By Keith W

It was a Wednesday like many other Wednesdays. The men got out of bed, washed, grabbed whatever passed for breakfast, dressed and went down to the street to wait for the lorry which would take them to the worksite.

Only, this Wednesday, 30 January 2013, the lorry never came.

“We call boss,” says Omor Shorif, “but no answer.”

Thursday, no sign of the lorry or the boss again. The six men knew they had to do something.

Friday, “everybody go MOM, ask what problem. We talk MOM: Boss no come.”

And that’s when they learnt from the officers there that their employer had not been paying the monthly Foreign Worker Levy. The men would have to pay the price of their employer’s neglect. Their work permits were cancelled. No more job for you, mate.

Omor Shorif was special. He didn’t even have a work permit for cancellation. How did that happen?

“I come Singapore 18 December [2012],” he says. He had been in contact with someone here known as Anarul Islam Raju, who promised that there was a job waiting for him. Indeed, there was, and Omor even received an In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) stating that Desa Global Engineering had applied for a two-year work permit for him with a basic salary of $546 per month.

After arrival here, Omor was sent for his medical examination — he passed it, he says — but never asked to do the next thing: getting himself thumbprinted and collecting his work permit. He was however reminded to pay $2,500 to Raju for getting him the job. He paid.

Though without a work permit, he started work (on or around 26 December 2012). According to senior volunteers at TWC2, working while waiting a few days for the work pass to be issued is allowed, or at least is a practice tolerated by MOM as long as the person came in on an IPA.

Slightly over a month later, he was squatting by the side of the road, waiting for a lorry that never came. And no, he never got his first month’s salary either.

I interviewed Omor late May 2013, which was several months later. “I waiting MOM four month already,” Omor stresses the frustration of having been in limbo far longer than actually working.

According to him, the ministry has been trying to get hold of the employer. However, “Boss don’t care,” he says. “MOM call him, but he one time also never go.” Interesting how the ministry is held in such contemptuous disregard by employers.

What about tracking down Raju, the agent? Did you give MOM the phone number you have for Raju? I ask.

Yes, he did, says Omor, but “MOM do nothing.” He grumbles on, though it is clear that he has given up hope of getting his $2,500 back.

“My family many, many problem,” Omor changes the subject, now with a deep furrow on his forehead. He has a wife, a daughter aged 11 and a son, 9, relying on him. He is particularly concerned about school fees. Like all fathers he wants a better life for his children, and is worried about them having to drop out of school.

The ministry has told him that he is free to look for another job in Singapore and if he can find one, he will get a new one-year work permit. He has been trying. “I ask many boss. All want me to pay money to him,”  he says, referring to the extremely common practice of kickbacks which MOM seems powerless to stop.

Sounds like more of that same contemptuous disregard in action.