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Some employers try to take advantage of a foreign worker’s weak English. They present stacks of papers for the worker to sign, papers that he can’t understand. All sorts of pressures are then applied on the worker to make him sign them, but doing so may prejudice his rights.
Fortunately, Sohag Md Lowsar was able to resist the pressure, but he attributes this to being able to contact Transient Workers Count Too for advice. If “not have [TWC2 social worker] Karno number, I don’t know [whether to] sign or not.”
Many other workers reach TWC2 too late. By then, they may have already succumbed to pressure and signed all sorts of documents, and these may boomerang on them later.
Construction worker Sohag came to Singapore to work in August 2013 for a company named Radhamadhab Engineering. But he was a “supply worker”, that is, he was supplied as floating manpower to other contractors’ construction projects. “Company send me many place,” he says. “One week here, next week another place.” However, after 20 December 2013, he was based at a site at 268 Orchard Road and supervised by a company known as Lincotrade. He says it’s a subcontractor of Shimizu at that site.
Then on 24 February 2014, at around 3pm, he was injured. He was atop a scissor lift working on a ceiling frame. At some point, the scissor lift went up and either his hand was pushed against a “C-channel” — a part of the ceiling frame — or the C-channel came down against it. He needed 33 stitches at Mt Elizabeth Hospital in Novena, where he was also given three days’ medical leave.
There was a follow-up appointment on 26 February, but “many Lincotrade officer there,” he tells me. They presented him with a stack of papers to sign, telling him that they were for “insurance claim”. This may be so, but Sohag couldn’t be sure. Saying he needed to relief himself, Sohag hid in the Gents and placed a phone call to TWC2’s Karno.
“Karno say don’t sign anything, so I don’t sign.”
But it also meant that he never got to see the doctor at Mt Elizabeth for the follow-up appointment. “So I go to Tan Tock Seng [Hospital], and pay $100 myself,” reports Sohag. He was given another three days’ medical leave.
Meanwhile co-workers from the Orchard Road worksite have been calling him. “Today, two man call,” asking him not to lodge an injury claim at the Ministry of Manpower. “They say, company will claim insurance.” But, as Sohag explains his thinking, “[If] I make MOM report, company also claim insurance, so what different?” He feels he’ll be more secure if MOM and TWC2 had oversight of his case.
In any case, he’s also been seeking advice from TWC2 over his salary arrears. Since starting work in August, he’s been paid only for about two months: September and October 2013. He’s not been paid since November, Sohag says. Coincidentally, November too was when the company asked him to sign a set of papers; he had no idea what they were for. He refused to sign them too. Not knowing what they were, Sohag can’t tell me whether this episode was related to his salary payment ceasing from that month.
From the Manpower Ministry’s website (this page), it is obvious that both the employer and employee can make incident reports separately. The employer’s reporting has to be done online. That being the case, it cannot be that the employee’s manual signature on a set of forms is needed.
A worker can make an incident report online or offline by downloading and filling a form. It doesn’t require him to get his employer’s signature either. The incident report has checkboxes that have the effect of activating the Work Injury Compensation process.
It appears therefore that Sohag had good reason to be concerned when asked by company superiors to sign papers.
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