- Who we are
- What We Do
- Find Us
- Get Involved
Text by Cheow Yong Jian, video by Jonathan Ang
It is only 7pm, and our team of volunteers at TWC2’s free meals station have already seen a long list of registrations from the many migrant workers in the area coming to seek help. At just 26 years old, Islam Mahidul is one such worker. He appears pressed for time as he recounts to us his predicament.
“Today, going to work this morning, driving vehicle, moving very slow, something problem with gear. Go to workplace, go to boss, say take back to office, gear got problem, cannot go up, noisy. Vehicle second hand, engine will spoil.”
Mahidul works as a van driver with landscaping company Eco-Scape – but, for how long more?
Earlier today (17 Feb 2017), Mahidul noticed that the van had problems in its engine and gears. Upon reporting this to his superior, he was informed that he had to pay for the damage. When he protested, he was told that his work permit would be cancelled and a plane ticket back to Bangladesh bought for him.
A few hours later, when he checked online, he found that indeed the work permit had been cancelled. He was visibly distressed.
“After tell, boss angry say must pay for it, want to cancel work permit. Boss always shouting. Check online know already cancelled, don’t know what to do. Boss already buy ticket.”
Mahidul confirmed with a colleague — also a driver — that the faulty vehicle problem only surfaced the day before, on 16 February. The vehicle was previously in a serviceable condition. Mahidul drove the same van on the morning of 16 February and experienced no problems, whereas his colleague in the afternoon shift that day noticed some problems and informed him about it.
At this point, the vehicle is no longer the issue. The problem facing Mahidul is his livelihood.
Today is Friday. It’s already the evening and the Ministry of Manpower is closed for the day. With the flight ticket bought for Sunday, he has no way to put his case to the ministry before repatriation.
Mahidul has completed ten years of secondary education and has since been supporting his family of four, comprising his parents and two sisters, aged 16 and 20 respectively. According to Mahidul, “pay is enough, but when don’t have job, big problem for family, both sisters go for study”.
He first came to Singapore at only age 18 to work as a grass-cutter. He worked seven years at another company before joining Eco-Scape.
It’s when we ask him to tell us more about the history that we discover that things had been rough from the start.
Three years ago, his current boss approached him in his former company, offering him a job with Eco-Scape, but it came with a catch — he’d had to pay the boss $2,000 for the job.
Still, it seemed a better offer and so after leaving his previous job, going back to Bangladesh for 21 days and purchasing his own ticket to return to Singapore, he paid up and started work with Eco-Scape.
That was September 2016, and since then this job has proven to be a disappointment. Mahidul has not received any overtime pay, or for his work on Sundays. Mahidul adds that some of his fellow Bangladeshi colleagues have experienced similar difficulties while working in the company, and a number of them have already been repatriated.
Today’s incident was the last straw: his employer had told him that he would not be receiving his pay for February as his salary would be docked to pay for the repair of the van.
And yet, Mahidul’s experience is not the exception, but the norm for the many low-wage migrant workers who come to Singapore in search of a better living. Workers frequently pay hefty fees merely to secure employment, and often have to work for many years to earn enough to recover that sum. While laws exist to provide some form of legal recourse to aggrieved workers, the reality remains heavily tilted against them as employers continue to possess discretion on many issues concerning the well-being and livelihood of their workers, be it working hours, withholding of their pay, arbitrary pay cuts and repatriation.
Hearing his story, our volunteers point out the grounds he has to lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower: (a) having to pay the boss for the job which is illegal, (b) unpaid overtime, and (c) February salary arbitrarily docked. But he can only do so on Monday since MOM has closed for the week by then.
However, Mahidul informs us that the company has already bought a flight ticket for Sunday.
Then better to stay away from his Punggol dorm until Monday when he will have a chance to lodge these complaints at the ministry, we tell him, suggesting that he stays with a friend elsewhere. Putting some distance between him and the boss will help avoid the fate that other workers whom TWC2 helped have experienced: being seized by repatriation agents and forcibly deported.
We also ask Mahidul to come to TWC2’s office first thing Monday morning so that we can help him organise his facts and proof before making a formal complaint at MOM.
Monday: He does not show up at our office. When we try to call him, the telecom company plays a recorded message saying the dialled number is “not available”.
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