By Megan Tan Min Chih, based on an interview in August 2018
Durzey did his best to remain calm after the call. It was a harrowing few minutes, in which he could barely make out what the hospital staff on the other end of the phone was trying to communicate. Eventually, he understood the gist of it. He had feared this day would come, and now it had — his employer had stopped paying the hospital his medical bills, putting his continued medical treatment in jeopardy. A few weeks later, the hospital called again, making the same demand for payment.
Durzey Mohammad Raihan Hossan had sustained injuries to his left leg and his back in two incidents that occurred in December last year and January this year. He was injured in the course of his work on a construction site. After finally being taken to the hospital by his employers in January, he was given a few weeks of medical leave, which his employer honoured.
Then everything then began to go south. One day, while he was out of his dorm, his employer searched his personal belongings and found a pack of cigarettes, which was not allowed in his dormitory. According to Durzey, his employer threw his belongings out and terminated his Work Permit for being in possession of that one pack of cigarettes. “Boss angry, give ticket go Bangladesh,” recalls Durzey. But what about his medical treatment, still ongoing?
After returning to his dormitory to find his belongings in the trash, he was homeless, unemployed, and, still not recovered from his injuries. Even today, he says he experiences nagging pain. “Many pain, many problem, cannot tahan [tolerate],” is how he describes it.
The Ministry of Manpower put him on a Special Pass, which legalises his continued stay in Singapore while his compensation claim is ongoing, but it does not allow him to undertake employment. Thus, he has no income. As for accommodation, he was lucky that he had a friend who was willing to share his room with him. And that has been his reality ever since: everything’s temporary.
Every day has been a struggle this past eight months. He has had to rely on his friends and even his family back in Bangladesh for financial support to meet his daily needs. In other words, reverse remittance. He has been living hand-to-mouth, dealing with his expenses as and when it is necessary – food, lodging, transport, clothing, the list goes on. He had hoped that his medical fees, which his employer is by law required to pay given that his injury was a work injury, would at least be one category of expenses that he would not need to fret over.
So you can imagine the panic and fear Durzey experienced when the hospital called him regarding the payment of his medical fees.
After receiving the call, he contacted his former boss, in the hope that some explanation could be given. Perhaps, a clerical error? Unfortunately, his queries were met with angry and impatient responses, and his superior even suggested that he simply pay the bills out of his own pocket first before coming back to request a reimbursement. This would, I imagine, not be an arrangement that many would be comfortable with at all. Firstly, where would already-broke Durzy find the money to do that? Secondly, the hospital staff had already informed Durzey that his employer had been evading their calls (hence necessitating, in their minds, their calls to Durzey) – could Durzey really be expected to believe that this arrangement would be honoured?
A senior TWC2 volunteer reassured Durzey during our interview that out of medical ethics, the hospital would definitely continue treating him for his work injury, and that he could ask his lawyer — Durzey had engaged one — to press the employer to settle the arrears at the hospital. It was the employer’s legal obligation, after all. Durzey was comforted by this, of course. Nevertheless, it is yet another element of instability and insecurity introduced to his life now, when his daily outgoings and his health are already so great a concern.
Beyond just statistics or reports, this is the reality, on the ground, that Durzey, and perhaps many more like him, have to struggle with, when the system that they had trusted to protect their rights is abused.