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By Andy Lee
It was just another ordinary day in January 2017 for Miah Zilu, working in a shipyard, when he fell down the ladder with a 16kg load. He was immediately sent to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. At the hospital, the doctor curiously asked why he still had not booked an MRI scan. The doctor’s notes from several months ago had said he should get this diagnostic test done.
You see, back in 11 February 2016 — almost a year ago — Miah Zilu was carrying a heavy load with another colleague when they both lost their balance and fell. Zilu injured his spine and his knees.
Asked how heavy the load was, he replies, “About 100kg.” However, he probably had no way to know for sure.
During treatment for that injury, his doctor pressed for an MRI scan. However, his boss did not allow the procedure and so Zilu was merely given medicine, 21 days’ medical leave, followed by three months of light duty. According to Zilu, his medical expenses were deducted from his salary.
Randy Lee, a senior volunteer at TWC2 commented: “It is the employer’s responsibility to take care all of the health issues the employee faces. It is ridiculous. It is his legal and ethical responsibility to take care of employees.”
Indeed, as pointed out by another senior volunteer, the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012 is quite explicit about it. In Part III of the Fourth Schedule, it says,
1. The employer shall be responsible for and bear the costs of the foreign employee’s upkeep (excluding the provision of food) and maintenance in Singapore. This includes the provision of medical treatment, except that and subject to paragraphs 1A and 1B, the foreign employee may be made to bear part of any medical costs in excess of the minimum mandatory coverage if —
a) the part of the medical costs to be paid by the foreign employee forms not more than 10% of the employee’s fixed monthly salary per month;
b) the period for which the foreign employee has to pay part of any medical costs must not exceed an aggregate of 6 months of his period of employment with the same employer; and
c) the foreign employee’s agreement to pay part of any medical costs is stated explicitly in the foreign employee’s employment contract or collective agreement.
Firstly, the minimum mandatory coverage for a workplace injury is $36,000 and it is impossible for his costs to have exceeded that. Therefore, he should not have to bear any part of the costs. Secondly, like most work permit holders from Bangladesh, Zilu almost certainly has no explicit employment contract. Therefore (c) would make any deduction illegal.
The January 2017 incident aggravated his old injuries. Pain in his back and knees returned.
The doctor had previously sent letters to Zilu’s employer, pressing for an MRI scan, but when I ask what action the boss took on receipt of the letters, Zilu sheepishly replies, “I gave boss, but boss say nothing.”
He adds: “Boss also shout at me, why go see lawyer, why want go see doctor.”
After this second fall, Zilu has difficulty walking, with sharp pain when climbing stairs. Once more, the medical expenses are deducted from his salary.
One night, when Zilu returned to his dorm room, he even discovered that somebody had thrown away his medicines. He suspects it was either his boss or someone instructed by the boss to do so.
Zilu says he has worked ten years with the same employer. And I wonder: For a worker to dedicate ten years and now receive such treatment… what sort of employment ethics are these?
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