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By Isaac Ong
In April 2016, 36 year-old Wahed M A was in hospital recovering from a left eye surgery, hoping to return to work to support his wife and three children back home in Bangladesh. Unbeknownst to him, his worries were far from over. In the coming months, he would be refused payment for his days on medical leave, and find a shocking shortfall in his salary that went undiscovered for months.
His troubles began in January 2016, when his eye was injured by a metal pole at work, requiring him to attend a slew of medical appointments leading up to the surgery in April. He was given three months of what should have been paid medical leave. The pay never came. Grimacing when asked how his boss responded to his enquiries, he recalls, “He say no. Just say no.”
Left with no other option, he went to TWC2, where social worker Alfiyan looked over the numbers to piece together an accurate claim amount to submit to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Medical leave wages are based on a worker’s current salary, and Alfiyan asked Wahed to show him his earlier payslips as a starting point. To his surprise, he found a new issue. Wahed had not been receiving his correct salary even previously!
In May 2015, Wahed joined the company with a promised monthly salary of $650. However, the payslip (for August 2015) showed that the employer had been using a figure of $528 as his monthly salary. With the shortfall amplified by overtime work, Alfiyan and Wahed estimated that he had been shortchanged by well over a thousand dollars.
Wahed’s company was not the only problem. The MOM salary officer on his case was hardly helpful. As Wahed descibes it, he was “very cold, he [told] me one year very long time, cannot claim.” MOM’s policy is that salary discrepancies from over 12 months ago would not be entertained. However, this rule would only exclude his earliest months with the company. Salary shortfalls for the subsequent months were well within the one-year limit, Alfiyan informed him. Wahed was encouraged to press his claim.
A mediation session between him and his employer was arranged by MOM, which itself presented obstacles. “Boss keep speaking English very fast [to the MOM mediator], I no understand”, says Wahed of the disadvantage he felt. His hopes fell flat when the employer offered $500 as full and final settlement, just a fraction of the $2500 he was entitled to as the total of his salary and medical leave claims.
He asked for another session, which was barely any better – the offer was increased marginally to $1,000. It was still less than half of what he was entitled to.
How could Wahed possibly hope to claim his compensation with a hostile employer, language barriers and two unsuccessful sessions with no end in sight? As it turns out, his story fortunately does have a happy ending.
Frustrated from being denied rightful compensation twice, Wahed went to Alfiyan once more. Alfiyan then advised Wahed that if mediation did not succeed, he had a right to take the matter to the Labour Court. The process would be simple: file a claim with the Court and pay a small fee. They painstakingly consolidated his computations and presented it to MOM, this time suggesting the possibility of taking the case to the Labour Court.
That was how the breakthrough came. Wahed chuckles as he recalls, ‘They [MOM] tell boss I can challenge them in Labour Court. Boss surrender.”
Fast forward to the present day – the portly Wahed sports a wide-eyed smile, sharing his story after a hearty meal at the Isthana Restaurant. Thanks to his persistance and caseworker Alfiyan’s support, he managed to get the full $2500 reimbursed.
Wahed still has a claim for permanent disability following the eye accident. But in this instance, he believes he has a different and more helpful MOM officer. He speaks appreciatively of her warmth and efficiency in processing his documents. The matter is going forward smoothly; he is currently awaiting his last few medical appointments and possible compensation (for permanent damage to the eye) before he returns to Bangladesh to see his family.
On the now-completed salary front, Wahed is one of the lucky ones. For every Wahed, there could be ten others whose salary issues go undiscovered for months. Even when they do discover they have been shortchanged, their documents may not be enough to support a case, often due to deliberate efforts by the employer to either keep things vague and confusing or to deny them documents altogether. There will soon be a story of one such case on this site.
TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our