Back home in Shariatpur, Bangladesh, he left behind a wife and four young, school-going children. Far away in Singapore, he sought a better living.
If only for just eight months, he did find it. But a horrific workplace accident would cost him nearly everything.
His name is Jitu. After paying an agent $4,000 to arrange his passage here, he arrived in March last year on a month-long social visit pass. To those who asked, he was 26, selling himself ten years short to get a foot in the door.
He had no qualifications, and spoke no English. But within a couple of weeks, he had found a job in light construction – renovation mostly, of anything from residential flats to office spaces.
It was a decent gig. Jitu received $50 per nine-hour workday, and was offered the occasional overtime buck. His employer, a local Chinese contractor, paid salaries to Jitu and a half-dozen other workers on time. Unlike some shady operators, the boss didn’t willfully deduct pay for miscellaneous costs like food, lodging or equipment.
He was put up in Bedok, in a three-room HDB flat that he shared with three others. Each month, he could remit about S$600 to his family.
Compared to some other migrant workers, Jitu led a relatively good life – certainly the envy of those fall prey to unscrupulous bosses, and perhaps even to the majority who are in the employ of law-abiding companies, many of which pay comparatively lower wages to offset costs from foreign worker levies.
Jitu’s work arrangements were, of course, illegal. But it hardly mattered as things went swimmingly – ask no questions and hear no lies.
All that ended abruptly in November.
Jitu was on a renovation job then, standing upon some scaffolding while working a hammer to break down a concrete wall.
He lost his balance, falling some six feet to the ground. A slab of concrete, perhaps 20 kilos worth, followed him down and smashed into his lower left leg.
It shattered his tibia and fibula, and ripped off flesh and muscle. His livelihood was destroyed, and the game was up.
His employer, however, had no desire to take the fall also. He ferried Jitu on his truck to a HDB void deck in Ubi, where he left Jitu to his own devices.
With that, the boss disappeared; an outstanding pay cheque of some $1,000 naturally went unpaid.
A Bangladeshi man soon discovered Jitu, and called for help. Police and paramedics took him to hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair his shattered leg.
Doctors attached a metal frame to Jitu’s leg to provide support to shattered bone. A recovery would take many months, perhaps a year.
His injuries were so severe that the police declined to prosecute him, something they would normally do to other illegal migrant workers. Instead, they posted guard at his bed for one night as “punishment”, paid for his hospital bills and arranged a special pass for him, allowing him to stay temporarily.
Jitu couldn’t bear to tell his wife of the accident himself; his friends would do so, and ran little errands for him while he languished in hospital.
When he was discharged over a month later, the police were unsure of what to do for him. He had barely begun an arduous recovery process, and was in no condition to return to Bangladesh.
The police called up Debbie Fordyce at Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), who they knew would offer Jitu help. She took him in, offering lodging, food and other basic necessities – a home, essentially – while he continued his recovery.
In March, the police wanted to send Jitu home. Fordyce protested, livid at the fact they could expect to repatriate him when he was still far from able to support himself.
To make her case, she sought a doctor’s advice – a recommendation for a further procedure and a recovery period of at least six months, during which Jitu should remain in Singapore. The police obliged.
Jitu underwent surgery again, paid for by donors, in which doctors transferred bone and grafted skin to help repair that lost in the accident. The metal frame was removed, but he still needed crutches to get around – his injured leg was still unable to take any weight.
For now, Jitu remains under Fordyce’s care. If medically necessary, doctors could recommend extending his stay, which ends in over two months, but that’s the least of his concerns.
What could he do for a living from now on? His shattered leg limits his options; what little savings he had were frittered away; without insurance, he had little hope of scrimping up any capital for a business.
Back home in Shariatpur, his family awaits his return. His search for a better living ends bitterly. The chance to see his loved ones he yearns for, but what he’ll bring back, he doesn’t know.