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By Janson Chang, based on an interview in June 2017
Throughout most of our conversation Islam Mazharul does not sit easy. The two friends who accompany him do more than half the telling, during which Mazahrul does not seem to be tuning in to it himself. It seems like he is miles away. His nervous eyes rove constantly as if in search of something, and restless movements in his seat make it seem like he would stand up anytime and leave to tend to more urgent business.
Mazharul is anxious because he thinks that time is not on his side. TWC2 will later assure him that we can help, but for the moment, while we’re trying to find out what his problem is, he has not yet heard what we can do. He has just learnt earlier this morning that his employer has booked him on a flight out of Singapore in two days’ time, departing 1 July 2017. There was no prior warning or consultation, and it was handed to him as a fait accompli.
No less shocking for him is the discovery, just minutes earlier this very evening with us, that his work permit has been cancelled by his employer – a fact that only came out into the open after we checked the MOM website on his behalf. We tell him that there are certain things he must now do, and quickly too, or else he will be considered to be overstaying. He becomes almost catatonic from worry.
We spy a large area of swelling and discolouration on the right side of his neck. Mazharul believes his condition arose from the work he was doing. It first began when he was carrying a pipe. He felt a sharp pain. “I went to a clinic and the doctor gave me pain killers,” he says.
On 12 May 2017, it became much more serious. He was lifting pipes at the construction site when his neck began to swell painfully. He realised that he was no longer able to turn his head. The foreman at the construction site immediately sent him to Changi General Hospital, where he was warded for ten days. He has since been given 42 days of medical leave — the total days may be added to in future doctor appointments. Nonetheless, 42 days was enough to displease the boss, and his long period out of work quickly soured relations with his employer.
Even though TWC2 has seen many cases of employers trying to repatriate workers with serious medical conditions before they could lodge complaints at MOM, it must still have come as a shock to Mazharul when he was given a departure date this morning.
TWC2’s educated guess is that the employer was unlikely to have filed a report of the incident to MOM. Mazharul himself doesn’t even know about such a process. TWC2’s social worker then sets to work. She takes down his details and description of how the neck condition developed, and submits it online to MOM.
We advise him how this step taken will help him stay on in Singapore, continue his medical treatment and get him disability compensation if such is warranted. Assured thus, Mazharul now wears a lighter expression, and feels more present in the conversation.
Mazharul comes to TWC2’s office where we give him directions to go to MOM, armed with a print copy of the incident report that was submitted online the evening prior. He does as instructed and later reports to TWC2 that he has a newly minted Special Pass. His case is now ongoing and he does not have to fly home on 1 July as originally feared. His trials are by no means over, but at least, having to depart Singapore frantically and without proper redress is behind him.
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