Everything was wrong about Majid’s job except one thing: he was earning the kind of money he had hoped for, and he was being paid on time. Having invested about $4,400 in recruiting agent’s fees to land the job in Singapore, now making $900 to $950 a month meant that he should be able to recoup the investment within about 6 months if he kept his expenses at a bare minimum.

After that, he’d be able to support his family in Bangladesh with steady remittances.

But the celebration at the sixth-month point turned instead into disaster. The manager at the golf club where he worked called him and his three colleagues in one day and said, “Your permits revoked. Your job stop. You don’t come here anymore.”

This manager wasn’t their employer, for their work permits stated a different employer (not the golf club) and their job description was “construction worker”. However, as Majid described it, “This company not construction company. This company is supply company,” a term that indicates that the employer was in the business of supplying labour to other companies. The employer had seconded Majid and three others to the golf club, where they worked:

  • From 7 am to 11 pm;
  • Seven days a week.

Their job – sixteen hours a day – was to pick up golf balls from the driving range.  In the evening, they slept in some quiet corner of the clubhouse; their employer did not provide a proper dormitory, according to Majid. In his words: “Sleeping?  I alibaba sleep.” The term ‘alibaba’ is migrant workers’ slang for anything less than legit.

On hearing the bad news, Majid went to his boss, who assured him that whatever problem it was, it would be taken care of. He would supply Majid to another job as soon as possible. “Boss say, ‘I take care you, I give you new job’,” recalled Majid.

In a subsequent meeting, the boss tried to let them down gently. “He say, ‘I money no have, never pay levy,” reported Majid. But even then, assurances were given that things would eventually be sorted out.

However, when twenty days later there was still no news, and Majid and his friends discovered that the boss’ phone had been switched off, they felt they had to make a report at the Ministry of Manpower. The matter is currently under investigation. How the case will develop is too early to tell.

Majid’s job was precarious from the beginning. Issued a Work Permit under the category of construction worker, it was illegal to deploy him to a golf club as a ball retriever. Whether Majid knew it was an illegal arrangement is hard to ascertain, but even if he did, it would have been extremely hard for him to blow the whistle on it. He had $4,400 agent’s fee at stake, not yet recovered. Secondly, if it is true that the employer had not paid the levy for his foreign workers, it was just a matter of time before the law caught up with him. It’s easy for the Ministry of Manpower to cross-check which Work Permits were live and which ones had outstanding levies.

Thirdly, the employer could be accused of failing to provide proper accommodation for the workers.

Fourthly, the total hours worked were inhuman. Majid worked 7 hours overtime a day, totalling about 210 hours a month. Singapore’s Employment Act stipulates that it is illegal to make a worker work more than 72 overtime hours a month.

Fifthly, happy though Majid was about his salary, it appeared to have been undercalculated! His basic salary was, according to him, $20 a day. That’s for an eight-hour day. Allowing an hour for lunch, the other seven hours would be overtime. His basic hourly rate was $2.50 per hour ($20 divided by 8 hours), which means his overtime rate should be $3.75 an hour, as provided for in the Employment Act (Overtime pay should be 1.5 times the basic hourly rate). Majid told your writer that his seven overtime hours each day was rated at $3.00 per hour instead.

Sixthly, what about the Sundays he worked? There didn’t seem to be additional computation for those hours.

Apparently there were more than four workers involved. Although Majid could not be certain of the exact number, from asking around he had the impression that the same employer had 30 – 35 workers. They were supplied to other work locations, but whether or not they too had outstanding levies, he couldn’t tell your writer.

Majid is now “collateral damage”. He has lost his job through no fault of his own. His family, all ready to receive regular remittances, will now have to do without.

But also worth considering is how cheap labour has led to a situation where foreign workers are used in all sorts of jobs, even doing those that can be mechanised (see the machine for collecting golf balls at right).

And employers probably make good money supplying labour to companies unwilling to invest in mechanisation. Where all those profits have now gone is an open question. All Majid knows at this point is that he is struck in Singapore with no job and no money.