Shuma supports herself and her two children by taking in sewing, for which she receives about 300 Bangladeshi taka (less than $5) a week. While her husband was alive, he sent home an average of about 20,000 taka a month ($300 – $350 at the rate at that time). This would have been enough to support the family, but she didn’t use any of it on herself or her children: all the money Moktar Hosen sent home from Singapore was used to pay the debt he owed to friends and relatives who had loaned him the 430,000 taka (more than $9,000 at the rate in 2008) that he had paid to the agent for the job. She had just finished paying off that debt When he died in March 2010, after working one year and eleven months.
She depends on her father now for financial help. He’s not well off, but is able to provide her with 10-20 kg of rice each month, and a bit of money to buy clothes. Her children are now four and six, but the younger one, a boy wearing his older sister’s outgrown dress, underscores the family’s penury. There isn’t enough money to buy him boy’s clothes.
Once widowed, Shuma was turned out of her husband’s home for being a burden to his family, returning to her own family for support. She now has to look to her older brother for money now and then. Life is next to impossible for a widow with children.
Compensation from the Bangladesh Manpower Employment and Training Bureau (BMET) welfare fund is still being awaited. Every migrant going abroad from Bangladesh must pay around $150 to the BMET welfare fund for just this sort of incident. The fund is available to family members of men who have died abroad and received little or no compensation.
Moktar Hosen wasn’t eligible for the Singapore Ministry of Manpower’s work injury compensation. The hospital discharge certificate shows that his death was caused by “acute kidney failure, high anion gap metabolic acidosis, and hyperkalemia.”
Hyperkalemia (excessive potassium in blood) may cause no symptoms until the condition becomes serious. Sometimes, patients with hyperkalemia report vague symptoms, which might be the reason that Moktar Hosen was not given adequate medical treatment when he first complained. According to his wife, he was not well for weeks, and in the eight to ten days before he died, his legs became swollen and painful. His company took him to a small clinic for treatment but not having been shown the medical report, it wasn’t clear what the diagnosis was. Even after the visit to the clinic, he was left in the dormitory for days without treatment, in spite of begging to be taken to hospital. He was finally taken to a government hospital on 5 March. By that point there was little that could be done, and he died the following day.
Serious symptoms of hyperkalemia include slow heartbeat and weak pulse. Severe hyperkalemia can result in fatal cardiac standstill (heart stoppage). The underlying reasons for the condition were not investigated and no claim for work injury compensation was made.
According to the Ministry of Manpower, there was “no compensation payable, as employee’s death was not caused by accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” There was no objection to the assessment.
Shuma’s husband’s company gave a gratuitous cash payment of $11,881.68 to the family, which allowed them to buy a small piece of land. This falls far short of the compensation he would have received from MOM’s work injury compensation had he been deemed eligible. The BMET has yet to make payment of S$3,000+ for the death of a migrant working abroad. The process can take a long time possibly because it requires the Bangladesh High Commission in Singapore to confirm the death.
Shuma’s eyes spill with tears as she recalls her husband’s illness and passing, and imagines her husband’s needless suffering. Would he not have survived had he received timely and adequate treatment? How different her life would be if her husband had received treatment earlier, if his life had been saved?
But such is poverty: there is no margin of safety. It is the need to escape poverty that drives so many men and women to seek jobs abroad. But sometimes, the worst still happens and the family falls back down again, and the cycle continues for another generation.