By Poh De Sheng
Farid is a Bangladeshi national who has had the uncommon experience of having worked at shipyards in both Bangladesh and Singapore. He was able to offer a comparison of the conditions workers face in Singapore vis-à-vis Bangladesh.
Back in Bangladesh, Farid shared a house with six co-workers in the city of Chittagong, an arrangement that gave them ample living space. In contrast, the living conditions he experienced in Singapore were much less spacious. Farid was first housed at a converted warehouse in Kian Teck, where he shared a room with 15 other workers. Being located in an industrial area, the living space did not have pleasant surroundings. “People anyhow throw rubbish”, lamented Farid.
After a time, Farid was moved to a dormitory in Jurong East, where he shared a room with 11 other workers. However, because the room in Kian Teck was larger, this new arrangement was less comfortable for Farid, despite sharing the room with fewer mates.
Aside from the cramped living conditions, Farid was appreciative of the reliable utilities provided in Singapore, saying that there were problems with the electricity, water and gas supply in his home country. He also relished the relative peacefulness of Singapore, in contrast to the religious violence pervading Bangladeshi society. “I like the security”, said Farid.
Since those with longer memories may remember the online controversy over comments allegedly made regarding foreign workers preferring not to sleep on mattresses, I couldn’t help but ask Farid about his sleeping conditions. Farid confirmed that he did indeed prefer to sleep on mattresses, adding that the mattresses provided in Singapore were much thinner, and less comfortable, than those in Bangladesh.
Once in Singapore, Farid settled into a gruelling daily routine. Despite sleeping at only 11pm, he would wake up around 4:30 am to prepare himself before catching a chartered bus at 5:30 am to work. Punching in at 6am, he would try to catch some extra sleep before starting work at 8am.
On paper, Farid’s pay of $17- 20 an hour was substantially more than the 5,000 taka (around SGD $100) a month he received in Bangladesh. However, like many other foreign workers his earnings in Singapore were substantially undercut by numerous deductions, some of them illegal, made by his employer.
Of the $700-$800 Farid should have received every month, his employer took away $90 for room rental, $45 for utilities, and $32 for “savings money”. Coupled with the $7,000 he had paid in agent’s fee, it would be a long time before Farid could enjoy the fruits of his labour.
After almost four years of working in Singapore, Farid’s situation took a turn for the worse. After suffering a workplace injury, Farid got into a dispute with his employer, who refused to allow him proper treatment and medical leave. This culminated in Farid leaving his job and dormitory. He now rents an apartment out of his own pocket while seeking compensation for his injury.
It was clear from our conversation that Farid’s time in Singapore had been far from smooth sailing. When asked whether Bangladeshis seeking work in Singapore knew about the potential hardships and exploitation that awaited them, Farid confirmed that he and his compatriots knew the risks. However, he added that they were risks he and many others had little choice but to take for the sake of a better life for themselves and their families.