“Every day I coming,” says Liton Hossain, describing how he has to travel after work each evening from his company’s dormitory in Sungei Kadut to Desker Road in Little India. It’s a journey of some 20 kilometres. “If I no coming, how he shower, how he makan [eat]?”
The ‘he’ is his nephew. Like so many families from Bangladesh, Liton the uncle looks the same age as Hossain Imran the nephew.
The reason for such inconvenience? Hossain Imran (pictured above) fractured both arms in a workplace accident on 11 January 2013. He can’t rotate his wrists nor grip anything tightly with his hands. Not even a spoon.
“Use spoon can, but short while. Pain coming,” the younger man says.
So Liton has taken on the task of feeding him.
“Every day must eat, right?” says Liton. “So every day I coming. Far also must coming.”
But Liton himself has to hold down his construction job — he’s a road builder working on a flyover. The two of them need his income now that Hossain has been injured. Yet, Hossain also needs help with the most basic of hygiene and nutrition. And Liton is his only relative here.
Their predicament highlights the gap in social support for migrant workers in Singapore.
Singapore needs a facility where seriously injured migrant workers can recuperate. One cannot just point to the law and say employers remain responsible for housing workers. Employers don’t have the necessary resources to cope with badly injured ones. Workers with broken legs have mobility difficulties; they can’t climb stairs up to their normal dormitories, for example. And those with broken arms need help with eating, toilet and showering. A central facility also makes it efficient for a nurse to visit weekly to change wound dressings.
The state should be setting up such a facility, or at least give a grant to an NGO to operate one. Employers may however be required to reimburse the costs of their workers’ stay there.
Hossain Imran was transferring scaffolding “pipes” (as he called them) from a stack to the edge of a concrete floor slab. From his brief description, it seemed they were in the process of constructing the scaffolding. However, at the edge, something (he said something about a harness, but it wasn’t clear from his description) gave way and he fell about five metres to a pile of stones below. He broke both lower arms and suffered abrasions to the side of his face near his mouth, and from his right eye to the temple.
“No ambulance coming,” he tells us. “Company manager — he Korea man — drive lorry to hospital. I lie down on lorry, and my Bangla foreman go with me.”
At Tan Tock Seng Hospital, he was hospitalised for four nights. Surgery was performed on both arms; metal splints were implanted to align the broken bones. On discharge, he was put on long medical leave.
Then problems began to appear.
“Around five or six day after accident, boss ask me sign paper. But I don’t know what the paper say,” reports Hossain. “Writing English I no understand.”
Since he was not able to hold a pen, the boss took his thumb and made a print on the letter.
After that, “Boss teach me not say I fall down from slab,” Hossain continues. “He say, ‘You not talking worksite fall down’.” In case you’re not familiar with the way Bangla workers mangle their English, what Hossain meant was that his boss told him not to tell anyone that the fall occurred at the worksite.
“Boss teach me say, ‘From lorry, going down time, I fall down.'”
Clearly, from his revealing even this to TWC2, Hossain has no intention of amending the story of the accident to what he claims his boss wants. But what was in the letter that he said he thumbprinted?
It looks as if his case report and insurance claim is going to get complicated. TWC2 has redflagged his case.
For now however, the most pressing problem is getting by from day to day. Unhappy with his employer, Hossain has had to move out of company accommodation to a bedspace in Desker Road. It costs him $225 a month. He didn’t get his January pay, though he knows that his fellow workers have received theirs. So money is quickly becoming a problem for him.
TWC2 advised him as to his rights regarding medical leave wages and how he should be reporting to the Ministry of Manpower any failure by the employer to pay.
Luckily, he has a kind soul in Liton, who sacrifices his chance at overtime work to travel down each evening to help Hossain.
“I must help him shower, he cannot do,” says Liton. “His hand like that, cannot scooping water, cannot the back,” he adds, while making a motion to indicate scrubbing the back. “Even wear shirt, he cannot.”
Then the both ask to be excused. “He morning time until now not eat,” says Liton, anxious for Hossain. They take their leave so that Liton can feed his nephew, mouthful by caring mouthful.
The interview was conducted in February 2013. In April, the writer met Hossain Imran again and was pleased to see that his arms were healing. However, he still couldn’t fully flex his wrists and his handgrip lacked strength. But he was smiling.