By Katia Barthelemy
Things were going fine for Mia Monir, 25, from Bangladesh: he tells me he has been working for Kim Heng Marine for four years already with no major complaints from his side.
But Monir’s story took a dramatic turn on 10 March 2016, showing that life can take unexpected, nasty slips, even if one did not do anything wrong.
That day, Monir was assigned to dismantle scaffolding. Safety rules require two persons to cooperate on this – a rule that has generally been followed at this worksite. This time however, Monir’s supervisor sent him up alone, stating the job needed only one person as it was a “small job”.
After twenty minutes of work, Monir was about to open the fourth and last side of a scaffolding element when it started to wobble, causing him to lose his balance.
Monir had a safety harness on, but he explains that because the “rope” was about 1.5 metres long, and his position was “only” two metres from the ground, he almost hit the ground on falling. However, there was some scrap metal, lying on the ground, making the free distance slightly less than 1.5 metres. His body hit some pieces of metal and hurt his back.
Full of pain, Monir only got some attention from another worker. He was not sent to see a doctor. Some ice was applied to numb the pain and he was allowed to rest the remainder of the day.
At this point, Monir tells me that he believes the incident report will not mention that only one man was assigned to do a job meant for two. It would be an admission that a safety rule was breached. Not having seen the incident report ourselves, we cannot say if his belief is correct.
The next day, Monir awoke with much pain. He informed two other supervisors of this and they granted him one more day to rest. It was only on 12 March — the third day after the accident — when Monir finally saw a doctor, who gave him three days medical leave.
All workers called to a meeting
When Monir returned to his job on 17 March, events took an unexpected turn.
All the foreign workers were called to a meeting. There were about 160 of them, says Monir. The men were split into two groups with the smaller group consisting of 38 men. They were showed into another room. Monir was one of the 38.
In the room, the men were paid their salary and informed that they would be taking the plane home the next day.
It was a huge shock to all of them, though the company explained that its business had to shrink.
It is not difficult for you to guess why Monir was part of this group. Though he was performing a good job and “employer like me much”, says Monir, once injured with an uncertain recovery outlook, he has become an unwanted and worthless worker. He would also be incurring costs for the company each time he needed medical treatment. He was a perfect candidate for the group to be retrenched and sent home.
It was bad enough to lose the job, but if he was sent home, he would not complete his treatment for the injury. He might lose out on compensation too if he should eventually be found to have suffered a permanent disability.
Back at the dorm with the other men, Monir called a lawyer who advised him to “come out” (leave the company’s premises) to avoid being sent home.
The lawyer is now helping him with his insurance claim.
Many foreign workers are in a situation similar to Monir’s. They do dangerous work which can lead to an accident at any time. Even without an accident, migrant workers are at the total mercy of their employers.
In almost a blink of an eye, Monir went from having a job with a regular income and a supervisor who appreciated his work, to despair. His hands are bound, he can not influence events at all: with zero income he needs to borrow money from friends to survive. It is as if he has no other right than to breathe and wait.