Soon after returning to his quarters after work on the evening of 23 February 2013, Shoriful’s supervisor Ujjal showed up with a fellow worker Jakir in tow. With an aggressive tone of voice, Ujjal confronted Shoriful. “He say to me,” reports Shoriful, “‘Who your father in Singapore? He in MOM? He in police?’ like that.” Ujjal was likely trying to make the point that Shoriful would have no one to protect him while he was here.

The acrimonious discussion that followed was over money. According to Shoriful, Ujjal was unhappy that he would not be getting his cut of Shoriful’s ‘agent money’ – the amount Shoriful promised to pay his agent for getting the job.

“Then Ujjal, he hold me on my arm,” says Shoriful, “and Jakir punch my face two times.” On the right jaw and the left cheek. This was followed by a kick to Shoriful’s chest. “He wearing safety boot when he kick me. Very pain.”

Several other workers were in the room and saw it all happen – “So many men inside room, they see everything” – but since Ujjal was their supervisor too, nobody stepped forward to help Shoriful.

Reeling in pain, Shoriful wanted to leave. But, at first, Ujjal did not allow him to do so. It was only after some negotiation that the supervisor relented. “I want to go out to buy medicine,” recalls Shoriful, “but Ujjal say, ‘you go down, I also go down.'”

Fortunately, as they came out of the front door, Shoriful saw a taxi drive by. He hailed it, jumped in and asked to be taken directly to a police station where he made a police report immediately.

However, he had left all his belongings (including his training certificates) in the room, and until now, weeks later, his fellow workers tell him over the phone that it is not safe to return. Shoriful is concerned that his belongings may be thrown out.

How did the money dispute arise?

In late 2012, Shoriful Ainal Haque, 23, who had worked in Singapore from 2009 to 2011, found a new job in Singapore in a company making sprinkler pipes. The unusual thing was that the agent was prepared to accept deferred payment of the agreed $2,300 placement fee.  The only condition was that Shoriful  should buy his own air ticket to Singapore.

Shoriful found the terms satisfactory and agreed to salary deductions that would add up to $2,300.

The first deduction, of $600, was made in December 2012. Then sometime in January 2013, his boss, whom he called ‘Ah Kong’, praised him as a good worker and told him the deductions would be reduced. “Ah Kong say to me,” reports Shoriful, “‘I happy your work’, and then he say he not cut my salary so much.”

According to Shoriful, the boss told him that instead of making $2,300 worth of deductions, it would be limited to $1,200. It seemed that the boss was telling Shoriful that the January deduction of the second $600 would be the last.

Somebody somewhere would lose out on the difference of $900.

It doesn’t seem as if Shoriful gave much thought to who that party might be; perhaps he was just happy about the situation. If anyone did think about it, he might conclude that the $900 was the boss’ to waive. Perhaps the agent’s real fee was $1,200 and the employer was to pocket $900 under the original agreement? This would be entirely plausible. Transient Workers Count Too has seen many cases of employers taking a cut of agent fees.

So, it came as a nasty surprise to discover that it was fellow Bangladeshi Ujjal, the supervisor, who was expecting to profit from the cut, and who was now very upset about it.

There are many details Shoriful cannot explain. For example, did the boss know that his own supervisor was taking kickbacks? Or did the boss only discover it recently, and upon discovering it, did not want to encourage such corruption, choosing instead to tell Shoriful that there would not be more than $1,200 in deductions?

Whichever way it is, Shoriful is now out of a job. The boss has now lost a good worker. The shadowy world of kickbacks and corruption does productivity and stability in business no favours. In the broader social and economic interest – not forgetting the livelihoods of exploited workers – action is needed to stamp such practices out, but from TWC2’s perspective, investigations are rarely pursued vigourously.

Going by similar cases previously, it will not be surprising if Shoriful’s case is treated merely as a private altercation between two men in a dorm room while the larger and more important issue of kickbacks exposed by this incident is largely ignored.