Md Sabuj (right) with his friend Nurabi Sarkar (left)

By Wendy Ma

First he had to give a big chunk of his salary to his co-worker who acted as an illegal agent, then he hurt his back in his second job. Sabuj Obidaul Hoque ended up with nowhere to rest his head at night.

In the short time he’s been in Singapore, Sabuj Obidaul Hoque, 28, from Chittagong, has lodged two complaints with the Ministry of Manpower. He had come to Singapore on 21 June, 2011, joining Javis Engineering and Construction Services, with an officially-stated basic salary of $650. Or at least that’s what he had thought, as he had already paid a sum of $4,500 to an agent back in Dhaka around April/May the same year.

Yet, after commencing his work in Singapore, Jahir, his co-worker in the same company, demanded a further $2,500 for help in securing the job for him.  “January [2012] I pay $1,000, February I pay $200, March I pay $300. . .” Sabuj wistfully counts.

Sadly, this was only the beginning. When it came time to renew his work permit, Jahir once again demanded a monthly $250 from Sabuj through July, August, and September, leaving Sabuj just $350 a month, barely enough to survive on. These took the form of salary deductions, Sabuj said, which would mean the employer was party to the arrangement. Fed up, Sabuj finally lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) around September 2012.

Then, Sabuj messed up his own case. After telling Jahir that he had gone to MOM, “then Jahir say, ‘I give you money’.” Jahir then produces a piece of paper for Sabuj to sign to acknowledge receipt. Sabuj signs it. But then “He [Jahir] don’t give me the money.”

Jahir had fooled him, says Sabuj. Perhaps Sabuj’s lack of English played a role. Even in this interview, he has to depend on his friend Nurabi Sarkar to help interpret.

Nonetheless, Sabuj added this new incident to his complaint at MOM.

While the investigation proceeded, he was given a temporary job as a cleaner at a workers’ dormitory. Five months on, 28 April 2013, while attempting to lift a plastic bag weighing about 30kg over a window sill, to dump it into a trash bin outside, he hurt his back. On the following day, Sabuj visited Tan Tock Seng Hospital. On and off he was given 21 days of medical leave. In the second week of May, Sabuj reported the incident to MOM, who informed the employer. Needlessly to say, “the dorm boss not happy,” Sabuj admits.

Around this time too, the investigation into his complaint about salary deductions was completed. “Salary case finished, MOM say must go back,” he tells TWC2.

Did he get any of his money back? Not a single cent.

If only MOM could prove that the employer deducted about $250 a month as Sabuj claims, then the employer would be in breach of the law. As the Fourth Schedule Part III, Section 10, on page 29 of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations states, “An employer shall not demand or receive any sum or other benefit from an employment agency or any other person in connection with the employment or change in employment of a foreign employee.”

Unfortunately, there was no proof supporting Sabuj’s claim, particularly when he had signed Jahir’s paper without perusing its content.

This is exactly why TWC2 has been urging MOM to make salary slips mandatory and require employers to pay salaries via bank for an audit trail. If only MOM accepted TWC2’s recommendation, untraceable cases like this one would have been avoided. The lack of paper trail has caused tremendous grief to Sabuj.

And now with a back injury, he is out of work again. With nowhere to sleep.