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By Darrell Foo, based on an interview in November 2018
Jennah Ayub Hossain registered at our Cuff Road Project in September 2018, but even so, he didn’t often come to get his free meals. On one of the few occasions when he showed up, I seize the opportunity to ask him why.
“Very far coming,” he says. “My dormitory in Tuas South.”
He’s one of the minority who eat with us who has not moved out of employer housing. Since he gets food there, his main reason for coming all the way to see us is to consult about his injury case, not for our meals, though having a change of menu is still welcome. Ayub has not engaged a lawyer for this case — that too puts him in a minority.
In fact, everything he tells me in our conversation makes him an unusual case, but one that TWC2 wishes would be typical. Ayub’s case is progressing the way cases should, with happy outcomes for both employer and employee.
Ayub appears to be a valued worker, a situation which many other workers at the Cuff Road Project would envy. He says he’s been with the company, Yong Nam Engineering, for about nine years. Together with the fact that he didn’t engage a lawyer to press his injury compensation claim — a move that often enrages employers — the company kept him on their payroll despite the injury.
This is not to say that he didn’t lodge a claim at all. He did, either on his own, or helped by the company office, soon after the accident on 24 May 2018. He was given four months of medical leave, which the company recognised, followed by one month of light duty. During that one month, his tasks mostly consisted of tidying the office. However, by the time of our interview, he was back at his regular job casting concrete beams. This despite the fact that the 4th and 5th fingers on his right hand are still bandaged. But he is not complaining; perhaps he is happy to be able to work overtime now.
Overtime work is important to Ayub since his basic salary is only “one day $23,”, which is roughly equivalent to $600 monthly. When he started at this job in 2012, he was paid $22 a day. In nine years, he has had an increment of one dollar. Prior to the accident, with overtime, he could make about $800 to $900 a month, so the difference is not something to be sneezed at.
Ayub’s case checks all the right boxes. He got the medical treatment he needed. His lodging of an injury claim was received with equanimity by the employer, who kept him on their payroll instead of cancelling his Work Permit. He was allowed to rest and recover through the long medical leave, though it should be said that this is much easier when the company’s workforce is large enough to easily find a replacement in his absence. Ayub says Yong Nam has “over 500 workers”.
And finally he goes back to work when he is well enough.
“Company good,” says Ayub in appreciation of his employer. He has not had to worry about providing for his family of four despite the accident; his medical leave wages were paid monthly, he confirms. His son is now 13 years old, and there’s a younger daughter. As for the company, it gets to retain an experienced worker.
“If only such outcomes were the norm,” sighs a TWC2 volunteer I speak to after the interview with Ayub. “Instead, the great majority of [our] cases are characterised by conflict between employers and their injured workers.”
She adds, “They have problems getting medical care, they feel unsafe remaining in company housing, their medical leave wages are not paid, and even after recovery, they have no job to go back to.”
I turn back to Ayub. “You’re a very lucky man, you 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