His left hand is now a stiff claw; it’s not going to help him earn a living ever again. He is only 26 years old, according to his passport.
Fifteen months ago, on January 9, 2011, Johir was at work on a construction site switching or attaching some parts to what he called “the mouth” of an excavator. With his right arm he signalled the operator to lift the mouth a little higher so he could continue working on it. Instead, some other parts moved unexpectedly and slammed against his left hand, almost severing it.
“Very pain, and many, many blood,” he recalled.
He was sent to Singapore General Hospital where he had four operations over the 14 or 15 days that he was warded. “Four operations, you know, very serious,” he wanted to drive the point home. After discharge, he was given a medical certificate and exempted from work for ten more months.
In September 2011, a medical assessment was made to determine the extent of residual permanent incapacity. Instead, the doctors concluded that yet another operation was needed, and so a fifth was carried out. Even so, it has not managed to restore functionality to the hand.
A second assessment was conducted in January 2012, and at the end of March, the Ministry of Manpower informed him of the proposed amount for the insurance pay-out under the Workman’s Injury Compensation scheme. For reasons of confidentiality, TWC2 cannot disclose the amount.
“Are you happy with that amount?” asked TWC2.
Johir nodded, and then proceeded to list a series of “buts” — which will be discussed further on.
Generally speaking, the company has not been derelict over its responsibilities. It has clearly undertaken responsibility for the employee’s hospital stay and operations, and has paid him a few months of salary while he was recuperating. Yet while that is the overall impression, Johir’s “buts” are still worth examining. In other words, even when the system more or less worked as intended, this injured worker still got somewhat less than a fair deal. For the better part of a year, he was left with no income at all.
“I spend $1,500 on medicine,” Johir told TWC2. “Company not yet pay me back.”
There is a gap in the rules regarding employers’ responsibility for medical care. In-patient costs are borne by the employer, but prescriptions for the period after discharge are not included. This makes no sense. A patient will still need painkillers, antibiotics or other medicines in the days and weeks following discharge; why are these costs excluded?
The salary that he received for a while after the accident also does not survive scrutiny. If what he says is correct, then he seems to have been paid rather less than what was due to him under the law.
“Company pay me three months full pay and three months half pay,” reported Johir.
“What do you mean by ‘full pay’? How much is ‘full pay’?” TWC2 wanted to know.
“Eighteen dollars,” he replied, “26 days.” This worked out to only $468. Half pay would mean $234.
However, his pay while he was working, inclusive of overtime, was “$650, more. Maybe seven hundred, eight hundred.” But there were no written payslips given to him so he has no record of the exact amounts.
What does the law stipulate? Paragraph 4 of the Third Schedule of the Workman’s Injury Compensation Act says:
4.— (1) Where temporary incapacity whether total or partial results from the injury, the employee shall be entitled to full earnings for a period of 60 days if he is hospitalised and 14 days if he is not hospitalised and thereafter to a further periodical payment of an amount equal to two-thirds of his earnings during the incapacity or during a period of one year, whichever period is shorter.
It is important to note that “earnings” includes average overtime pay, as stated in Section 2 (Interpretation) of the Act. Secondly “temporary incapacity”, at least by convention, means being on medically certified leave.
Yet, according to Johir, although given ten months’ medical leave, he was not paid beyond the sixth month. He also said “half pay” when the law stipulates two-thirds. In addition, he said he was paid $18 x 26 days — which suggests that it was merely his basic salary instead of his gross salary (including overtime). His disadvantage, of course, is that “I cannot prove my overtime, paper no give.”
“But at least you had medical certificates showing ten months, didn’t you?” asked TWC2.
“Then company last month tell me they lost the MC,” he responded, getting a little agitated. “I gave them MC, I am sure, but they lost it.” Fortunately he had kept photocopies.
So, even as Johir is relatively happy with the compensation, he may not be getting all that ought to be due to him. He still has battles to fight. Partly, this is because the rules have gaps, as in the cost of prescriptions. Partly too, the Ministry of Manpower’s record of patchy enforcement has promoted a culture of widespread abuses, or at least cut corners, by employers. The system as designed also disempowers workers. For example, TWC2 has long argued that it should be mandatory for employers to provide written or printed pay slips so that workers can prove their case whenever needed, but our proposal has sunk into the ministry’s proverbial black hole.
“I think I going home soon,” said Johir, expecting the pay-out to be finalised within a week or two. “Faster, better. I want to go home. My mother is sick, in hospital.”
But first, he has to pay off the debt he had incurred to get the job in Singapore, and more debts he took on when he borrowed money so he could survive the months after his injury — to pay for food, lodging and prescriptions. How much of the compensation amount will be left, is the germane question.