“Company don’t want me anymore,” says this year’s luckiest worker

Posted by on May 2, 2018 in Articles, Stories

About ten months after Subra broke his hip, the doctor said it was time to take the metal plate and screws out. His bones had fused well. It would mean a second operation.

Subra rather liked the security of having the metal pieces in place; who knows what would happen if they were taken out? Or maybe this line of thought was just to avoid going under anaesthesia and the knife again.

He expressed his hesitation to his boss. “I thinking maybe later I can have the operation in India,” Subra said, half-expecting the boss to seize the idea. It would save the employer some money.

But, as Subra recalls of that conversation, “Boss say: ‘Why you want to waste your money? Doctor say take out, you take out.’ ” The company said he should get it done before going home.

So, in February 2018, Subra got it done. He reports that his leg is fine now. He’s not sure how much extra weight he can put on it, but for daily activities, it’s no different from before the accident. There’s one small exception: “Physio[therapist] say don’t run. Wait one year more.”

Around the same time, the Ministry of Manpower sent him a Notice of Assessment stating the amount of disability compensation he would be getting. Neither he nor the employer raised any objection, and the sum was paid to him shortly after.

With the conclusion of the case, the usual procedure would be for the employer to buy him an air ticket to go home. But it is April 2018, and he is still in Singapore. Why? we ask him.

“Because I taking a course, a CoreTrade course, and I ask company to let me finish it.”

The employer agreed and deferred the departure date till after he has taken the exam.

Most volunteers with TWC2 who have helped with casework may wonder, how is that possible? How can it be the employer who chooses how long the man can stay after a case is concluded? MOM’s policy is not to extend the Special Pass after conclusion; it’s not up to the employer.

Ah, but Subra does not have a Special Pass. Subra shows your interviewer his original work permit, and it is still valid. The employer, through this entire period has not cancelled it. Unlike Special Passes, in the case of work permits it is up to the employer when to terminate the permit and send him home.

However, the thing about keeping the work permit valid is that Subra remained technically an active employee of the company throughout all the months he was incapacitated, and thus the company had to pay him a salary every month.

“Company pay, every month,” Subra confirms. “Only basic salary, no overtime, because I not working.” His basic salary was about $1,300 each month.

By this point in my story, most TWC2 volunteers are probably gripped by disbelief. Subra’s experience is a world apart from those of hundreds, nay, thousands, of injury cases we come across in our work.

Fake news?

Is this all real? It is. 33-year-old Subra is right there in the header picture. He came to visit TWC2 at our meal station just to update us and thank us for the advice and moral support we gave him. He didn’t even need our free meals. “I have food in my dormitory,” he explains, though he took a meal from us anyway. “My dorm, every day same food, so I come here today.”

This website carries many tales of woe. Many, because there is no shortage of workers telling us how they’ve been denied medical treatment, pressured to leave their dorms and had their work permits cancelled after an accident at work. There’s also a steady stream of them telling us of salary non-payment and all sorts of ways to undercut their contracted pay.

Once in a while, however, we come across a worker who has a very different experience, like Subra. It reminds us that there are responsible employers out there and it is possible to do right by one’s employees. We’re always delighted to feature their stories, if nothing else, to make the contrasting point: how badly behaved those other employers are.

Subra’s story is real, but alas, all the other tales of woe are real too.

Six years with the company

Subra first started working with his employer, a piling company, around 2012. He wasn’t actually their employee then, but was instead employed by a manpower supply contractor who seconded him to the piling company.

Two years later, in 2014, the company took him on as their own employee, and he continued with them for three happy years until the accident in April 2017.

He fell from height and was rushed to hospital. The ball of his hip joint was broken off from the rest of the femur. He still has photos of his X-rays on his phone.

From Subra’s phone (L) the broken femur, (R) metal plate and screws

For four months, he was mostly bedridden. “I not tell my wife about accident, I cannot…” trailing off as memories of anguish come rushing in again. Like all low-wage foreign workers, the missus would not be in Singapore, but back home in Andhra Pradesh state. “I tell her I am in hospital, have dengue, not accident.”

Only when he was able to walk with the aid of crutches did he tell her that it had actually been a serious accident. “I not want her see me in bed. I want her see me stand up, then she know I recovering,” he explains. “Not so shock for her.”

It was a very slow recovery. For six months, he stayed in Econ Nursing Home in Bukit Panjang. TWC2 previously had a patient there too, and it cost us about $1,700 a month.

Who paid for his stay at the nursing home? “Company,” Subra says.

Now he’s back in the company dormitory in the Admiralty area. “I still staying in sick bay, not normal room.” It doesn’t seem necessary to keep him in a sick bay, but he can’t quite explain the company’s reason for doing so.

Subra doesn’t want to stay in the sick bay. In fact, he doesn’t want to go home either, not even to see his 16-month old baby boy whom he has never held in his arms. He wants to resume the job. But his work permit is expiring soon and the company is reluctant to renew it. Explains Subra: “Company say, ‘go home rest first, maybe one year, then maybe come back.’ But I don’t know whether true or not.”

Apparently, he approached MOM for help over this too. According to him, “MOM also call company HR [human resources department], say can give me renewal.” One should not misconstrue this as MOM telling the company to renew his work permit; that would be too intrusive. More likely, it was to explain to the employer that MOM would not stand in the way if the company chose to do so.

Despite this disappointment, Subra has nothing but praise and gratitude for his employer. “Company very good. Korean boss very good. Take care me after accident.”

And just as TWC2 will name the bad employers, we shall name the good ones too: Tuksu Engineering and Construction Limited.

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
means.

Make a difference

help with your donation become a volunteer