Gulam Mustafa Zakir Hossain fears his work injury compensation claim may have been totally screwed up. He injured his right shoulder, but the medical report from West Point Hospital where he was initially treated mentions the left shoulder.

“My left side no problem,” he says. It has never been injured.

It may have been just a clerical error, but this mistake may have allowed his employer to claim that his right shoulder injury was not work-related. This case may sound farcical, but for a worker with a permanent incapacity in the shoulder and not getting thousands of dollars in compensation, it is no laughing matter.

Furthermore, there was a delay in getting treatment, and this too may have allowed the employer to argue that the treatment had nothing to do with any work-related injury. The treatment date, it could be argued, was far removed from the claimed accident date.

Asked why it took so long before he went to a hospital, Gulam says he was not allowed to. Employees in the company were subjected to a climate of fear. Recalls Gulam, “Foreman say, ‘Anybody go doctor many time, then send back.'” Naturally no worker wants to be repatriated if he can help it. “He also say, ‘First time go, Sunday no work.'” For workers earning so little, being denied extra overtime pay from working on Sundays would be a significant loss.

As a result, for a few months after the August 2012 accident, Gulam was merely treated at the work site’s First Aid Point. “Only spray shoulder and back,” he says. Possibly a pain killer?

For about six months, the company let him do light work. Instead of his usual construction job, he was asked to “bring small thing here and there”. But when, after six months, the company expected him to resume his normal job while his shoulder still hurt, he protested. “They ask me do forcefully work,” he says. “I many quarrel with foreman. I say my hand [shoulder] not good. Many pain.”

Although he started treatment at West Point Hospital, he soon decided to make his own way to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. As at the time of interview (August 2013) he is still under the latter hospital’s care. In fact, the hospital doctor confirmed in a note — Gulam showed the note to TWC2 — that the right shoulder injury was work-related.

After the employer disputed this, Gulam’s lawyer wrote to the Ministry of Manpower providing names of three co-workers who would testify to the original accident.

However, according to Gulam, “MOM only interview Zafar [one of the named workers]  . . .  after that, MOM say other no need.” Gulam has no idea why MOM did not interview the other two potential witnesses.

Although it is not entirely final, MOM may be closing the case on this. Gulam reports a recent conversation with his case officer; “He say, you go common law, go back.” If his recollection and understanding of the conversation is correct, the officer was advising him to seek damages from his employer through a court of law, but meanwhile to return to Bangladesh.

Indeed, this may be an effective route to take, but much depends on his lawyer.

Nonetheless it seems rather unfair that he was denied the much simpler route of getting compensation through the Workman Injury Compensation Act — which does not require costly litigation — all because of a clerical mistake at a hospital or a delay in treatment resulting from a foreman terrorising his workforce.