By Davina Tham
Imagine sleeping ten hours a night, watching TV and movies all day, and getting friends to pay for all your meals. Most people would call this heaven. But for Mahmudul Hasan, this was a lifestyle wracked with anxiety and frustration, waiting for the work and the salary he was promised but never came.
“I am angry,” he intones. “One dollar also no send money Bangladesh.”
“Everyday sleeping in dormitory,” he says, when asked what he has been doing to occupy himself during these aimless days. “Evening time go jalan-jalan,” using the colloquial term for ambling about aimlessly.
Two months and two weeks after his arrival in March, having not worked a day or received a cent of salary, Mahmud decided to take his case to the Ministry of Manpower.
During that time, Mahmud’s employer had been trying to placate Mahmud and the other inactive workers by making empty excuses and promises. Asked whether he had gotten any projects that would give the men work, “Boss say, ‘Coming, okay, just give!’”
Another day, with still no sign of work, “Boss say, ‘I no give job, okay, I give makan money and everything!’ But no give.” Makan money is the local creole to mean money for food.
Lack of work aside, it is the withholding of any salary that has caused trouble for Mahmud. In fact, this constitutes an infringement of work permit regulations by his employer. The Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations state that “the employer shall, regardless of whether there is actual work for the foreign employee . . . pay the foreign employee no less than the basic salary amount declared in the application for a work permit”.
The in-principle approval for Mahmud’s work permit stipulated a monthly salary of $650. This amount, and not makan money (which he didn’t get anyway despite promises), is what he is entitled to receive every month, even when he has not been assigned work.
For Mahmud, not receiving his salary means that he currently does not have the means to pay for his own food and other expenses. Looking embarrassed, he tells us that he has become dependent on his friends to buy food for him. “After boss salary give, I give back,” he describes his initial intention to repay his friends, based on the expectation that his employer would soon be able to pay him.
But the drought in work and income lasted much longer than expected, and Mahmud has had no choice but to lodge an official complaint. Having done so, he can only rely on TWC2 and the dwindling goodwill of friends just to be able to eat.
Mahmud, whose family owns a farm in Bangladesh, had reinvested the savings from his previous stint in Singapore to come back here again. “I am [from] Bangladesh, I am poor,” he says matter-of-factly, explaining why he decided to come here to work. His intention this time was to earn enough to expand his family’s farm.
But this plan has been derailed and more than two months of Mahmud’s time — time he could have used for gainful employment somewhere else — wasted, because of his employer’s criminal disregard of the regulations. Mahmud’s plight here adds to his worries about his family back home. “Singapore also my problem, Bangladesh also my family problem,” he says exasperatedly.
For now, Mahmud continues to go back to Ministry of Manpower to enquire into the status of his claim every week. After months of being forced to live in an idle and penniless state, the only thing he can do now is to hope for his case to be resolved quickly.