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By Adib Rafique based on an interview in March 2019
Working in Singapore is nothing new to Md Muktar. He worked here for more than seven years from 2007 to 2014 at a shipyard. He had two more short stints working in Singapore between 2015 to 2017 before he came back again in September 2018 to join Skylights Construction. All along he had a pretty good, safe and hassle-free working experience in Singapore until he met with a work-related accident.
On 5 December 2018, he was hacking tiles on the twelfth floor of a HDB block in Bukit Merah. He stood on a ladder to reach the tiles located above the lift doors. A sudden violent vibration from his breaker caused him to lose balance and fall off the ladder. He suffered injuries to his elbow, back and head. Thankfully he was wearing a helmet, although that didn’t prevent him from getting a severe headache. Residents of the nearby flats quickly called an ambulance and Muktar was sent to NUH where he was warded for six days. Although he did not have any fractures, he sustained some internal injuries. His back pain still persists till today. On discharge from the hospital, Muktar went straight back to his dormitory and that is where his situation started to get really complicated.
Due to his back injury, the management of the dormitory would not allow him to go up to his room on the fourth floor. They let him spend the night in a first-floor room, the rent for which is a few times higher than his fourth floor room. For that first night on the first floor, it was free.
The next day, Muktar was shocked to hear that the lease on his fourth floor accommodation had been cancelled by his company, which meant that he had no place to stay at anymore. Muktar rushed to see his lawyer, who spoke to his manager at the company, following which, Muktar was advised to go back to the dormitory. Muktar cabbed back to his dorm — due to his back injury, he was only able to move around by means of taxis. However, there was no change in the situation when he returned to the dorm; he still did not have a room. This time the management of the dormitory contacted his manager who, instead of resolving the situation, told them that they were going to cancel Muktar’s work permit. Desperate, Muktar now called the police. After the lawyer and the dormitory management, it was now the police’s turn to talk to the manager. This seemed to work and Muktar was told to meet his manager the next day.
At the meeting the following day, Muktar was told by his manager to look for lodging outside. The company said they would pay for it. A relieved Muktar wasted no time in contacting his friends to help him look for a place and he managed to find a bunk in the Farrer Park area for $250 per night. He would later move to another rooming house in Geylang.
Even though there was a sort of solution to the problem of accommodation, he still had financial issues to worry about, as he had not been paid since he joined the company. He approached the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and they helped him claim his salary for the two months and five days that he had worked before he met with the accident. MOM also gave him a Special Pass after the cancellation of his work permit, thus legalising his continued stay in Singapore for medical treatment.
Looking ahead, the accommodation issue may be resurfacing. Although his company paid the $250 rent for December, they did not give him the additional $240/month he requested for his meals. They have also not given him any money for rent and food for January and February. On top of that, they still owe him his medical leave wages.
Muktar will be meeting his MOM officer again in early March to seek assistance on all these matters. His experience unfortunately is all too common. Many other workers who have suffered a work accident have also had a cascade of housing and money issues compound their worries over recovery.
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