This case was first covered in the story Four workers allege employer made them pay for their jobs, MOM investigating. That was based on an interview in December 2015 soon after a group of men had lodged complaints at the Ministry of Manpower.
In this subsequent interview, conducted on 8 March 2016, one of the workers gives us more details about what happened.
By Ashwin Lee
It all started on 1 November 2015 for Rahman Mizanur, 28, while he was still in Bangladesh, when he wired money to a friend in Singapore. The friend had found Rahman a job, but the asking price for the job was $3,000. This was the amount Rahman sent over. Rahman tells us that he later learnt that the money went straight to his prospective employer.
A couple of weeks later, on 16 November, Rahman landed in Singapore and went for his medical checkup right away. Upon clearing his checkup, Rahman started working the very next day for his new boss, a certain Ms Tan, at Altrex Engineering Pte Ltd mending sprinkler pipes.
Something was amiss however, and Rahman sensed it. He had yet to go for his “thumbing”, a procedure where foreign workers like him register their thumbprints with the Ministry Of Manpower (MOM) in order to obtain their work permits. By law, “thumbing” should be done within 14 days of a successful medical checkup.
Rahman however kept to himself, retaining faith that his boss would eventually send him for his “thumbing” appointment. The day never came. When the deadline passed and he was still work permit-less, Rahman grew anxious and asked his boss about the matter. He would ask her about it a few more times, but always drew the same reply from her. “Whenever I ask my boss about my appointment, she just tell me to wait and wait. It was always the same answer,” Rahman recalls with a heavy breath.
Not wanting to antagonise her, he kept his head down and continued working.
Out of the blue, in the middle of December 2015, a month after Rahman began working for Altrex, he and eight other workers (the number is based on his recollection) were told by their boss to make their own way to the Ministry of Manpower. Rahman briefly thought it was to get their thumbprints registered, but soon discovered that this was not the reason they had been asked to go to MOM.
Instead, MOM informed Rahman that he could not obtain any work permit since his employer had missed the deadline. Without a permit, his job with Altrex was no longer tenable; he was now jobless. The one month entry visa on his passport was expiring too. The news sent Rahman into a state of dread and confusion.
What was supposed to be a straightforward process complying with the law to obtain a work permit has now become an abyss. Worse still, he had absolutely no control over the situation.
He was shocked, upon speaking to the eight other workers who went with him to MOM, that they too had paid large sums of money for their jobs. His former employer could have profitted by about $30,000 from them. A couple of the workers Rahman spoke to even paid as much as $5,500 each in kickbacks for the opportunity to work at Altrex.
MOM allowed Rahman to look for a six-month temporary job. This is a routine response when there is cause to conduct an investigation into the employer’s behaviour.
But getting a temporary job wasn’t easy either. Rahman spent nearly a month looking for one, all the while increasingly desperate to help make ends meet for his wife and 2-month old son back home in Bangladesh. He found a temporary job in January, but by the time of our interview, early March, he had been let go too from that job.
“After one month, [the new boss] tell me no more work left for me. He told me to go,” Rahman recollects.
Jobless once more, Rahman has no choice but to remain stoic. He shares: “I must find a new job and get my proper work permit soon.” Hopefully Rahman’s mess would soon be sorted out, and his next opportunity a brighter one.
Rahman’s experience shows up the shortcomings of the response mechanism that MOM has in cases where the employer may have breached the rules, leading MOM to revoke the work permits of the workers involved.
Giving workers the chance to secure temporary jobs is a good move, but temporary jobs are equally bedevilled by instability and insecurity. Rahman’s lasted barely a month, causing him more distress.
MOM’s Temporary Job Scheme allows employers to hire workers “off-quota”. In return for this incentive, MOM should consider making employers who take on workers through the scheme guarantee employment for six months. Even if such an employer has no work, the worker should be guaranteed a basic salary for the remainder of the six-month period.
Better yet, workers like Rahman should be free to look for regular jobs (subject to industry limitation, based on his skills) and obtain 2-year work permits without first being repatriated.