A horrible accident resulting in death and injury reveals an employer who provided unwavering support for his Bangladeshi worker.
An accident between a double-decker bus Service Number 87 and a large tree-pruning vehicle left a 50-year-old male passenger dead and several others injured on Friday. The collision occurred along Chai Chee Street in Bedok. Police have arrested a 33-year-old Bangladeshi worker from the landscape management company for causing death by negligence. Shattered glass windows, a fallen tree, and major traffic congestion were the results of the accident which left one dead and eight passengers – including a pregnant woman – injured. The bus was behind the lorry when it went to the middle lane. But little did the bus driver know that the head of the crane was protruding into the middle lane, and this scraped against the side of the bus.
— Channel NewsAsia, 16 July 2010
Yousuf, the worker responsible for this accident, had been working in Singapore for twelve years. He supports his 58-year-old mother, and since his marriage, his wife and daughter. Because his father died 17 years ago, he also sends money home to his married sister and his younger brother.
His schooling lasted until he was 13 when he started working in a neighbour’s fields growing rice and potatoes. His pay was $0.13/day back then, increasing to $1.00/day after several years.
The lure of working in Singapore is strong for young men like Yousuf. So strong that he was persuaded to pay over $7,000 for his first job in Singapore, earning him a salary of $450/month. He paid another $3,500 to renew the work permit after two years, $3,000 for the second renewal and $2,500 for the third. Because of these demands, he only started making money in the third year. The men often refer to the initial payment as an agent fee, but the agents who collect the money may be better described as ‘con-men’ and the money is often shared by the Singapore employer. Kickbacks like this are illegal, but hard to control because receipts or acknowledgments are rarely issued.
Yousuf started with a new company at the end of June 2010, only 17 days before this accident. His new boss Jonny got to know Yousuf at his previous job and promised to hire him without the usual kickback. After working for ten years at the first company, Yousuf was making $28/day. Jonny offered him a starting salary of $30. Yousuf says “My boss understand my work. He saw me at other job. He say, ‘No [agent] money for this job.’ He like me because I no talking many many, I just working.”
Even though Jonny was impressed with Yousuf’s work attitude and his demeanor, it would not have been surprising if he had terminated Yousuf after this horrendous accident. Instead, Jonny put up his own money for the worker’s bail and allowed him to continue to work while he was awaiting prosecution for the accident.
Jonny accompanied Yousuf to the Subordinate Court several times and encouraged him throughout. The case was postponed a number of times due to Yousuf’s request that he be given a longer prison term in lieu of a fine. Yousuf did not contest the charges: he understood that although it was an accident, he was responsible. The prosecution dropped the charges of grievous hurt and charged Yousuf only with causing death through a negligent act.
On 16 November 2012, Yousuf was sentenced to one week in prison. He appeared again on 23 November to surrender himself to the police. Jonny was with him both times promising to assist his family even after he returns to Bangladesh.
It’s far too seldom that we hear the kind of appreciation that Jonny professes for Yousuf. “He’s a very good worker. It’s unfortunate that he had such an incident. He’s very responsible, intelligent, can troubleshoot and think on his feet. If he were allowed to come back to Singapore, I’d be happy to hire him again.”