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By Joyce Wong
Pitchai Murugesan rolls up his right sleeve and shows us a long surgical scar running from his upper arm down to below the elbow. I estimate it to about 20-30cm long. He has suffered nerve damage: his little finger stays bent and he has difficulties exerting strength in his grip. Occasionally, he feels pain in the elbow.
Through Balam, a volunteer with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) acting as translator (Murugesan can barely communicate in English), we hear a story of a medical report allegedly misrepresenting the cause of the injury. In TWC2’s experience, this is getting increasingly common, and causing much hardship to workers when they claim work injury compensation.
Why might employers do this? See The difference WICA makes.
Murugesan has been told that he needs another operation to fix the nerves in his arm, but whether the employer will pay for this is uncertain given the dispute about the facts. His lawyer has informed him that in his medical report it is written the accident occurred in his dormitory. Murugesan says this is not true: it happened at work around 9:30 or 10 in the morning.
Murugesan recalls that when he was in the hospital, two ethnic-Indian nurses asked him about the accident in Tamil and they recorded something in a folder. Balam has tried to ask for that information during his review, but the doctor told her that the Manpower ministry (MOM) would need to write in to the hospital for it. “Without that information, it is hard to prove his case,” she says.
TWC2 views the hospital’s response as contrary to an important principle: patients should have the right to access their own records.
Two months ago, MOM asked him if he fell in the dormitory and if there were any eyewitnesses, Murugesan tells us that the dorm’s CCTV would have recorded that he left for work that morning around 8am in good shape. “Camera in dormitory. Left…morning… [carrying] workbag,” he continues earnestly.
So will MOM look at the CCTV recording and the records of the nurses? Will they also talk to the Indian driver who drove him to hospital from the worksite? I ask Balam but she can’t offer an answer.
After the interview with Murugesan, I speak to Debbie Fordyce, an Exco member of TWC2 about this case. She thinks it may be difficult for him to prove his case since the doctor wrote he fell in the dormitory and the driver who explained to the doctor about the accident has since left the company. Besides, the worker who was supposed to hold the ladder for him has returned to India. “What about the CCTV?” I ask. Often the workers involved in such cases mention the CCTV. Unfortunately, they have no access to the recordings, Debbie answers.
So what is Murugesan’s account of events that day, 7 June 2013?
Murugesan says he was at the worksite soon after 8am and was told to go to the second floor to join sensor wires inside the ceiling space. He stood atop a ladder with his head and shoulders poking through a hole in the ceiling. Another worker was to hold the ladder for him. But when he was done, he looked down from the ceiling and no one was around. The next moment, he fell and his right elbow landed on the ladder. He felt his elbow come off and his hand hanging loose. In great pain, he called out to his supervisor and the said worker.
They helped him to the company lorry and the driver took him to a clinic in Geylang. The doctor gave him a tablet and a referral letter to Tan Tock Seng Hospital emergency unit. His manager joined them at the hospital and they waited till around 11:30am when his name was called.
According to Murugesan, after the x-ray, the doctor said something to him which he could not understand. So the doctor turned to the driver and his manager and they started conversing in English and Mandarin. Then, he saw his manager call his boss and passed the phone to the doctor. They talked for a while over the phone. Confused, Murugesan asked the driver what they were talking about all this while. The driver replied, “No problem. They talking about surgery.”
Murugesan was warded. Three days later, he had an operation and was discharged a day later with seven months’ medical leave and a letter for subsequent reviews.
For five months, he rested in his dormitory. Then one day, his boss told him they would not pay his subsequent medical bills. Worried about being summarily repatriated and denied further treatment, he engaged a lawyer and came to TWC2 for help. And learnt that he has an even more fundamental problem: That MOM wants him to prove that the accident happened at work in the first place.
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