws is done.” Some of the screws were removed, but the internal fixation remains in place. He received excellent care at Singapore General Hospital.
Asad returned to Bangladesh on 22 August 2011.
He still has problems with his leg. It swells, and torments him, compelling him to take pain medication every day. This past winter was so cold that with the metal implants the pain was almost unbearable. He would ask his wife to massage the leg with mustard oil, which helps to alleviate the pain for a short while.
When he went to the doctor in his village, she said that the metal implants in his leg made the situation too complicated for her, and she didn’t want to treat him. She recommended that he go to the Dhaka Orthopedic Hospital. But he can’t do that without money.
He had a small amount of money when he left Singapore, but this was all used to repay loans to friends who had helped him while he was being treated.
Now he works in the family’s rice fields, or rather pays other men to work. He can’t get his feet wet because of the problems it cases his bad leg. His family cultivates about 1,300 square metres (0.13 hectare) and gives part of the harvest to the man who owns the pump that brings water to the fields. The rice he grows is enough to feed him and his wife and some of his other family members for ten to eleven months of the year.
His Singapore lawyer is preparing to sue the owner of the lorry that hit him. There’s a good chance of success, but Asad may still be too optimistic. He’s got his mind set on an asking settlement that could be far from the actual amount eventually awarded.
TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our