What does Mattaparthi Kumaraswamy have to show for the six years he has worked? Very little. When he goes back to India, he will have no savings, hardly any prospect of a job, yet there’s an extended family to feed.
Has he seen the sights of Singapore, gone shopping in Orchard, taken a holiday? The answer would be No.
Migrant workers hope that hard work and a bit of luck would give them and their families economic lift-off. Some make it. Others, like Kumaraswamy find that they end up right where they began.
He first came to Singapore in 2007 to work in a shipyard, after learning to weld, and stayed with the company for about eighteen months. Compared to his previous job in a Visakhapatnam, grinding rice in a mill, he was earning lots more money. In Singapore, his basic pay was $18 a day, and with overtime, he grossed about $500 – 600 a month. Despite having $100 deducted for rent and $50 for “savings money” — an illegal deduction — he still managed to remit 10,000 Indian Rupees a month to his family and Rs 6,000 to the agent who had helped him come to Singapore. Over time, a total of Rs 120,000 was paid to this agent. That’s about S$4,400 based on the exchange rate of January 2008.
In 2009, he came for his second job. It paid better, with a monthly total of about $700-800 after deductions. The Rupee exchange rate had also moved somewhat in his favour and now he was able to remit Rs 15,000 a month home. But expenses had gone up too. By this time, he had a wife and two children to feed and a father who was ill and needed an operation — which cleared out all his savings.
The hard slog to rebuild family finances began all over again.
Then disaster struck. On 19 July 2013, he fell off the company bus just outside of his workplace. At the interview, his arm is in a sling, and it doesn’t look like he’s able to go back to the old job. Kumaraswamy expects to be returning to India soon.
What will he do for work? We ask him.
He’s not sure, but maybe he’ll go back to the rice mill.