By Benjamin Wong
Dipangkar sits awkwardly, his back upright, not leaning against the back of the chair. As I interview him, senior volunteer Alex Au picks up on a subtle difference in Dipangkar’s English.
“What did you study?” Alex asks.
“I have a Bachelor of Social Science in Bangladesh,” Dipangkar replies.
But conditions are not easy in Bangladesh, and that’s why Dipangkar came to Singapore about three and a half years ago. “In Bangladesh, job money not good,” Dipangkar says. Like many others, Dipangkar thought he could get a higher paying job and earn more money in Singapore.
And so he began working with Powen Electrical Engineering in June 2009.
Often, the jobs these workers undertake come with risks, and at times the unfortunate accident happens. On 23 March 2011, Dipangkar was working on a high, 12-step ladder, when he slipped and fell off, landing flat and hard on his back. His cry of pain brought the foreman running to him and he was sent to hospital with little delay.
Two days later, on 25 March 2011, Dipangkar’s work permit was cancelled and he was put on a Special Pass.
His recovery process has been long and complicated. And expensive. Dipangkar’s story raises the question of whether there’s a need for an extra safety net for the rare case like his.
Despite months of rest, his pain did not subside, and the doctor finally scheduled him for an operation on 2 November 2011. “Operation to put two pieces of metal in the lower back,” Dipangkar says, motioning with his hands. And still, it didn’t heal properly. So, after subsequent checkups, he was told in March 2012 that another operation was necessary to remove the metal inserts.
“Doctor say I must go operate because inside the metal broken, so must remove. How to broken I also dunno,” Dipangkar says.
More months of discussion with his company and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) followed before Dipangkar underwent another operation in November 2012. Dipangkar now has a Medical Certificate (MC) until 28 February 2013, with more checkups scheduled until then.
Because of this complication, his initial assessment was cancelled. Medical assessment is needed to determine compensation, but it can only be done when the healing process is completed. In Dipangkar’s case, it was taking much longer than expected.
Under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), employers are liable to pay for treatment of workplace injuries. According to Dipangkar, the company has paid $54,720 in medical and surgical bills for him. Unfortunately, there is a time limit: one year after the accident. Who is going to pay for any further treatment that he may need?
The same law provides for medical leave wages to be paid to workers laid up after an accident, but similarly, there is a one-year limit. By now, it is already close to two years since the accident so he is not getting any money to subsist on.
His company has well fulfilled their obligations, but the reality is that the problems have not ended for Dipangkar.
“Side pain, at night I cannot sleep,” says Dipangkar. The pain affects not just his sleep, but also his movement. “I see doctor cannot bus go, I go taxi, so taxi money also need.”
The need to set some kind of limits for medical treatments and compensation is a reasonable one. The one-year cap placed on employers is deemed to be “adequate as most injuries typically stabilise within a year from the accident,” says MOM on its website. But what about the unfortunate cases that aren’t ‘typical’, like Dipangkar’s?
Dipangkar has had help from his friends, but this too has its limits. “I actually borrow from my friend many months, but now my friend say money return I also no money return.” As Dipangkar leaves, he stands up carefully, and slowly walks away, his back still in pain.
Update: Writer Benjamin Wong noted from the interview that Dipangkar was also homeless and referred him up to senior volunteers of TWC2. They then referred Dipangkar to a committee from St Ignatius Church, who have given him a monthly grant to pay for a bed.