Unlike other stories at this site, 29-year-old Madasamy Muniyandi’s story is not one of grievous injustice. He has no major beef with his employer though he suffered a bad accident that has left him with a permanent impairment.
But he’s tired of waiting. The process is very slow. As an only son, his mother is waiting for him to return home (his father has passed away), but he’s stuck here in Singapore, unsure when the Workmen’s Compensation assessment will be completed.
He arrived in Singapore in December 2010 to take up a job with a construction company as a scaffolding supervisor. Despite that title, “my salary $20 a day” — not significantly different from any other construction worker. Barely two months into the job, while he was up on a scaffold inspecting some joints, other workers on a platform above him kicked up some gravel. A small sharp stone came like a bullet into him. Blood was all over his face within a second.
The safety manager rushed him to National University Hospital where he was warded for three days. On discharge, he rested at the company dormitory for one month, the duration of the medical leave he had been given.
“Did you get your MC pay?” I asked him. The term “MC pay” refers to the quasi-salary that a worker on medical leave is entitled to based on the Employment Act and the Workmen’s Compensation Act.
“Yes, for the one month MC, I got $600,” Muniyandy said.
Considering the number of cases TWC2 sees every month of injured workers who have not received a cent of MC pay when it ought to be routine, Muniyandy’s employer would count as among the better ones.
After the first month, the doctor prescribed light duties, recalled Muniyandy. “But light duty also work scaffolding.” This is a common issue. It’s all very well for a doctor to prescribe light duties for a recovering patient, but in the construction line, what work is there that is “light”?
Despite trying to do as told for a month, Muniyandy couldn’t take that kind of work up on the rigging after the injury. “I have many problem, sometimes I feel I falling.” So in May, he stopped working and moved out to a rented room in Little India.
But I had to ask: “Did you get paid for the one month of light duties?”
“Yes, $500,” said Muniyandy. He didn’t go into how it was calculated, but seemed satisfied with the amount.
Not long after, in June, he sought out a lawyer who advised him to make a report at the Ministry of Manpower about the accident, which would initiate proceedings for an injury claim. With that, his work permit was cancelled and he was put on a special pass. This made him a jobless foreign worker.
On 27 July 2011, he underwent a scheduled operation for the injury and was again put on MC for one month. Once again, the company gave him $600 as MC pay and covered the cost of the operation, about $7,000. Once again, Muniyandy could count himself lucky that the employer lived up to its obligations. However, after the MC period ended, Muniyandy would have no further income since he was no longer employed.
“So what is happening now?” I asked him. “Do you still have follow-up medical appointments?”
“No more,” Muniyandy replied. “Medical appointment finish already. Assessment also already, but no report.”
He was still waiting to know what had been recommended as the compensation amount.
“Waiting long time,” he said, now coming to the crux of his problem.
“Did you ask MOM?”
“Have. Ask already,” he said. “But MOM say report have many problem. But I don’t know what kind of problem.”
In theory, the process is like this: After a worker’s injury has been treated, he is assessed for any permanent incapacity or impairment. Based on the severity, a compensation amount for permanent injury is recommended. But the employer has a right to question the assessment and the recommendation, even though he ought to have purchased Workmen’s Compensation insurance to cover such pay-outs.
Muniyandy did not know if this was where his case was stuck, or whether it was stuck at a stage before that — the medical assessment. His lawyer was as much in the dark as he was. All Muniyandy knew was that he was waiting. He has been without work and income since the middle of 2011, and he doesn’t know how long more he has to wait.
Bureaucratic processes grind their way slowly, and the subject person is often forgotten. An extra week and or extra month may not seem like much to the civil service or to the employer’s administrative staff, but to a now-wageless worker trying to sustain himself on money borrowed from friends — $10 or $20 at a time — this is no small matter.
He just wants to go home. But had he thought about what he’d do back home in India?
“Yes,” he said, cheering up at the change in topic. “I work in pharmacy. I work there before, for seven years.”
“Do you mean farm or pharmacy?”
“Pharmacy, in a hospital.”
Apparently he had the relevant qualification. “So why did you come to Singapore?” I wanted to know.
“The salary very little. Only 5,000 rupees, about Singapore $150.”
“But you were happier, then?”
Muniyandy smiled, thinking of those times, proud that he had a certificate and vocation he could rely on. Fortunately too, it’s a vocation he can return to despite the permanent disability from the accident.
And what was that disability? He’s blind in the right eye. The stone that came at him had shot straight into the eye.
UPDATE, March 19, 2012:
Almost immediately after this article was first published, Muniyandy heard from the Ministry of Manpower that his permanent incapacity assessment had been completed. The company’s insurer paid out the assessed workman’s injury compensation in early March. The same afternoon he got the money, he sent it by telegraphic transfer to his mother’s bank account since he didn’t have one of his own.
TWC2 last saw him on March 19. He said he was expecting to be given an airticket the next day for a flight home the day after. TWC2 wishes Muniyandy all the best for his future.