The worker at the other end of the phone line was extremely upset, and TWC2 social worker Raymond Ang had a hard time calming him down. Kabir Mohammad Sana Ulla Miah had been given an air ticket to go home to Bangladesh that very evening (Monday, 23 July 2012). Earlier, the officer at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had told him he must go home; his Special Pass would not be further extended.

However, Kabir had not yet received even one cent of the work injury compensation he had been awarded. “No money, I go home, how?” he said.

He had been injured at work in May 2011 about six months after coming to Singapore to work. He was up on scaffolding installing plate glass onto a building when a piece of wood fell from somewhere above him and hit his left foot. It fractured his big toe despite his wearing safety boots.

He told his boss about it but the boss dismissed the issue, refusing to send him to a doctor.

“That night, many many pain,” said Kabir. Despite asking the boss for medical attention again the next day, “Morning time, my boss say must go working. No working, no money give.”

In case the worker continued to insist on medical attention, “Then boss say, ‘No working, I send you back Bangladesh.'”

With continuing pain three days later, Kabir found his own way to a clinic in the Aljunied area. The doctor did an X-ray and told him a bone had been fractured and that he should go immediately to a proper hospital. This he did, to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Nearly a year later, the fracture had healed but there was still a little stiffness in the toe. Following the procedure laid down by the Work Injury Compensation Act, a medical board assessed the degree of permanent incapacity and concluded that although it was minor, Kabir should be compensated a small sum — $1,139. MOM confirmed the order and further ordered that the employer should pay Kabir wages for the days he was medically certified (sick leave), which amounted to $1,300.  The total amount that Kabir should be getting was $2,439.

He was otherwise broke. Since his injury, he had been laid off and had been jobless for about a year.

Essentially, the ministry’s position appeared to be that since they had issued the necessary orders regarding compensation and reimubursement, they would close the file. That being the case, there was no basis for extending Kabir’s stay in Singapore. Whether or not he was able to actually collect that compensation didn’t seem to be a matter the ministry cared too much about. The desk officer told Kabir he should leave it in the hands of his lawyer in Singapore while he himself went back home.

Quite understandably, Kabir could not trust that any further progress would be made once he had left the country.

His lawyer had not made progress either. Recalled Kabir: “Lawyer, he say [to] me, ‘Boss insurance no buy’ and ‘boss say he no money, no money.'”

A week earlier, MOM had arranged a meeting between Kabir and the employer. According to Kabir, “Last week inside meeting, boss say he later give money to lawyer and then lawyer send money to Bangladesh me. I say no.” Then the employer apparently agreed to return to MOM the next day to hand over the compensation amount and an airticket.

The next day, “I go MOM,” said Kabir. “But boss no go.” And the ministry prepared to close the file.

Monday, 23 July was crisis time. Kabir was on the phone with TWC2’s Raymond. Many calls were made by both Raymond and TWC2 president Russell Heng to MOM, but the answer all got was the same: No further extension. Kabir must fly out that night.

We told Kabir there was nothing more we could do. He would go home empty-handed. MOM’s award of compensation was not worth the paper it was written on.

Then that evening, a senior officer of MOM called Russell again. The former had looked at Kabir’s case file once more and noticed that the employer’s $5,000 security deposit had not yet been forfeited nor returned to him. This might give the ministry some leverage over the recalcitrant employer. Could you ask the worker not to board the plane?

A flurry of calls was made. Fortunately, Kabir could be reached and told he was allowed to stay for one more week. But what further progress can be made within that one week?

Continued in Part 2.