Whenever we have a new story about a worker, we tend to put a link to it on TWC2’s Facebook wall. Most of our stories tell about workers’ experience with salary defaults or the frustrations that follow a workplace injury.
Once in a while, we see a comment by a reader on our Facebook wall that questions the credibility of our stories, and faults TWC2 for being naive and gullible about everything that workers tell us. This, in our view, is an unfair accusation.
Firstly, when we give voice to a worker’s side of the story, it doesn’t necessarily mean we totally believe him. The value of any story is to help readers see things from his perspective.
Secondly, TWC2 is generally quite careful about the cases we take up. We have enough experience to assess quite quickly whether a worker’s case is justified or not, and whether his account is believable or not. Naturally, if we have doubts about the merits of a worker’s case we won’t be carrying a story about it. Behind what you see on this site, much judgement is used to filter the cases.
Take a random day: Monday, 16 December 2013. Three cases came up that, if not for the unusual aim of this post (to inform readers of the kinds of judgements we have to make), we would not bother to write up.
A Malaysian guy rang our office doorbell. He was hoping we’d help him get a work permit. A brief conversation soon revealed that a few years ago he was working here with a valid work permit, but was caught selling contraband cigarettes. He said he paid the tax on it, but seems to have gone back to Malaysia for a few years. Now he is here in Singapore again and on a temporary work permit. However, the new employer’s application for a “proper” work permit has been rejected by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Can we help him appeal to MOM? Is there some other way to get a work permit?
We told him we can’t of much help. TWC2 accepts that it is the state’s prerogative to decide who gets to enter Singapore and work here. Our mission is to ensure that migrant workers be given fair treatment in employment-related issues, and in this case, it is not obvious that there is anything unfair about MOM rejecting his application for a work permit.
The phone rings. There is another Malaysian on the line. He is working here in Singapore but recently needed medical treatment. He chose to get treated in Malaysia, where he was given about 50 days of medical leave (without hospitalisation). On return to Singapore, he was told by his employer that they would only pay him for 14 days of the medical leave. How can he get his employer to pay for the entire period?
We told him that his employer was being more than fair. Under the law, the employer need not even have recognised the medical leave issued by a Malaysian doctor. The Employment Act obliges employers to pay for medical leave only when it is certified by a Singapore-registered medical practitioner. Secondly, the same Act also says that an employee (assuming he is not a new employee) is entitled to 14 days’ of paid outpatient medical leave a year — which seems to be the basis for what the employer had told him.
Once again, no employment-related unfairness can be spotted and we declined to help him pursue his case.
A worker — let’s call him Farukkur — tells TWC2 volunteers at our Cuff Road Project (which provides free meals to injured and out-of-work workers) that whilst he has been awarded five points for his workplace injury, he is choosing to go for “common law”. To readers not familiar with the technicalities of the work injury compensation process, a little explanation may be necessary: ‘Five points’ indicates that Farukkur has been medically assessed to have suffered a small degree of permanent incapacity, and would have been deserving of an appropriate amount of monetary compensation. However, he has rejected this offer, possibly because he considered it inadequate, and has chosen to sue the employer for negligence in causing his injury through the courts.
Debbie Fordyce, the project coordinator, whispers to TWC2 vice-president Alex Au that this guy would be among the first to have a black mark on his TWC2 registration card if we wanted to implement such a system. She says there was one occasion when she and some other workers visited Farukkur in the hospital. The physiotherapist was trying to get him to walk, but he kept saying he could not; his back hurt too badly. Later on, there was some competitive horseplay among the men, and (according to subsequent reports by the visiting workers) Farukkur joined in the fun, quite able to get up and bend his back.
Debbie also had met with Farukkur’s employers. She learnt that the worker was accommodated in the company dormitory all through his medical leave, though they really wanted him out. The employer was trying to live up to its legal obligations to provide housing — what a contrast to many other employers who boot out an injured worker as soon as possible — but the managers felt he was a bad influence on other workers while there.
TWC2 tolerated him at our free meals programme, but thereafter decided not to offer any proactive help to progress his case.
This is not to say that the injury was not genuine. An accident probably did happen. Nor is it to say that even the five points offered to him was undeserved. Perhaps he did have a permanent incapacity of some sort, and the medical board whose job is to assess injuries would have made an objective assessment. However, the moment a worker is seen exaggerating his injury, TWC2 pulls back and no longer helps him pursue his case. He’s on his own.
How often does this happen? Not often. Most times, workers come across as honest and reasonable. For example, the very fact that the worker friends who visited Farukkur in hospital ratted on him to TWC2 leaders indicates that they too disapproved of such behaviour.