Jobless migrant workers get tokens for free meals and a quick case consultation at TWC2’s Cuff Road Project

By TWC2 volunteer Choy Chee Yew, based on an interview in November 2020

Dressed in a plain T-shirt and shorts, Islam Mohammad Monzurul walks quietly into the restaurant where TWC2’s Cuff Road Project is based. He lingers around a table where another foreign worker is sharing about his problems. Averagely built with short wavy hair, he appears to be calm, curious, but reserved.

When invited to share his story, welder Monzurul explains that he is currently waiting for his workplace injury case to be settled before he returns home. However, even that may take several more months, extending what has been more than a year of fruitless waiting since his accident in October 2019.

Having injured his back, shoulder, and knee, he has been unable to work since then. On top of that is an ongoing struggle with diabetes, where his recent blood sugar levels have been abnormally low, to the point where he passed out at times. He needs an urgent adjustment of his insulin dosage from his doctor.

Things back in Bangladesh are not rosy either; debts are piling up from an unpaid bank loan that requires a monthly repayment of 20,000 Bangladeshi Taka (slightly more than $300). His family members at home — parents, younger brother, and a younger, married sister — are facing demands for repayment.

Ironically, this loan was taken out to improve their lives by getting the job in Singapore for Monzurul. Like so many foreign workers here, he had to pay a recruiter in Bangladesh for the “privilege” of being offered a job. The fee and related expenses (for which the loan was taken out) was a sum of 314,000 Bangladeshi Taka (approximately $5,000), which may seem manageable for Singaporeans in general, but is a hefty amount for most people in a poorer country like Bangladesh.

On top of that, he had to pay for four days of training in Bangladesh, which cost approximately $50 a day.

What was promised to him by the agent, who was recommended by a friend, was a basic salary of $560 a month. When Monzurul arrived in Singapore, however, he found that his actual salary was much less, only $418.

Monzurul made an attempt to remedy the situation, even raising the matter with the Ministry of Manpower, but they were unable to help him.

In our conversation, we don’t delve further into the details of this salary problem, beyond his saying that the real culprit was the agent, who no longer takes Monzurul’s calls. He’s been cheated of his money, and there is nothing he can do now.

TWC2 hears of so many similar cases of misrepresentation at the recruitment stage, it seems pointless to record one more story in detail.

There’s a quiet resignation from Monzurul at how things have turned out for him in Singapore. What began as a hope to earn a living abroad, has only led to a series of unfortunate events. He is unable to earn back what he paid to land the job in Singapore.

He has not spoken to his family for a long time as he can no longer afford to have a working phone. When asked if his family are aware of the extent of his troubles, he shrugs, saying that he does not want to worry them. His mother also suffers from high blood pressure. Whenever he speaks with his family, Monzurul only talks about his diabetes and the company he worked for. There is nothing to be said about finances, perhaps because there is nothing that can be done.

After I thank him for sharing his story, Monzurul gently gets up from his chair, gives a small smile, and proceeds to the restaurant counter to get his dinner. Afterwards, he leaves the premises as quietly as he came.