By Asha R

He came to make a living, but ended up thousands of dollars poorer.

Rony Nurul Islam, 36, is a quiet man with an easy smile, but get him talking about how he ended up in TWC2’s soup kitchen, and the frustration starts pouring out of him.

Rony came to Singapore in July last year for what he thought was a $650-a-month job in construction.  When he arrived, his employer said that there was no job for him, so he had to find his own jobs and pay the employer $650 a month to cover his foreign worker levy.

When Rony objected, his employer threatened to cancel his work permit and ask the police to deport him. Rony had already sold his land in Bangladesh and incurred a $4000 agent fee to get to Singapore. With a wife and a six-year-old son back home to feed, going home empty-handed was not an option. In his words: “If I go back, I die. Stay here I also die. So better to die in Singapore.”

So Rony relied on fellow Bangladeshis to recommend him odd jobs in construction, earning about $700 a month. To pay his $200 rent and $650 a month to his so-called employer, he had to borrow money from his countrymen, and often relied on their charity to eat. Still, he was about $150 in the red every month.

Rony says that out of the nine months he spent as an employee, his employer only gave him ten days of paid work, at an army camp in the Jurong area. Otherwise, the only time Rony saw his employer was when he showed up at his Desker Road lodgings once a month to collect $650.

In June this year, Rony demanded for his money back from the employer, but the boss said he had already paid it all to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). When TWC2 spoke to Rony, he did not know if his employer really had to pay $650 a month to MOM for his foreign worker levy. However, a check on the MOM website reveals that unskilled construction workers incur a levy of only $350 a month, netting his employer a profit of $300 a month. Rony believes that his employer had many such fake employees and made a handsome profit out of them, and possibly was even in cahoots with the agent he had so mistakenly trusted.

Since his employer would not return his money, Rony got fed up with running to stay in the same place and lodged a complaint to MOM in June. Since then, his case has been in limbo, and he has not been in contact with his employer. Rony worries that as the boss is a foreigner with permanent residency in Singapore, he may have simply left Singapore and MOM would not be able to enforce any punishment.

Rony managed to get a temporary job through MOM, which paid him $2000 for four months’ work. However, this did not cover even half of the money he paid to come to and stay in Singapore.

Rony came with high hopes of saving up for a better life, but when TWC2 asked him what his biggest hope was, he did not say punishment for his employer, or even to get a permanent job in Singapore. All he said was: “More temporary jobs, so I can pay my debts.”