Amran Hossain returned to Bangladesh on 4 Oct 2012, still with a limp, but empty-handed. He did not receive the work injury compensation that was due to him. His experience in Singapore almost broke his spirit.
He had come in January 2009 as a construction worker, worked 23 months, but fractured his lower right leg in December 2010. The compensation case dragged on and on — for 21 months to be exact — finally resulting in a work injury compensation award of $15,200. But it was only a piece of paper; no money was paid to him. He learnt that the company had failed to purchase insurance, a requirement that must have been overlooked when the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) issued his work permit, even though insurance is a mandatory requirement.
He relied on his lawyer to pursue the matter, but eventually got so frustrated by inaction on his lawyer’s part, he discharged him.
Then MOM told him that since he had been “awarded” the injury compensation, his case would be closed and he had to go back to Bangladesh. He was distraught. His only consolation and last flicker of hope was TWC2’s promise to do our best to obtain payment for him.
TWC2 Cuff Road Project Co-ordinator Debbie Fordyce met him in Bangladesh in March 2013, six months after his return. This is what he shared with her:
Since I came home I’ve been thinking of starting a business, any kind of general store, maybe tiles and ceramics or sanitary fixtures. These days people are constructing new buildings and they like to use tiles and modern sanitary fixtures. But the problem is capital. I’d need about 30 or 40 lakh (S$47-$63 thousand) to start a business like that.
Another plan is farming. I could start a small dairy farm if I had enough money. One cow costs 50,000 taka (S$800). Previously I had a plan to buy 10 cows, which would be provide enough milk to manage my family. Now I can’t think what I should do. I have this S$5,000 but if I bought a piece of land and built a shelter for the cows, I’d only have enough money left for one cow. If I wanted to buy a general store I would need the full S$15,000, but now I have barely enough to buy a tea stall.
[By this point in March 2013, TWC2 had secured for him one installment payment of $5,000; more details in footnote.]
I started a computer course to study Microsoft Word, excel, power point and paid 6,000 taka (S$95) for this 6-month course. This would equip me work as a clerk. Jobs like that need only the higher secondary school certificate and computer training, which I have, but many companies now ask for a MA degree. When I applied for this computer course, I was disappointed to see so many other applicants. Many of them are able to draw on connections for these jobs. It seems to me there are three types of qualifications you need for these jobs.
1) higher education
‘Hello’ means that you have some relation to a higher official or powerful people, minister or MP. Money of course means bribes. My family is a poor family so we don’t have the money. I don’t even have one of these qualifications.
When I think about taking up a business, I cannot think only about myself: I have to think about my father and mother, and one day my wife and children. I have to establish a foundation before I start a family. Without being able to support myself, how can I take care of other people?
Now I’m eating another man’s food. My older brother works as an engineer and he supports me. I live in his house and sleep in the front room. If guests come then I transfer to another room and sleep on the floor. But after my mother is gone then my brother’s wife may ask why I’m staying with them. Our relationship has been fine so far, which is why they let me stay and haven’t asked how long I’ll be living with them.
My mother is old with diabetes and high blood pressure. She always thinks about her children. I’m the youngest and I don’t have money so she worries the most about me. Every mother thinks about her children like that. She worries about what I’ll do with my future. My brothers have money and families already, and I’m the only one who doesn’t have either.
I have to make a plan about how I’ll live. The first thing I need is to build a house. If it’s a temporary house it’d cost about 3-4 lakh (S$4700-$6300). This is one with a dirt foundation, columns made of reinforced concrete, walls and roof of corrugated tin. A better option would be to build an extension on my brother’s house. His house is concrete and strong enough to support additional floors, so I could also build a second storey on top of his house. That would take about 7 lakh (S$11,000)
After that, it depends on how much money I have left. If I have enough left, I can start a business. If I have only a little left, I can only do a simple job like till fields, take care of a few cows or raise fish. But I’m not sure if I’m fit for that sort of job. When I stand for a long time my leg gives me trouble. The house is my priority now.
In these past six months, I’ve been trying to forget all the sufferings I endured in Singapore. I read books about Bangladesh; I borrow textbooks, novels and history books from my cousins or my friends. In the late afternoon I go out and meet my friends. We play cards, sit down and talk. I share my problems with my friends, but I don’t sleep well if I think about these things before I sleep. I try to keep myself busy. If I had never had this accident I’d have made lots of money. I wonder why Allah did this to me.
Frankly, Amran isn’t the kind of person you’d expect to return to farming. His father cultivated the land, but that land was sold to enable Amran to go abroad. Amran was a sharp-looking, sharp-dressing and sharp-talking young man before he came to Singapore, and was further changed by his experiences and encounters in Singapore. His lengthy stay waiting for compensation exposed to the refinements of the modern city and to a number of Singaporeans assisting him at TWC2. He was featured on Channel News Asia and in The New Paper, and even had a chance to speak personally to Minister Tan Chuan-Jin personally about his situation — not that it did his case any good. He certainly doesn’t look or sound like the migrant worker that many people envision. And yet jobs were not to be had upon his return.
Amran’s grandfather Ali Taher Mazum was a well-respected political figure in his day, a member of the agricultural front within the Awami League. He was a freedom fighter promoting the national mother language issue at the time of independence. He’s still alive now, close to 100 years old. About his illustrious grandfather, Amran says “My grandfather believed in meritocracy and in different political parties working together, rather than the dysfunctional system of corruption we have today. He dedicated himself to the good of the country, never giving a thought about money. He has never pulled strings to get positions or advantage for his relatives. That’s why we are still poor today.”
Life is a struggle, even with the skills, the willingness, and the charm that Amran has in spades. Had he been able to work longer at his job in Singapore, or had his employer bought the work injury insurance and paid the claim, he might have had enough to envision a future in Bangladesh.
TWC2 social worker Raymond Ang worked closely with Amran’s case officer at MOM even after Amran’s return. In December 2012, MOM made it very clear to the employer that failure to honour the compensation award would be viewed very seriously. TWC2 also continued to remind the employer of the overdue payment and organised the bank channels in readiness. Finally, in March, April and May 2013, the employer Aurum Leo Pte Ltd made three payments of $5,000, $5,000 and $5,200 respectively. TWC2 remitted the money promptly to Amran.