By Seema Punwani
Continued from part 1.
When truth wins, you hear drum rolls. You do mental cartwheels. Your faith in justice is restored. And you heave a sigh of relief that after all the obstacles and the insurmountable tension, you emerged victorious. Because truth prevailed.
As Part 1 explained, Shahidulla Md Anser Ali was beaten up by his boss in March 2014. This followed his insistence, with the main contractor’s support, that lifting work could not proceed till he had the crew he needed to do it safely. After the assault, he made a police report, sought treatment for his injuries and lodged a complaint at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). There he was advised that the process involved lodging a claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA). He did as advised.
In June 2015, fifteen months on — he was not allowed to take up employment while MOM’s investigation ground on slowly — he received a court summons. He faced three charges, all related to the same incident. The first accused him thus: that he “did fraudulently make a claim for compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act (Chapter 354) … which you knew to be false…”
The second charge accused him of making a “false statement to an investigating officer… when you knew these to be false” on 23 April 2014,. The third charge accused him again of making a false statement, on a later date (23 June 2014) “that you had injured your back due to a physical assault… and that the physical assault was witnessed by your co-workers, when you knew these to be false.”
TWC2 quickly found him a lawyer who would defend him pro-bono. But how does a poor immigrant worker find any witness who will stand for the truth and speak against the employer? His fellow workers were terrified to testify as they would be out of a job and shipped back to Bangladesh before they could even think about speaking up against the employer in court. His friends may sympathise with him, but their hands are tied as they have their families to feed back home. Furthermore, since the incident is over a year old, several fellow workers have since stopped working with this company and been repatriated.
“But there’s a video,” says Shahidulla (pictured at right). It was made by a certain William, who was an engineer working with the main contractor, and thus had nothing to fear from Shahidulla’s boss, who was a subcontractor. It was interesting that William saw fit to turn on his phone at that very moment. As Shahidulla describes it, “my boss shouting very loud”, which perhaps attracted the attention of everyone around. William spontaneously offered his video to Shahidulla soon after the incident, in case Shahidulla would need it.
Unfortunately, the video is not particularly clear. It was taken from some distance, perhaps about 15 – 20 metres away, and part of the ‘action’ took place in deep shade under a shed. One can see a man, said to be the boss, being very agitated at another man, said to be Shahidulla. But because of the high contrast between bright sunlight in the foreground and the deep shadow of the shed, not all that occurred was clearly captured in the video.
William could have given a statement describing what he saw, and that would be very helpful to the defence, but for some reason he declined to do so. This left Shahidulla extremely disappointed.
Thankfully, another witness came forward. Hassan was a Singaporean crane operator who was at the scene on the day of the incident. He too witnessed the incident wherein the boss pummelled Shahidulla without much provocation, and felt strongly that Shahidulla was being wrongly accused. Hassan provided an affidavit to Shahidulla’s lawyer describing what he saw.
In December 2015, 21 months after the incident, the case went to trial. Defense counsel cited Hassan’s affidavit. The judge said he’d deliver his verdict after he had a chance to see Hassan in person. That was quickly arranged. Shahidulla was acquitted.
Everyone at TWC2 cheered. Only to realise that no, it’s not yet over. The trial considered only one of the three charges against him. There were two more charges to go. Why they were not tried together is not clear, even though they related to the same incident. Nor is it clear why MOM didn’t drop the other two charges once a court accepted Hassan’s affidavit that an assault took place.
It will be another five months before the other two charges are heard. Another five months of enforced stay in Singapore without being allowed to work. Shahidulla, who came here to be a breadwinner for his family, is now reliant on charity to get by.
Continued in part 3.