By Janson Chang
“I was the number one good worker,” says Sheikh Milon, betraying a hint of emotion for the first time in our conversation, beneath his otherwise rugged, unflappable exterior. “I worked six years, no MC. Company grow from 40 to 400 people. But after injury…” His voice trails off for awhile, before fading into a sigh: “Singapore is like that”.
Like many of Milon’s peers, his problems began with a mishap at the site. On a fateful morning in November 2016, he was carrying a thick slab of cement down a flight of stairs, supported by two other workers on the other, upper end. The two workers lost control at their end, resulting in the entire slab sliding into Milon and crushing his thumb against the wall. Bleeding profusely, Milon was promptly sent to a family clinic in the Choa Chu Kang area. On the general practitioner’s advice, he was redirected to Ng Teng Fong Hospital where an X-ray was performed on his thumb. The bone turned out to be broken, with a further 6 stitches required for the wound. He was placed on medical leave (“MC”) for 13 days, with another 21 days added after a subsequent appointment.
Languishing in the dormitory during his MC period, Milon was asked by his supervisor to roll up his sleeves and get back to work. Milon objected, saying he was in no state to do so. His supervisor also warned him against making a claim for compensation. According to Milon, the supervisor said, “If you happy happy go back Bangladesh, then can come back Singapore. But if you claim insurance, [then] after you go back Bangladesh, then cannot come back Singapore.”
Milon responded in defiance. “Can’t come back then can’t come back lah!”
In reality, according to Milon, he knew better: “I not believe him”.
Milon was right. No rule bars workers who seek injury compensation from their Singaporean employers from returning to Singapore. Milon went ahead anyway to file a compensation claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) – an act of defiance, and likely one which his supervisor took umbrage at. If anything, it was the ‘offence’ of a lowly worker acting above his station to assert his rights against his superior, a predicament which many – even formerly prized workers like Milon – encounter when push comes to shove.
Unlike many of his peers however, Milon had resources – family in Singapore. His uncle, cousin and brother were all working for similar companies here. Some had been around even longer than Milon himself. They lived together in a dormitory nearby. On Christmas Day, Milon plucked up his courage to leave his dormitory for good, and joined his relatives at theirs. This support structure must have carried Milon through his rough patch, and accounted for the assurance and freedom from bitterness which I observe in him during our conversation.
Fortunately, Milon’s company – notwithstanding their earlier reluctance – has been prompt in discharging their obligations under the WICA. They have settled the payments for his period of MC, and he is waiting for a medical panel’s assessment of his extent of permanent disability. MOM will then fix an amount of compensation and if things go smoothly, the insurance company will send him a cheque.
“So after this, what?” I ask Milon, and he smiles quietly – a remarkable smile, unsullied by the vicissitudes of life. He tells me frankly that it’ll be hard to find employment in Singapore again, given his injury. He will give it a shot, but expects to stay on in Bangladesh if that does not work out.
I wish him all the best, and he nods and brings his hand to his heart.