By Chow Shunqi, based on an interview in September 2017 (27 Sept)
He stayed as quiet as he could so others would think he was asleep. When it was 3am, he tiptoed out of the room, walked as far as he could with an injured ankle and found a hiding spot among the bushes. There was no easy way to get out of the island; it had a controlled causeway and anyway it would hurt too badly to walk that far. There were no taxis or buses on the island. In any case, he had no money and no phone.
There was no particular plan either. Hossain Amzad just had to use his wits as each moment approached. All he knew was that he had to get off the island and make his way to a doctor.
The roads on Jurong Island get busy after daybreak. Lorries rumble in and out. Amzad hitched a ride on one and told the ‘Indian driver’ what had happened. The driver, himself a foreign worker, was sympathetic. He could see that he himself could have been in a similar situation but for the dice of fate. With Amzad as a passenger, he drove out through the causeway checkpoint. Once they reached a busy road on mainland Singapore, Amzad alighted. The driver leaned over and said, “You must go hospital. Here, I give you $20. You take taxi.”
Why did he have to escape?
Less than a week earlier, on 7 June 2017, Amzad met with an accident at his workplace. He was hurt at three places: the right ankle, left elbow and the back of his head. The elbow injury appears to be the most serious. Even now, four months on, he appears unable to use the arm.
An ambulance rushed him to Ng Teng Fong Hospital in Jurong East, from his Jurong Island workplace. He was warded overnight, but the next day, the company insisted on discharging him.
Recounts Amzad: “Doctor want to give MC [medical leave certificate] but boss say, ‘I have private hospital. He can rest and recover there.'” The boss assured the doctor that they would let Amzad rest as long as he needed to get well.
“I cannot remember where the private hospital is,” explains Amzad at our interview. Maybe he was too heavily sedated at discharge. But from how he describes it, it probably wasn’t a hospital at all, but a GP’s clinic.
“The doctor see me only ten minute and then there say no need MC,” Amzad continues. “He give Light Duty seven days.” Light Duty means he should go back to work but be excused from doing heavy physical work. Amzad, voice rising, thinks it was ridiculous. “I was in wheelchair. Cannot move!”
Instead of staying in the so-called ‘private hospital’, Amzad was taken back to the worksite in Jurong Island where the company had a spare room. He was put there. Two men sort of stood guard outside. “Two people always stay near, to see I go out or not.” Injured Amzad didn’t think it wise to attempt a departure, at least not till his injuries had healed a bit more. He had no idea what blocking tactics would be applied should he try to leave. And to ensure that he did not communicate the fact of his involuntary confinement to friends, “My phone, my SIM card, all take away from me.” By seizing the phone, the company’s intentions were more than clear.
Section 340 of the Penal Code makes ‘wrongful confinement’ an offence. The section says:
Whoever wrongfully restrains any person in such a manner as to prevent that person from proceeding beyond certain circumscribing limits, is said “wrongfully to confine” that person.
And the penalty is imprisonment up to one year, or fine up to $3,000, or both.
On the third day, continues Amzad, “one Singapore Muslim man coming near. He ask me what happened. I tell him my company keep me prisoner here.” The passer-by then advised that the area gets very quiet after midnight. “He say I can try to go out quietly at night when everybody sleeping.”
Thus encouraged, Amzad did exactly that.
Unfriendly hospital visits
Alighting from the lorry and grateful for the $20 from the ‘Indian driver’, Amzad hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to a hospital. Any big hospital. The driver took him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
“There, the doctor checked everything. Do X-ray, do MRI…. then I have to stay in hospital for seven nights.”
But the following day, the company supervisor showed up in the ward. According to Amzad, the supervisor gave him an ultimatum: Discharge yourself within one hour, or the company will arrange immediate repatriation. As a sweetener, the supervisor said, “if you [within] one hour come out of hospital, we give you $1,000.”
The conversation was cut short when the doctor reappeared. The supervisor walked away.
Amzad told the doctor what had been said. “Doctor tell me, don’t worry. ‘I will give you treatment,’ he said.”
As soon as the doctor left, the supervisor came back in. “Now he say he give me one day. If I come out of hospital in one day, company will give me $1,000 — he say like that.” Quite clearly, Amzad had absolutely no interest in cooperating.
On discharge day, a medical social worker came by. “He say, ‘Don’t go to company house. It is dangerous.’ He say I must quickly go MOM, and give me $10 to go there.”
Amzad did so. At the Ministry of Manpower, he was given a clutch of forms to complete in order to lodge an injury compensation claim. MOM also told him that he “must go company dormitory.”
Amzad is not sure whether the MOM officer spoke to the company about his housing arrangements, but the officer said to him, “If company no take care, inform MOM.”
Half-starving in the dorm
Amzad went back to the dorm — his belongings were all there anyway — and stayed for 7 or 8 more nights. Sure enough, it turned out to be a ‘no take care’ situation.
Still having trouble walking, he was housed in a second-floor room. “Very difficult, climb stairs,” he says at the interview.
But most importantly, “no give me food.” His voice rising again, “only biscuit in morning.”
“They say I can buy food at canteen, but I have no money and I cannot walk. Canteen very far away. Cannot ask friend [to] help me; my phone they take away.”
As if pain from the injuries and continuous hunger weren’t bad enough, someone from the company office phoned his parents in Bangladesh. “He tell my father, mother, I injured. My father, mother cry and cry.”
Then whoever it was who called the family, applied the screws. “This man, he threaten my father. He say [if] your son want to claim [workmen’s compensation], he will face many problem. We make sure he cannot go back to Bangladesh.”
It’s obvious that everything the company was doing — legal or otherwise — was to avoid a formal accident report, which may entail a safety investigation, and liability for injury compensation.
After a week, he couldn’t take it anymore. On hindsight he realised it was foolish to take MOM’s advice to stay in the company dorm. While he could have lodged a further complaint with MOM about ‘no take care’, as MOM had originally suggested, by this point, he had lost confidence in the ministry being able to do anything to help.
He’s now bunking with a friend in a room in the Little India area. It is TWC2 who is providing him with his meals.
Meanwhile, he has to go regularly for doctor appointments and physiotherapy. A long journey to recovery lies ahead.