By Suresh

A ride sitting at the back of a truck in May this year was all it took to change the fate of Kashem Abul for worse.  He’s been working in Singapore for a total of 13 years, albeit for different companies.  Only three months into his job with a new employer, Kashem was being transported from Hougang to another workplace when the company truck had to brake suddenly to avoid an accident. As a result, Kashem was thrown forward, his head hitting a corner of a metal box placed in the front part of the truck bed.

The impact of the collision was so strong that Kashem became unconscious. He had to be taken to Khoo Teck Puat hospital.  Kashim says, “My eye also had a cut,” as he shows the healed mark below his left eye. A knee was bruised too.

This incident clearly exhibits the scant regard that employers have for their employees’ safety with respect to their transportation. “Trucks are meant only for transporting goods! Only buses and minivans are meant for transporting humans. But employers conveniently use trucks for both goods as well as workers, which is not right,” says Alex Au, treasurer of TWC2 which had championed covered transportation for workers in 2009 and 2010. Prior to revised regulations enacted as a result of the charity’s advocacy, workers on open lorries were exposed to sun and rain with utter disregard. In an accident, they were at high risk of being thrown overboard. See a news item from 2010 here.

Alex further adds, “In a way, Kashem was lucky as it was just a metal box. Imagine a sharp protruding tool in place of the box and the consequences could have been different.”

While Kashem was recovering from the injuries, he was clearly not in a position to work. When he was given one month’s medical leave, the employer was not happy and posed Kashem the question, “If no work, who pay you makan money?” making the point that unless he was productive he should not expect to be paid anything.

Under the law however, employers are required to pay two-thirds a worker’s average monthly earnings for every month that he is put on medical leave (but discharged from hospital), for up to 12 months from the date of the accident. The law also requires employers to take up insurance to cover such a liability, and there should be no cause to begrudge an employee his right.

Kashem, still having problems with vision in his left eye, says “Doctor say to take MRI scan two times.” MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, a diagnostic tool that allows doctors to see internal injuries – such as Kashem’s head injury – better. However, for an MRI to be carried out, the employer would have to provide a Letter of Guarantee to cover the cost. Kashem’s employer was not ready to give him one. This too is a violation of the law, which requires employers to provide due medical care.

To add insult to the injury, the employer terminated his employment in September, probably thinking it a liability to pay the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM’s) worker levy for an injured worker.

Kashem has now engaged the services of a lawyer to get compensation from his employer – though, as TWC2 and MOM have repeatedly stressed, this is not necessary. The Work Injury Compensation process is a straightforward one that does not need legal representation. Engaging a lawyer only means the worker sacrifices a portion of his compensation as legal fees.

Compensation is the only hope left for Kashem, who has a family of three in Dhaka solely dependent on his remittances from Singapore. “My daughter is 8 years old and I have a 2-year old son,” says Kashem who has now made up his mind that he wants to return to Bangladesh to receive treatment for his condition.

He is now looking forward to the first audience with Ministry of Manpower along with his lawyer when he hopes that he will come to know more details about the compensation and its timing. When asked if he would come back to Singapore again, Kashem ponders for a while and says “I don’t know,” deeply hurt by the way he was treated in Singapore despite sweating  the last 13 years for its development.