The general principle is this: When workers lose their jobs because their employer breached a rule or two and thus caused the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to revoke the work permits the employer had previously obtained, the ministry tries to be compassionate towards the workers. If they are required to stay on in Singapore to aid in the investigation of the employer, the ministry will let the workers take on six-month jobs under the Temporary Job Scheme (TJS).

Ahia Nazrul Islam has been on two of these temporary jobs. Both ended prematurely because he felt he was getting the short end of the stick.

Ahia lost his main job in October 2011 when he was caught working in a catering firm even though his work permit declared him to be a construction worker. “Not my fault,”  he says. Quite evidently, the ministry didn’t think it was either. “Boss transfer me there. He have two company, one construction, one catering. At first, I working construction. Then he ask me go working the catering company for two weeks, same salary as construction.”

Quite possibly, MOM is investigating the employer for illegal deployment.

Since he lost his job due to the alleged wrongdoing of the employer, Ahia was given a chance to obtain a temporary job. How it works is like this: the worker gets to enter a hall where pre-qualified employers are also present, and then it’s up to the two sides to negotiate the terms.

Ahia got a job with an electrical company, paying him a promised $28 a day. But, “this company, not always have work,” he says. “Sometime have work, sometime no work.”  More often than not, there was no work, and at the end of the first month, he didn’t get much money. So he quit.

His second temporary job, on which he started on 15 March 2012, worked out better. It’s with a company that makes and installs heavy-duty electrical equipment. Salary-wise, it’s also $28 a day, but this time, he is fully occupied. Apparently, he’s doing a good job too, as “Boss ask me to join for 2-year contract,” meaning that the company was prepared to keep him on for a fresh work permit.

But “Boss son, he torturing me,” he says. “When I go toilet five minute, he scolding me . He talk: Why you go half an hour? But I only go five minute.

“I cannot take the torture.”

As he was telling your writer about his story, another TWC2 volunteer overhearing his tale of woe remarked, “Even when employers hire workers under the very noses of the MOM, they end up exploiting them!”

Ahia is also unhappy that the salary calculations are opaque. He is not convinced that his overtime hours are properly calculated. “I not get paper for salary,” he says, referring to the absence of an itemised pay slip. But when he asked for details of the calculations, “Boss say: Sign, sign, I busy, no talk.”

He has tendered his resignation.

MOM then advised him that he was free to look for a new two-year job, and if the prospective employer had the requisite quota for foreign employees, they would approve a fresh work permit for him. Ahia tried but found that employers generally do not want to hire workers who have lodged complaints at the ministry — though in Ahia’s case, he didn’t really lodge any complaint; he lost his job because his first employer deployed him to catering.

Another possible reason why employers are not keen on hiring workers who are already in Singapore is that it is hard to obtain (illegal) payments from workers for giving them jobs.  If a worker applies from his home country, the payment, often running to as much as $8,000, can be arranged through the recruiting agent with the money transfer taking place in the home country itself. This way, the transaction occurs outside Singapore jurisdiction, reducing the risk for Singapore employers.

Ahia is now resigned to going back to Bangladesh.

Sundram (not his real name) was also given a chance by MOM to get a temporary job. “But last week, I go inside the room, but no employer there for me,” he tells TWC2.

“No employer at all?” asked your writer.

“Have, but they are not landscaping employer,” Sundram says. “Because I Indian, so MOM say I only can work landscaping and dormitory cleaning.” Apparently, other jobs, such as those in process or service industries, aren’t open to persons of his nationality.

Then there’s Mitun Day, who is also holding a temporary job under the Temporary Job Scheme.  He was not paid a salary for two months, and then when the employer produced a cheque (OCBC bank) for $1,000, it was not honoured by the bank due to insufficient funds.

“The TJS employer doesn’t seem to be any more reliable than any other employer,” remarked Debbie Fordyce, an executive committee member of TWC2.

The above instances suggest that while the Temporary Job Scheme has value, it can be improved for greater efficacy. Thought should also be given to whether we need the scheme at all. If a worker is able to work, why not get him onto a new two-year contract straight away? And if employers are reluctant to take on employees who are already in Singapore, as Ahia and several others have discovered, this matter warrants further investigation too. In the interest of productivity, why should they be bringing in fresh workers when experienced ones in Singapore are available?