Little did Bitdut Chandra know that he would have to endure a second crisis after the first. In March this year, the lanky 27-year-old from Dhaka seriously injured his right leg while at work. Six months on, he is still undergoing treatment at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and walks with a slight limp.
His impatient employer, unable to bear such a lengthy period of medical leave, terminated his work contract in July. With no income, Bitdut had to move out of his dormitory and he is now sharing a room with one of his cousins in Little India. “It still paining, when I walk a bit,” says Bitdut whose time is now filled with periodic visits to the hospital and the Ministry of Manpower to renew his Special Pass.
Then, a toothache that had been bothering him for a while flared into great pain in August. With no savings from being jobless in the last few months, he could not afford to go for a treatment. Through his period of medical leave, his employer paid only what he calls “makan money” – a small sum of money for food, and not enough to cover any other expenses. Bitdut went through agony hoping the toothache would subside naturally. But it did not.
That’s when he shared his plight with a Transient Workers Count Too volunteer at the charity’s free meals programme for out-of-work workers, known as the TWC2 Cuff Road Project.
TWC2 decided at once to pay for dental treatment. With an unmistakeable tone of gratitude, Bitdut recalls, “Debbie aunty took me to the dentist two times last month,” referring to Debbie Fordyce, co-ordinator of the Cuff Road Project. On the first visit, the dental surgeon extracted a molar to provide him relief but alarmed Debbie when he privately expressed his fears of oral cancer. Further tests were needed, and TWC2 paid for those too. Fortunately, after re-examination on the second visit to the clinic, the fears were put to rest. The young man is doing well now.
Bitdut says that TWC2’s gesture to help him is in complete contrast with his employer. Earlier, while he was still in employment, he had gone for dental treatment but the employer insisted on deducting the the medical expenses from his salary. This is not right under the law. Debbie, commenting on a common tendency of employers to evade medical expenses, explains, “As long as the worker has a work contract, an employer is required to bear medical expenses.”
Going by his experience with the only company he has worked for in Singapore ever since he came here in 2007, Bitdut feels there is no such thing as a reward for loyalty. He adds with a touch of emotion, “I not even go back to my mother’s funeral. I was working here.”
But there’s still the matter of the leg. Reminding himself of the next medical appointment in the first week of October, Bitdut is eagerly awaiting the day when he completely recovers from his injury.
Closing the interview, I asked if he is OK to share his story on TWC2’s website. Bitdut had this to say: “If Debbie aunty say OK, I am OK.” Such is the trust and bond that’s been forged between Bitdut and TWC2.