Singapore laws take care of our foreign workers, or do they?

Posted by on January 2, 2018 in Articles, Stories

Saiful shows us the wrist which has a steel implant

By Tan Yen Seow, based on an interview in November 2017

Islam Saiful, 32, is my first interviewee at TWC2. He is a Bangladeshi national who has been working in Singapore on a Work Permit for the past ten years. Judging from his jovial demeanour, one will not be able to guess his plight.

Saiful suffered a workplace accident about three months ago. He fell from an unsecured ladder and sustained multiple injuries which were severe enough to warrant calling an ambulance  and a two-day stay at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He now has an implant in the radial bone of his left arm (one of the two large bones of the forearm) which has to be removed at some point.

We discuss two aspects of his present situation.

Wages during medical leave period

Top of mind for Saiful is that he has not received any medical leave wages, he says.

Singapore law may appear to offer some assistance to Saiful. The relevant legislation in this regard is the Work Injury Compensation Act (“WICA”) under which a temporarily incapacitated worker — in plain language, someone who is given medical leave by a doctor — is entitled to receive medical leave wages, payable monthly. Foreign workers generally refer to medical leave wages as “MC money”. If the worker has been hospitalised, as Saiful has, he is entitled to full earnings for the period of hospitalisation, up to a maximum of 60 days. Subsequently, he is entitled to payment of an amount equal to two-thirds of his previous average earnings for as long as he is on medical leave, up to a  period of one year. (Paragraph 4(1) of the Third Schedule to the WICA [link]).

However, when TWC2 volunteer Alex Au notified him of these legal rights, Saiful replies: “Now ah, our boss also never give any MC money”. He claims that not a single cent has been paid to him since the date of his accident.

“But have you submitted your MCs to your employer?” Alex asks him.

Saiful says he has. “Last time I give many copies MC. [But] now office say don’t know.” He may have to fork out additional cash to purchase reprints of the medical certificates to support his claim under WICA.

Accommodation rights

Saiful is also having difficulties with accommodation.

On paper, an employer is required to provide “acceptable accommodation” for its foreign employee after cancelling his Work Permit (Paragraph 20B of the Fourth Schedule to the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations [link]). Saiful is covered by this provision because his Work Permit has been cancelled.

But reality is different. Saiful informs me that he has been staying with his “brother cousin” in a room in the Little India area, without any reimbursement of costs from his ex-employer.

Alex explains that it is not at all clear that employers should be reimbursing costs for staying out. It depends on whether the company has offered accommodation at a specific place.

But did the company offer him accommodation? This is where Saiful’s story gets complicated and it’s hard to assess what really happened.

According to Saiful, he and his lawyer attended a meeting with an officer of the Ministry of Manpower wherein they complained that the employer was not offering accommodation.  The outcome of the meeting was some indication that MOM (perhaps through Migrant Workers Centre) would arrange  a bed for him at a dormitory in Jurong East.

In Saiful’s words, “MOM say [to me] ‘Jurong East you stay’.”, and “MOM officer say, ‘any problem I call you’.”

Anyway, apparently, the offer didn’t come through, though Alex privately thinks that Saiful didn’t really follow up on it either. What isn’t clear is why MOM had to step in. Was the employer not cooperative in arranging accommodation for Saiful?

We don’t get a clear picture, and our conversation moves on.

I ask about his family back in Bangladesh, and he gives a short, mirthless laugh: “No money to send back, how to send?” The reverse had in fact occurred; his father had to support him by remitting 50,000 Bangladesh Taka (equivalent of S$816) over.

But this shouldn’t have been necessary. Our laws say he should be getting medical leave wages and accommodation.

See how effective our laws are?

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

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