By Fuxiong

Prior to coming to work in Singapore from Bangladesh, Kamruzzaman took a two-and-a-half month training course in thermal insulation. Expecting to work in a trade he trained for, here in Singapore, he was told his job was to hack concrete.

When he protested that his hands hurt, “my foreman, he from behind kick my leg. Then he slap me my shoulder,” the worker says. When he still insisted that he be given another job, “my foreman say, ”if you no work, I send you back Bangladesh.'”

That was not a solution for Kamruzzaman. He had barely worked two months, and was very far from recouping the $9,000 he paid to get the job.

$9,000 seems higher than most Bangladeshis pay their agents. Why did he pay so much? I ask. Recalls Kamru: “The agent, he say this company electrical company, and also main con.” Main con is short for main contractor. “That [is] why they take more money from me.”

“But when I [arrived at the] working place, I ask company supervisor and he say this company not main con. This company [is] sub con. Also, not electrical. It making steel bar, concrete and timber. First day, already I not happy, agent lie to me.”

The dispute over being assigned a hacking job was one more issue on top of many others. But not having been paid for two months was the deal breaker.

His basic salary was $800 a month as stated in his In-Principle Approval for a Work Permit. “It [is] more than other construction worker, I know, “says Kamru. “That [is] why I agree pay agent $9,000.” However, such a salary is good only if he is really paid.

He started work on 20 December 2012, and was paid $328 for his first ten days’ work on or around 4 January 2013. “After that, month January and February, no pay me.”

He’s not sure exactly how much he is owed, but expects it to be a considerable sum since he usually worked five to six hours’ overtime a day. “Saturday also, I work to 5 pm; Sunday sometimes I also work.”

Early March, he was fed up enough to make his way to the Ministry of Manpower to make a report about his salary. When the company found out that he had done so, “the project manager and foreman come to my house. They talk angry, 20 or 30 minute.”

They wanted him to withdraw the complaint, in return for which they said they would pay him one month’s salary.”I don’t take,” says Kamru, “I already complain MOM, so I cannot now take.”

He wants the process resolved through the proper channels and is hopeful that he will get full satisfaction.

On 26 April 2013, it was reported in the newspaper Today that construction company Zhong Jiang (Singapore) International was fined $8,000 for paying salaries late to its workers. This is not Kamru’s employer, but it indicates the serious view taken by the Ministry of Manpower of such infringements.

Or does it? In that case, the company was in the news because two of its workers protested by climbing a crane, and the publicity so generated could have forced MOM’s hand. The question that may be asked is whether the unfair practice of not paying salaries on time is much more widespread than an occasional prosecution might indicate, and whether instances such as Kamru’s which do not make headlines are dealt with in similar fashion.