By Arjun Naidu
Mechanic Devadass Ganesamoorthy was having his lunch break when five or six Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officers raided the workshop in June.
“They ask, ‘Where permit?’ and I give permit.”
But although Devadass was a mechanic, he was listed as ‘musician’ on his work permit.
“So they said, ‘Eh you musician, what you doing here?’
“Then I scared, [so] I told them, ‘I’m a musician, I came to meet my friend.’”
But it was clear that Devadass was no musician, least of all from his grease-stained clothes.
“[The MOM officer], he ask, ‘You musician, why you like this dress?’ Then he ask where my passport.”
And so Devadass was taken to MOM. “I don’t know where I go, I scared,” he says. “Why scared? Because my friend say sometimes put in jail.”
At MOM, he says he told the officers everything, but “I lie only one, I say I’m a cleaner. Everything [else] true.” Apparently both his agent and boss had told him to say he was a cleaner, so he would be let off more easily.
Devadass says he worked together with four other mechanics: two Sri Lankans and another man from India. The day of the raid, the Indian mechanic was out for lunch. But the very next morning, it seems, he was sent back to India “at 7 am”.
Devadass doesn’t know if the other mechanic was also a ‘musician’ on his Work Permit, since he never saw it. But he thinks there may have been a problem too, because both their names were on the same list he saw at the ministry. “MOM person show me the list, this person on list, I also on list,” he says.
Four months earlier, Devadass had come to Singapore for the first time. He paid an agent in “about $3,200” to find him a job as a mechanic, for which he says he has a certificate. When he received his copy of the In-principle Approval for a Work Permit, he noticed that the job description was that of a musician. Mystified, he asked his Indian agent about it, but apparently was casually reassured that that’s how things are done in Singapore and it can be easily changed after arrival.
When Devadass arrived at Changi Airport, he was met by his Singapore agent whom he knew as Kannan. Kannan handed him his Work Permit and escorted him to a medical, and to meet his new boss, of Bigfoot Logistics. That’s the name that Devadass remembered of the signboard in front of the workshop where he would be working. However when TWC2 did an internet search at the website of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, no such business or company was listed.
In any case, Devadass’ Work Permit did not say he was a mechanic at Bigfoot Logistics. Instead, his occupation was ‘musician’ at Mohican Pub & Music Lounge Pte Ltd.
“I didn’t understand the word ‘Pub’”, he says. So he asked his agent.
Kannan assured him he would be working as a mechanic. Any discrepancies could be sorted out later. “He said, ‘You not musician, any person enter first then apply,'” which Devadass understood to mean a request could be made to change the occupation on the Work Permit.
Kannan assured him he would arrange matters. “He said, work one to two months, then he apply S-Pass for me.”
Devadass admits that he didn’t think there was much of a problem. “I don’t think. Everything same boss, no problem.” According to him, he was told that Mohican and Bigfoot had the same boss. He also says he was ignorant; not knowing which permit was for what. “I cannot speak English, that one my mistake.”
The worker wasn’t aware, then, that Singapore law is strict on Work Permit matters. But after a month and a half, Devadass heard that perhaps his Work Permit might be a problem. “Someone said problem, sometimes they catch us.” But others continued to assure him it was no problem. Nonetheless, it began to worry him.
He tried raising the matter with the agent, saying, “I tell agent I don’t want to stay, but agent say, ‘original permit no problem, I will apply mechanic permit, just continue work.’”
This would happen twice or thrice a month, says Devadass. He would call and ask Kannan, and receive the same reply. But nothing was done before his workshop was raided.
Since the raid, Devadass has not been receiving any income. He has been without work for almost fifty days. He says his friend, another worker, also with a dispute, has been helping him.
But he remains in limbo. “I want to work here, I don’t want to go home.” But he doesn’t know how long the investigation will last.
When Devadass went to MOM, he didn’t get any answers either. “They told me, ‘You only few days [waiting], somebody here four, five months.’” Indeed, from TWC2’s experience, workers caught up in MOM investigations for what is termed ‘illegal deployment’ often find themselves stuck, jobless in Singapore for months on end. Nearly all then find that they have to fork out money themselves to rent a bedspace to sleep in.
In that regard, Devadass can count himself lucky. His former Bigfoot boss was the one who directed him to a room in Campbell Lane after the MOM raid, and despite some kinks in the payment, it seems that Kannan is footing the bill for the hostel.
It so happens that Campbell Lane is a stone’s throw from the Mohican Pub, and only now did Devadass finally learn where his official employer is located. “Madras Street,” he told TWC2.
Meanwhile, his family isn’t aware of his situation. “I tell them, company no pay, I still waiting.” He doesn’t want them to worry, he says. If he did try to explain, “everybody scared, big problem.”
Back home, Devadass has two younger siblings: a brother and a sister, both studying. His parents, who are in their sixties, are labourers on a farm. When he was working, Devadass would remit around $600 or $700 each month. Now that he isn’t working anymore, he isn’t able to support his family, or repay his loan.
His boss at Bigfoot claims to have a way out. “Give letter, say father problem, can go back,” says Devadass. But that isn’t an option. He hasn’t recovered the $3,200 he paid to get this job. “I can’t go back.” At least, not without money.