Nagaraju Ramakrishnan Raju has been waiting twenty months since his injury.

A small piece of metal flew into the right eye of the 34-year-old construction worker in June 2011. He had four months of treatment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital before it was decided that he really needed an operation. “Doctor see me many, many times. Then say must have operation,” Raju tells TWC2. Despite the surgery, in which the eye received an implant (a lens?) it’s not much improved. “Now, still not clear,” is how he describes the vision from that eye.

He’s been prescribed powered glasses which he must use in the day — probably something to do with a high sensitivity to glare — but he prefers to go without them in the evenings.

Nearly a year after the accident, Raju’s treatment cycle came to an end and he was assessed by a medical board for permanent incapacity in May 2012. But it took another six months before the hospital informed the Ministry of Manpower about its recommendation, according to Raju. Even then, MOM wanted a “clearance letter” from the doctors, which took another two months. Raju is not sure what this “clearance letter” is all about; all he knows is that he’s been kept waiting. And waiting.

It’s now February (the month of the interview). The clearance letter has come through (in January) and he’s been informed that the recommendation is 20 points.

Raju hopes that he will be getting his compensation payout within another month so that he can go home. He does not want to spend the second anniversary of the accident still languishing in expensive Singapore. There’s rent to be paid. Transport, food, phone calls — all cost money, money that he doesn’t have.

The Ministry of Manpower recently said, “Our records showed that 80 percent of all cases are resolved within three months,” with reference to work injury compensation cases. However, that still leaves 20 percent. A statement that only focusses on the 80 percent regrettably pushes out of mind the others who suffer more.

When an injured worker crosses his first anniversary, the employer’s legal obligation to pay medical leave wages comes to an end. In fact, most would not even have received MC wages during the first twelve months when they were entitled to them (as other stories on this site recount), and the out-of-work worker would have borrowed from friends and relatives to survive. Being injured and having been put on a Special Pass, the worker is not allowed to seek alternative work. That leaves the guy desperate.

If the case drags on into the 13th, 14th month and beyond, it gets even worse. He no longer has any right to MC wages, and his friends and relatives tire of lending him money.

There is a great need for a social safety net for these men.

“Doctors just aren’t aware that there are all these money and livelihood issues with their patients,” says Debbie Fordyce, executive committee member of TWC2. “And when I speak to them about it, they say the workers should have gone to the medical social worker.” However, it is not obvious that even a medical social worker can do much, because the problem is, as far as TWC2 knows, that there is no help scheme, no budget, in place.

Shouldn’t the Ministry of Manpower be putting its mind to this instead of cavalierly saying that “80 percent of all cases are resolved within three months”?

How many workers are there like Raju?

In a typical month, about 50 to 80 workers eating with us at the Cuff Road Project would have waited more than twelve months since their injury (see the third graph in Cuff Road Project: 2102 statistics). These 50 to 80 workers make up about 14 percent of the injured workers registered for free meals each month. There are surely more (e.g. Chinese workers) who have not registered for our meal programme.

On the one hand, that’s a sizable number of workers in financial distress — in addition to physical and psychological anxiety. On the other hand, it’s a small enough number that a simple insurance scheme can easily deal with — considering that there around one million Work Permit holders whose employers have to pay a monthly levy. All it takes is compassion and political will.

sakthivel_sankar_0100gbaSakthivel Sankar came to TWC2 within days of his accident, his left arm still in a sling. While washing an airconditioning unit at Vivocity on 15 January 2013, he fell and landed hard on a steel pipe. The company’s safety officer took him to a hospital and waited there while he received emergency treatment. He was also helpful in arranging payment.

But Sankar’s injury looks serious. He is unable to turn his head left or right. His entire left side from neck through the shoulder down to the chest feels numb, he says. “Cannot move arm. Cannot move shoulder,” he adds. Even an attempt to wiggle his fingers caused pain.

Worryingly, “Have fever two day already.”

At least his company continues to provide accommodation. For now.

Will he be getting his medical leave wages? Will he need surgery later and if so, will the company try to avoid paying?

All these are common complications that TWC2 has seen with many other workers, and which drag a case out for months, even years.

Will Sankar end up belonging to the 80 percent or the 20 percent? Will he have a gloomy anniversary?