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By Tristan Powell-Odden, based on an interview in December 2017
Despite being in pain from an injury, Shariful had to look for new accommodation and worry about how to pay for it. Housing issues shouldn’t have to complicate an injured worker’s life, but they do.
Shariful’s job was to blast paint from steel surfaces of ships and oil rigs. The job involved long and often inconsistent hours, ranging from twelve- to sixteen-hour work days. He would wake up at six o’clock in the morning in order to catch the six-thirty bus to work.
The dormitory was clean, he says, and the suite he shared with several other workers even had a functional kitchen. On the days when he could make it back from work before ten o’clock, there’d be enough time to cook dinner. Extra portions would be packed aside for breakfast and lunch the next day. Shariful genuinely loved to cook for himself.
While his previous housing conditions were admittedly imperfect, he was happy. The company charged each man one hundred dollars for accommodation, plus thirty dollars for electricity and water. The latter seems excessive compared to their likely usage; perhaps there was profit for the company.
Then, on 17 November 2017, he was injured in his shoulder while managing a power tool. Shariful says his employer not only refused to send him to the doctor for medical attention, but failed to acknowledge that the injury even happened. According to Shariful, the employer took the position that Shariful “never mentioned the accident.”
Daily pressure was applied on the worker to continue to work: “Boss want to force me,” Shariful reports. As for the pain, the manager’s directive was to “take Bangladeshi medicine and go to sleep.”
Shariful took himself to the doctor and received a medical certificate for five days’ leave. Yet even presenting this certificate earned him no reprieve from his employers. After two more self-paid visits to the doctor and continued pressure from his employers to return to work, he was left feeling as if there was no other option but to leave his job. That meant abandoning his current living arrangements too, although strictly speaking, it shouldn’t be necessary. But Shariful needed both the physical and mental space to recover from his injury.
Now, Shariful sleeps in a room in Little India with four other men. His share costs him two hundred and twenty dollars a month, over twice the amount that his previous living situation cost him. Helping him with this new cost is his uncle, who also works as a labourer in Singapore. Cooking is no longer possible in the tiny space, even though now he has all the time in the world.
He remains optimistic about a future here in Singapore. As soon as his injury compensation case is concluded, “maybe try a new job,” he says. There’s a family of six in Bangladesh to support, including his beautiful, ten month old son, Shamun. As Shariful proudly states: “[If] I have money, I can take care [of them].”
For now, he is not sure where his case stands. So far, the only response from his lawyer has been: “When company give any information, I call you.”
When will he get his life back in order? “God only know.”
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