By Lee Kah Ghim

“I want more working.”

Sitting with me is Nazmul Hossain, 27, a very fit young man raring to take on more jobs just so that he can feed his family of three back home in Bangladesh.

“I want more working. I no money send back to family,” he says of his first job. “I borrow from friend, tell them when I got temporary job, I give them back.”

When Nazmul came to Singapore late 2011 for a construction job under Sinfu Construction Pte Ltd, he was expecting to work six days a week. He needed the  income for his own expenses as well as his family’s back home. When he was only given three or four days of work a week, he got worried. He could foresee the low salary that would follow. The first month he earned only $550.  Needless to say, Nazmul was unable to squeeze any savings out of that pathetic amount to remit home.

This upset him. Had he not come to Singapore with hopes of improving his family members’ lives back in Bangladesh?

Despite this setback, he continued working for Sinfu. I asked him why did he not complain against Sinfu right away. He said, never mind, I wait.

Big mistake. The second month, Nazmul continued to have just a few days’ work a week, but at the end of the month, received no money at all, he said. The same went for the third month, and then the fourth.

Frustrated and roused to action, Nazmul headed down to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in February 2012 to lodge a complaint against his employer. MOM calculated that the company owed him a total of $1,670 for the three months of work that had gone unpaid, an amount which appears to be derived from the first month’s $550 salary multiplied by three. If so, the computation compounded the original problem. Had he been given work for six days a week in the first month as he had a right to expect, he would not have merely gotten $550 for that month. By being underemployed, he had a depressed basis for calculation – quite apart from the fact of non-payment.

However, at MOM, Nazmul did not press the issue about the additional amount he could have gotten if he had worked six days a week as he was promised.

I prompted him about this money that should have been rightfully his. Nazmul shook his head and managed a faint smile. Looking down dejectedly at his hands, it was as if he felt that he should not be pushing his luck too far. But is it luck we are talking about here, or callousness on the employer’s part?

Nazmul was admitted into MOM’s Temporary Job Scheme soon after lodging his complaint. He found a six-month job and was thankful for that. Earnings from it allowed him to repay what he borrowed from friends during his wage-less Sinfu period.  “I give them back already,” he said with a wan smile.

But now, as the six-month temporary job comes to an end, he has to look for another one again. The stress and uncertainty is back. How long will this jobless hiatus last?  Will he have to borrow again? None of it was his fault to begin with.