By Nicholas Lee, based on an interview in September 2017
“Men die, company no thinking, only thinking money”.
With words like that reflecting the treatment that Miah Md Sumon and his fellow compatriots receive, it is hard to imagine the lives they lead working in a far-away country away from their loved ones.
I sit down with Sumon, a Bangladeshi national who worked at Jeff’s Marine & Engineering Pte Ltd for eight years as a fitter, mainly fitting ballasts and oil pipes. He earned roughly $800 a month, inclusive of overtime. As our tea comes, I cannot but notice the sunken, slightly deformed top phalanx of his right index finger. But his bright smile quickly draws my attention to him instead, as he shows me a photo of his wife and five-year-old son. He has not held his son before, instead relying on video calls to keep in touch with him and his family. I sense a slight air of worry, as he indicates that his son may not accept him as his father if he is away for too long.
He recollects his story to me: He was in the midst of marking out the centre of a metal plate to work on when a 54kg metal bracket carried by two of his colleagues slipped from their grip and onto his right index finger, fracturing it. “[In] one day [we do] fifteen place-fittings,” says Sumon, pointing to the laborious nature of his job. “Men no power to hold, so drop,”
With his finger bandaged, he was sent to the company’s panel clinic, Westpoint Medical Centre. The doctor provided treatment for his fractured finger and certified him for two days of medical leave. Being less than four days, it was not mandatory for the employer to report the accident to the authorities. He told me this meant the company could send him back to Bangladesh without repercussions. Workers cannot be repatriated if they have suffered a workplace injury and have an injury compensation case pending.
Through those days, Sumon worried about being sent home after his treatment. He says it had been a practice in his company to send workers back to Bangladesh with less than half a day’s notice if the boss did not like them. He was afraid the same fate might befall him.
Sumon kept his injury hidden from his family for one month. He was worried that his father, wife and son would cry upon knowing his condition. But he couldn’t keep the news from them for long. Being the main breadwinner of the family, they would know something was wrong when he could not follow through with his monthly remittance of money. When he finally broke the news to them, the family cried through a video call. So did he. It was a heartbreaking moment for them all.
Sumon was given three months of medical leave by the doctor at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He lodged an injury compensation claim and is now waiting for it to be resolved. He is looking forward to going home after the claims have been settled.
With the three months of certified medical leave, he is entitled to three months of medical leave wages, rated at two-thirds his previous salary. It has been five months since the accident, and that’s all he has had to live on.
After speaking of his injury, the tone of the conversation turns up a shade. Sumon shares his future hopes with me. Once he goes back to Bangladesh, he wants to run a successful “makan business” [food shop] in Dhaka. When I ask whether he would consider working in Singapore again, he mentions there is still that possibility. With a smile.
But first, he wants to hold his son.