Some cases that come to Transient Workers Count Too are very complicated. Others, especially of serious injuries, are heart-breaking. But Zay Lay Tun’s request was a simple one: He wants help to resign from his job in an orderly way. He has no idea how.

“I want go home see my mother,” he says. He’s been working in Singapore as a painter for over two years. Wanting to see one’s family again is totally understandable.

Zay Lay Tun is from the Mon ethnic group of Burma/Myanmar, and his family lives near the town of Ye, about 60 km — as the bird flies –south of Maulamyaing (also known as Moulmein). “By lorry, four hour,” he tells us while shaking his body to indicate that it’s a bone-rattling journey. His is not a farming family; for work, his father “hammer rice” — which as far as we can guess means he works in a rice mill.

Zay Lay Tun’s problem was that he didn’t know how to go about tendering his resignation. In fact, very few migrant workers would either. This puts the spotlight on how migrant workers have special needs. Singaporeans would have a rough idea of the process, or if they didn’t, a quick check with friends or siblings would suffice. By contrast, migrant workers might never have worked in a formal economy with its need for paper documents till they came to Singapore. Zay Lay Tun, for example, would not be able to write a resignation letter in English even if he knew that such a letter was needed.

He thought about going to the Ministry of Manpower for help, but his friend told him to contact TWC2 first. It’s good to know that our name is circulating in the migrant community as a reputable first port of call.

His case highlights another aspect of TWC2’s work: Sometimes workers need help in very basic ways. We just need to be there and easily reachable when they do. Having social workers with available time, supported by a large network of volunteers make a difference. In this instance, we are very grateful for a Burmese-speaking volunteer whom we reached via telephone. We put the phone on speaker mode so that both the social worker and Zay Lay Tun could hear and speak. Without her translating, it would have been very difficult to understand the worker’s needs.

Zay Lay Tun had verbally informed his supervisor that he wanted to resign, but the reply he got was that he had to pay the company an amount equivalent to the government’s foreign worker levy for the remaining months of the work permit. With five months left, it would add up to approximately $1,000. “Is this right?” he wanted to know.

Not at all, TWC2 told him.

If he hadn’t come to us, he might have lost what to him would be a significant sum of money.

TWC2 then advised him of the proper procedure. It would be best, we said, to have a written notice of resignation, delivered by hand to the company’s office. He must give a notice period that conforms with the law. During the notice period he must continue to work as required and continue to stay in the company dormitory; he must not disappear.

It soon became apparent that not only was he unable to write a letter in English, he had no idea what the required notice period was, nor even where the company’s office was located. He had always been ferried each morning from the dormitory to the work site directly.

His work permit gave us the name of the company that employed him. But no address. So we had to go to the website of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority to purchase (cost: $5) a copy of the company information sheet; and we hope the address on it is up to date. Then we helped him draft his resignation letter.

We also looked up the Employment Act to find out the required notice period. Two weeks, it said, for employees who have worked between two and five years.

Thirdly, we had to print out a street map showing where the company’s office was located and do a websearch for buses that would connect his dormitory with the office location. But we wondered too: Did he know how to read a map? We’ve come across workers who didn’t. Fortunately, he did.

One fear he had was that by resigning, he might be blacklisted. TWC2 assured him that he if observed the proper procedure and served out his notice period, there would be no cause for his employer or the ministry to blacklist him.

One final question from him: “I put letter in box?”  indicating with his hand the motion of stuffing the resignation letter into a letter box outside the office. No, we said. Give it to the manager or a company officer to make sure they receive it.

This illustrates how basic is the help needed when migrant workers come from such different environments.

With TWC2’s assistance, Zay Lay Tun should be alright and before long should be back with his family. He won’t stay home for long though. He hopes to come back to work in Singapore. “Now, I painting HDB,” he says. “Next time, I want to painting condo.”

It’s called moving up in life.