By TWC2 volunteer Frank, based on an interview in August 2019

Most men in Nurunobi Mohammed’s predicament carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.  You can see the heaviness in the way their shoulders slump and their heads sag.  Not Nurunobi.  His back is straight, and his chin is up.  He looks you in the eyes as he speaks broken English, unashamed by his limited vocabulary.  Nurunobi will not play the role of victim, but he has been taken advantage of.

Fortune favors the bold, and Nurunobi has boldness aplenty. He also has a mother, wife, 7-year-old daughter, and 2-year-old son to support. 

Nurunobi found a construction job paying 20 dollars a day in Singapore through a dalal (an unlicensed job broker) in Bangladesh.  The dalal charged a fee of $6,000 dollars for the contract.  Nurunobi said had to sell (mortgage?) his home and take out a bank loan in order to pay the fee.  If he worked for the promised rate, took no days off, and had no expenses at all, it would take 300 days for him to break even.

He didn’t think it was a bad bet. While he was still in Bangladesh and considering the job, the dalal arranged for a phone call between him and the boss. The boss described his company as a large main contractor and assured him that the salary would be $20 per day.

In fact though, there were warning signs which Nurunobi did not know to pay attention to. The boss said something about how the IPA letter that would be coming Nurunobi’s way would state a different salary explaining it as some sort of tax-avoidance issue. An IPA letter is a document issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) confirming that a Work Permit will be available to the worker. Salary details are also stated on the letter. And indeed, when the IPA arrived, it said the basic monthly salary would be $416 per month, equivalent to only $16 per day.

Nurunobi arrived in Singapore in late April 2019.

All comes crashing down

It quickly became apparent that the Nurunobi had been misled about the conditions of employment.  The company was not a main contractor; there wasn’t even steady work. Instead of working six days a week, he had work on only 9 days out of the first 24. He was being sent from one location to another, supplied as an extra pair of hands to other contractors who needed extra manpower day by day.

Nurunobi was also concerned about why his employer was not converting his IPA into a proper Work Permit. If the process wasn’t completed within 30 days of arrival, Nurunobi would have to leave Singapore.  His boss was not making any arrangements.

He spoke to his boss about the lack of both work and Work Permit.  The situation must improve, he said, otherwise “I die, I got two babies, who take care?”

“Boss say, ‘I don’t care.’”

At around this point, the wage issue came up. The boss wanted to reduce Nurunobi’s salary to $18 a day. “He say 18 dollars I give, no 20 dollars,”  recalls Nurunobi. But he had spent 6,000 dollars just to get this job. Some men may consider submitting to the obvious exploitation in order to gain something.  Not Nurunobi.  He refused.

He took his case to MOM. After some negotiation, Nurunobi received a paltry $200 from his employer, plus an airticket home.

Nurunobi suspects the agent and his boss split the $6,000 fee between them, enriching themselves at his expense.  The Singaporean authorities are not known to help when a transaction took place abroad.

Nurunobi is “angry, lah.  Every day I cry.  My family also no happy.”

He flew home on 14 August 2019, poorer than he might have been if he had not left for this job at all.