Junnuri Subrahmanyam’s flight was booked for the evening. He wanted a day off on his last day in Singapore so he could go downtown to buy gifts for this family. He had been working four years with Sin Hong Thai Engineering and was looking forward to going home.
But instead of being on a plane that evening, he was in a hospital.
“Actually, that day, I don’t want working,” he tells your writer. “But manager say must work. If no work, saving money no give back.” The company had been deducting $30 a month from his salary on the pretext of helping him save, he explains, but now they are using this retained money to compel him to obey. “Have one thousand dollar over,” says Junnuri about what was at stake.
Many companies that employ migrant workers fail to respect their right to annual leave as provided by the Employment Act.
Junnuri reluctantly dressed for work that morning and boarded the company lorry for a short ride to the shipyard.
Barely five minutes out of the dorm, the lorry was speeding. “120 kilometre [per] hour,” says Junnuri, who was in the front passenger seat. Ahead were another lorry and a bus, stationary at a traffic light. With a screech and a bang, Junnuri’s vehicle crashed into the lorry, but with its momentum, pushed that lorry aside and slammed into the back of the bus.
Speaking more with his hands than words, Junnuri describes how the front end and door of the lorry cab crushed in against his left leg. For what must have felt like an eternity, he was in excruciating pain and losing blood rapidly. When the Civil Defence crew arrived, they had to “gas cutting” the door in order to free him.
Would he be an amputee? Would he be a cripple for the rest of his life? He was only 25 years old, and his future seemed all but lost.
He’s had three operations — two on the lower leg and one on the thigh — and still has difficulty walking. Running is out of the question, and going up more than five steps triggers pain around the knee.
Junnuri rolls up his trouser leg to show your writer the scars; they are all over his thigh and lower leg.
The accident happened in 2008.
But this interview is taking place in December 2013, more than five years later. Junnuri has come back to Singapore on a social visit pass (i.e. as a tourist) to follow up on his injury claim. He has a “medical appointment” on 30 December 2013 — he didn’t have the English to explain why, but TWC2 has later learnt that it may be related to the civil suit his lawyer is helping him pursue. The Ministry of Manpower tells TWC2 that he had withdrawn his Work Injury Compensation claim in 2009.
Junnuri’s example illustrates the long wait that may be needed when a worker chooses the common law route.
We ask what work he is able to do back home in Vadapalli, Andhra Pradesh. Junuri’s father, thankfully, has a farm and he helps out. “But money little,” he says. Then we make the mistake of asking if he is married, if he has wife and children to support. He shakes his head to indicate that he’s not married and his face turns sad, conveying a sense of helplessness and loss. Your writer regrets asking. Perhaps he feels that his family prospects were crushed forever that same day in 2008.