In this video, Today newspaper interviewed two Bangladeshi workers suffering because they are receiving no income, when they have borrowed money to come here. Below is a transcription of what’s said in the video that was uploaded onto Youtube on 4 January 2013. The accent can be quite thick and to help viewers, we’ve added words in [square brackets] to indicate what they meant.
Voiceover: In Singapore, gleaming spires and modern infrastructure dominate our skyline. Construction sites are common in our ever changing landscape as are the foreign workers doing the building. Foreign workers from India and Bangladesh pay nearly $8000 for a job here. Most earn $1.50 an hour and before they can pay off their debts back home these men lose their jobs because of disputes with employers.
Voiceover: The Transient Workers Count 2 (TWC2) charity supports migrant labour and has seen the number of abandoned and destitute workers increase since 2011. TODAY visited two restaurants taking part in its Cuff Road Food Program to talk to the jobless workers trapped in limbo. Debbie Fordyce, executive member of TWC2, explains.
Debbie Fordyce (TWC2, Executive Committee Member): This is a food project that gives food to men, mostly on special pass, men with salary disputes, or with injuries, who are waiting resolution to a case, or awaiting work injury compensation. And with the food programme we have about 600 people participating every month with the food programme.
Tusher Imran (Jobless migrant worker, Bangladesh): I’m here in Singapore since 2008. This is my third company and I have problem with this company. I paid for, to come to work this company, $4,500. Including my plane ticket, is nearly $5,000 Sing.
Selim Miah (Jobless migrant worker, Bangladesh): Coming for Singapore money I give $4,000. I all money take borrow my friend, [from] another man, banks, anything to borrow.
Debbie Fordyce: For the first job the average is over $8,000. Then for subsequent jobs they usually have to pay less. It’s a kind of “debt bondage”: they want to stay with this company until they are able to make back that amount of money. And if they are not able to make that money they’ll come back again to try again. So this is what keeps the men from complaining.
Tusher Imran: Problem is with my salary – $27 per day. But after I reach here my employer give me only first month, January, he give me only $21. Starting February to until May he give me only $19. And after that to until October 18 he give me $18 only.
Debbie Fordyce: These are mostly injured men who aren’t being supported by their companies. Most of them have no means of support. . .
— 2 min 28 secs —
Selim Miah: I working time fall down. After [that], back pain so many. I waiting for my insurance money and my MC money. [If] this give me, I go to my home [in] Bangladesh.
Debbie: They are injured; they are not staying with their company dormitory; they are not given food; they are not given any allowance by either their employer or by MOM. That’s why we provide food for them.
Tusher Imran: October 18, suddenly he [the employer] want all of us to transfer to another company. And he mention that he want to close down his company; he don’t want any more worker. Always bully us that “if you don’t want to work with my company, you can go back.” He always offer us like that.
He’s like, every year he bring workers to his company. And when it’s almost nine months or ten months, he try all of them to send back. Because so that he can bring again more workers, and he can receive money from them.
Our country is not so rich country, and whoever who come to work in Singapore, they have to pay, nowadays – if new – maybe $8,000 plus. And also my house – it should be free, it’s written there in my IPA [In-principle Approval for a Work Permit] also. But my employer deduct $30 per month, even there is no aircon, no fan also. No washing place for clothes, and cannot cook also. Still deduct $30 for one person.
Selim Miah: Now my boss…I yesterday also talk [to] my boss: “You give me my money, MC money and medical money. I so many problem.”
He talk: “you don’t [not] my worker, I cannot give one cent.” Like this talking, my boss.
I talk [to] my lawyer, he say [to] me “boss (. . .unclear?) don’t give money, I cannot do anything. He don’t give money, what I do?” Like this talk my lawyer. Now what I do?
Debbie: Because they have this debt hanging over their heads and they’re thinking of their families at home, they’ll put up with just about anything.
Tusher Imran: And I think I have given very big problem to my family by coming and going like that. Because how many times already I get money from my family. And all not from like their own money. Sometimes they borrow from banks, sometimes from my relatives. Still I have to pay my uncle a lot of money.
— 4 min 56 secs —
Debbie Fordyce:Most of them need a place to stay. Some of them sleep on the streets; some of them borrow money from friends to sleep indoors; some of them have friends with dorms that they can sneak into, but most of them have to . . . have quite a difficult time managing while they are waiting for their injury compensation or their resolution with their salary dispute.
Selim Miah:My money, all money I take, borrow. This man also my home coming so many talking*.*A man/money-lender comes to my home to harass
My wife have, mother have, my daughter, two daughter have, all makan money also I give. My another, anything don’t have, I give money, he [they] can do eat. I do cannot give money he [they] cannot eat. 4,000 I take care right but seven months don’t have work, how to take care? Don’t have money.
Debbie Fordyce: So this is the situation for, certainly for the Bangladeshi workers. They have money lenders who are harassing families at home, they have families who are begging them for money, who are dependent on this money, often, many of them have sold land in order to get here and their land might have been what provided food for them, but without that, they are reliant on the cash economy or they are depending on the salaries that these men send home.
Tusher Imran: My family is still suffering. They keep on calling me but I cannot answer to them anything because I have nothing to do also.
Of course I will tell them not to come here before they check everything, but I don’t want any workers will suffer like me.
Selim Miah: My family also problem waiting (?) for my money.
My employer I talk [say to them], my MC money give me, I [have] so many problem.
My employer talk [say to me]: You don’t, now I don’t [now I am not] your boss, you don’t my worker. I cannot give money.
Debbie Fordyce: When one looks at Singapore they see all of this shiny modern new buildings and it looks as if the economy is doing very well, but I think that Singapore is taking advantage of the migrants workers as low paid workers and workers whose futures they are really not concerned about.
Transcription by TWC2 volunteers Benjamin Wong, Spiegel and Chow Zhi Ying