By Chow Zhi Ying

“At first I saw doctor type fifteen days’ MC in his computer,” reports Abu Ahasan, but the foreman, who went with him to the hospital, told the doctor: “You give fifteen days’ MC, I got problem.”

The doctor changed it to one month of ‘light duty’ status.

The reality was anything but light. “In marine industry, no have light duty work,” says the young man. “All work do same thing.” So, despite being ‘assessed’ to be suitable only for light duties, his foreman continued to give him the same heavy tasks he was doing before he was injured. It was just too painful to continue with his back condition. He simply could not do the work.

Abu Ahasan was 24 years old when he first arrived in Singapore in January 2009, landing a job at a shipyard as a labourer.  Today, he is 29 years old, having worked here for almost 4 years.

On 29 October 2012, he fell from a height, leaving him with a lower back injury. He says the harness had not been secured properly — why that was so wasn’t clear.  He was discharged shortly after being hospitalized in Alexandra Hospital, and given eleven days of medical leave. It was on the follow-up visit to the doctor that the question of a further fifteen days’  MC arose.

At first glance, Abu Ahasan’s tale seemed like just an injury story, bad though that may be, but layer by layer, his story reveals more shenanigans.

According to him, his employer said he would give Abu Ahasan medical leave and a few thousand dollars so that he can seek treatment in Bangladesh where it is cheaper. He also promised him that his work permit would be renewed when he recovered so that he could return to Singapore to work. Finding the offer rather suspicious, Abu Ahasan did not take the bait. He had heard similar stories from his friends: once injured workers returned to Bangladesh, their work permits were cancelled and they did not hear from their employers again. Needless to say, they did not receive any money or the promised compensation.

Then, almost by chance, he revealed more complications. The salary practice in the company was unusual. He told us, “Work 30 days, 29 days salary, 1 day ‘savings’. Go back Bangladesh then return to me. By that he meant that the employer was withholding one day’s pay a month, purportedly as compulsory savings which would be handed to him at the end of the contract. This practice is illegal in Singapore.

Since he has been working here for 45 months, he is short by 45 days’ pay.

Furthermore, he told us that for the first 45 days in his job, he received no pay from his employer.  In total, he believes that he has been shortchanged by approximately 90 days of salary, i.e. three months’ worth.

This irregular practice emerged in the interview when he mentioned that as he wanted to see his own doctor for his injury, he requested for his ‘savings’ from his employer, who only returned a partial sum to him. Based on his own calculations, he is still shortchanged by about half the amount and he desperately needs the money to seek treatment for his ailing back.

But he should not have to seek and pay for his own medical treatment; the law clearly makes this the employer’s responsibility.

And still, there’s more. Abu Ahasan has had two work permit renewals since he arrived in Singapore. Each time, he had to pay $250. The law is clear that employers should not be deducting renewal payments from employees.

The relationship between employer and employee having become distrustful, Abu Ahasan is afraid to return to his dormitory for fear that his employer may take action against him. He says, in parting, “Now, I need to find other place to stay.”