By Ranjana Raghunathan
Adaikkalam Nagarajan, 32, was given a “special shoe” to wear for a month. “No other treatment! I was in pain for a month, even with painkillers. I was given light-duty for a month, no medical leave.”
TWC2 has noted that many doctors don’t issue full medical leave certificates, but only light duty certificates. Exactly why it happened in this instance is not altogether clear, though Nadarajan is of the (erroneous) view that not having medical leave meant he could not claim against work injury insurance. “Mt. Elizabeth is a private hospital, it will support the company’s interests, not mine,” he remarks.
At the shipyard on a rainy 19 December 2014, Nagarajan’s supervisor asked him to fetch some tools that were on the ship. The men usually worked in pairs. “It was a buddy system,” remarks Nagarajan, but on that day he was asked to fetch the tools without his ‘buddy’. “I was carrying rags in my left hand and tools in my right hand, and tried to climb down the ship ladder. There were three steps, it was wet and I slipped on the middle step, lost my balance and hurt my ankle.”
Nagarajan’s supervisor informed the foreman in the safety office immediately. Nagarajan also received some first aid, before he was rushed to Mount Elizabeth hospital in Novena where he was given that “special shoe”.
A month on, his pain had not subsided, despite visits to the hospital for physiotherapy sessions. When Nagarajan asked the doctor why his pain hadn’t subsided, the doctor is reported to have said, “If you rest, it will be fine.” Nagarajan was perplexed by this response from the doctor, especially when he was not given any medical certificate in the first instance. He sought his manager’s help to communicate to the doctor, and at this point, the doctor informed that he must undergo a surgery. “I was admitted to Mt Alvernia Hospital at 5 pm, and I was discharged after surgery the next day around noon. No medical certificate, only light duty,” he says. “They tell me that a metal screw was inserted to keep my ankle in place, but I do not know…”
However, 20 days after the surgery, the pain had not reduced, and he was unable to work. He tells me he could not bend his leg, walk, climb a ladder or stand for even one hour.
Nagarajan approached the hospital once more, in pain. The doctor is reported to have said, “no more treatment, just rest for one or two months”, but did not give him a medical certificate, again.
His dissatisfaction with the treatment he had received moved him to seek further treatment from Tan Tock Seng Hospital where his case currently is. He has also filed a work injury compensation claim through a lawyer.
Besides the physical suffering from the injury, the financial consequences from being unable to work are equally serious. Having been put on light duty — and it doesn’t seem as if there was any available light work for him to do — he was entitled only to his basic salary. For manual workers in the marine industry, this is typically very low; men in this sector depend heavily on working horrendous amount of overtime to earn what they need to earn.
“I have not sent money back home for seven months!” he laments. “Even when the company gave me basic salary, they deducted $150 from my $300 salary. I had to spend the rest for food and travel expenses here.” The $150 was for accommodation.
He has a wife and two children in his village near Pudukottai, in Tamil Nadu. His father died when he was 14 years old. “I could not study because of that…” he says. His mother is 55 years old. Nagarajan’s mother lives with his wife and children, while his younger brother and family live nearby.
However, his Work Permit was cancelled in late February 2015, and with that, even the basic salary is gone.
Nagarajan came to Singapore after his family was displaced for a highway construction project in Tamil Nadu. “My land was snatched from me… It was around 5 cents [approx. 200 square metres] on which we had two houses and grew some food.” In Tamil Nadu, a cent is a measure of land area; equal to 100th of an acre. “I was given a meager 1.2 lakh rupees [120,000 rupees or approx. S$2,400] in compensation. I spent 40,000 rupees and lot of time to even get that 1.2 lakhs!”
His former employer saw his situation and gave Nagarajan’s family a small plot of land, on which he constructed a thatched house. “I had taken a loan to build the kudisai, borrowed 50,000 rupees from my mother and 1 lakh rupees from others to come to Singapore. I have repaid the 1 lakh loan, but not to my mother or for the house. I have only sent 10,000 rupees since I came here. My basic salary was too little, and with a lot of overtime, I could earn $700 per month. Now that is also gone…”
All he can hope for now is a decent amount of compensation from the disability in his leg.
In the guise of development projects, many in India have been forcefully displaced, evicted with little compensation. Many have lost their traditional sources of income, agricultural land, and struggle to survive as labourers in urban India. Nagarajan came to Singapore with better hopes, only to be met with yet another adversity here. He waits now, to return, not knowing what to return to. Perhaps he too will join his wife, as an agricultural labourer in someone else’s land, having lost not just his own piece of land, but also the hope for a steady income here in Singapore.