After an accident report was made at the Ministry of Manpower, “my boss, he angry me,” says Shirazul. “He say now have problem with insurance.”
Shirazul’s story raises several questions for which no answers are immediately available. The employer treated him relatively well when he was injured and needed medical treatment. It was only after a formal report was lodged with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), thus activating the workman’s insurance claim process, that the relationship soured. Why is an employer so resentful of notifying the ministry?
More curiously, since having workmen’s compensation insurance is supposed to relieve the employer of risk liability, why is the employer so frustrated that the process has been activated?
23-year-old Shirazul came to Singapore in October 2012 to work for a company that installs airconditioning. On 22 October 2012, he was at a building site, carrying metal parts needed to put up airconditioning ducts when his back began to hurt.
How heavy were those parts? I ask him.
“I don’t know, but many metal bracket tie together,” he says. There were also other pieces like joints and screws. There was no safety officer on site – at least none from his company – and no one ever checked how heavy those bundles of metal parts were.
He informed his foreman about the pain and was given some painkillers and told to rest.
The next morning, the pain was no less, but he was told to show up at the site. “My foreman, he say, ‘you not working, never mind, but must go to site.’ I don’t know why like that.” He wasn’t asked to do any work, so he mostly rested (at the worksite) through the day.
After four days with no improvement, it was agreed he should go to Geylang Polyclinic, the one nearest their quarters. The foreman told him to take a taxi, and that the company would reimburse him. At the polyclinic, an X-ray was taken and the doctor said something about vertebrae L4 and L5, though Shirazul didn’t fully understand the details. He was given one day’s medical leave and some medication.
Yet, the pain only got worse. “I so pain, I so cry,” recalls Shirazul of those days. Two days later, his boss took him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, even putting him in a wheelchair and wheeling him around. Surgery on his lower back was considered necessary; the operation was carried out on 7 March. He stayed five days in the ward and the company footed the bill.
Towards the end of March, the foreman began to suggest to him – on the instructions of the boss, says Shirazul – that he should consider going back to Bangladesh. Apparently, suggestions were also made to him that the company would give him a one-off payment of a few thousand dollars should he decide to go home.
But the young man wanted to complete his course of treatment here, and was perhaps also hoping that he’d be well soon and able to return to work, so he didn’t indicate any interest in the offer. Nevertheless, the suggestion was put to him again, and after a while, Shirazul began to feel that if he resisted any further, he might not be given any choice in the matter.
“I scared,” he tells me. “So I come out of house.” He quit the company accommodation on 30 March, moving to a bedspace in the Little India area.
He also sought out a lawyer, who lodged a formal accident report with MOM immediately. This move seemed to have changed his relationship with his employer.
“Now, I have to pay for my room,” Shirazul says,”and company no give me MC money. How I pay?” MC money is what employers have to pay their workers in lieu of salary while they are on medical leave. A TWC2 volunteer nearby advised him to inform his case officer at MOM about the matter. MOM should be able to press the employer to pay up, she said.
And that’s when Shirazul let known that his boss was no longer prepared to talk to him, unhappy that the injury had been brought to the ministry’s attention. But why? And if the insurer is supposed to cover the liability, why is the boss so upset?
Shirazul doesn’t know the answers to these questions. He is anyway more worried that the pain is spreading down to his legs – indeed, there is a stiffness to his gait when he walks – and concerned about medical bills for any further treatment he may need. Especially now that the boss is taking an adversarial position.