20 November 2013, Wednesday
Through the course of the day, about four groups of men come in, until the total reaches about forty. Our main room and social workers’ room have no more walking space. We’ve run out of chairs and some men are sitting on the floor.
Similar to what we did yesterday, EZ-Link cards are collected and topped up.
A donor and well-wisher has an appointment with TWC2 president Russell Heng today. Russell finds a corner where they can have their meeting, squeezed between a wall cabinet and a desk, but our visitor has to step over workers to make her way in. We wonder what she’s thinking of us.
Like yesterday, Karno conducts a class on how to calculate overtime pay, at least twice — because more workers keep streaming in. Having mastered the formula, the workers then find quieter corners where they can compute their owed amounts, using template sheets provided by TWC2. Meanwhile our photocopier is in high demand as one after another wants his documents duplicated.
Snacks are distributed to keep their blood sugar level up. Our water fountain is empty and the big bottle of drinking water has to be replaced.
Straits Times’ reporter comes
Amelia Tan from the Straits Times and a photographer arrives and spends an hour or so speaking with workers while the photographer takes pictures. She tries to pin down the total number of workers involved. Another effort is made to tally up and the new total is “around 90”. Yesterday, it was “around 70”.
Earlier today, Amelia shares with us the fact that Menton Technologies Pte Ltd has appeared in the news before. Social worker Kenneth does a quick websearch and finds an article dated 12 July 2013 which reported that the company owed about three months’ salaries and “was ordered by the Ministry of Manpower to pay the money to 112 employees.” The total amounted to “more than $300,000”.
Since we know that the workers were eventually paid their basic salaries (but not overtime) for April, May and June, Menton must have found the cash to do so. The article however does not detail how.
Housing crisis for over 30 workers in Geylang
The Geylang housing situation reaches a head. About twenty from this group are here at TWC2 today — most coming after the Straits Times has left — so we hear first-hand from them what is going on. Based on the landlord’s instructions, they have packed their bags and moved them out of their rooms this morning. They don’t know where they will sleep tonight.
TWC2 contacts MOM again and learns that the employer has found a new dorm to house the Geylang men. The company lorry will come by in the late afternoon to pick up the men from our office to take them there. TWC2 asks MOM: What abut meals? Will the employer also provide meals at the new dorm?
MOM promises that this will be ensured.
We tell the men the news, and discover that there is concern about getting into the lorry. What if the lorry heads straight to Changi airport and they are forced to fly home tonight? [See footnote 1]
We point to a section in our Bangla-language information leaflet — each man has been given one — which advises them what to do should they be summarily sent to the airport. We also point out our telephone number on the leaflet. But above all, we assure them that so far, their boss has shown himself to be quite reasonable, and he is very unlikely to resort to such means. In any case, with MOM and TWC2 on the case, no boss will even try. (Which is not true. Bosses have been known to use strong-armed repatriation agents to capture and send workers home even when a case has been lodged at MOM, but we feel it may be wiser to deploy a white lie to reassure the men here with us.)
The situation changes by the hour. News soon comes that there is no new dorm after all. The men will go back to the same shophouses tonight. Their boss has paid up his rent arrears.
We wait for the lorry, but there’s no sign of it. It’s 6 pm. Social worker Kenneth Soh calls MOM and tells them we can’t wait any longer as the men are desperately hungry. Instead, we’ll take the entire group to our soup kitchen in Little India, about 25 minutes’ walk away.
But just as we’re about to march off, the lorry is spotted. After some internal discussion, the Geylang men decide to get into the vehicle and find their own dinner tonight in Geylang. Only the Toh Guan group carry on to the soup kitchen, where each gets a large mound of rice, fish, dhal, free flow of curry gravy and an apple.
This is not paranoia speaking. Every month or so, TWC2 hears of such an attempt by employers. How many other workers have been bundled home without salary by underhand means, such that we don’t even know of those cases, we can hardly tell. Menton workers would have heard of cases involving their friends. Their anxiety about their own fate is well-founded.