By Joyce Wong
28 June 2013. Morning. Although he had reported to work, Ravada Gouru Naidu felt a headache coming on, and his supervisor allowed him to go back to the dormitory to rest. He could get a ride back on the company lorry, but since the cab was fully occupied by two other workers and the driver, Naidu climbed onto the back of the vehicle.
A ‘mega rotor’ was already on the lorry. Resting on a pallet-like stand, it took up most of the centre space. Naidu made himself comfortable in a corner and off they went.
About three to four kilometres into the journey, the lorry made a U-turn. The rotor suddenly rolled off its stand; the stand also shifted. Neither the rotor nor its stand had been tied down! Within a split-second, the heavy equipment brushed against Naidu’s chest, then crashed against his left wrist. Instantly, he felt his wrist bone crack. A sharp pain shot up his left arm. Naidu cried out for help.
Transient Workers Count Too has long argued for a ban on the transportation of humans on the backs of lorries. Singapore should follow the example of Bahrain which banned this practice in 2009, requiring instead that workers be transported in buses. Quite often on our roads, we see workers crammed into a truck along with sharp tools or heavy machinery, presenting grave dangers should the vehicle suddenly brake, swerve or turn. The injury to Naidu’s hand was an entirely preventable accident. In fact, he could have died had the rotor crushed his chest.
Hearing Naidu’s cries, the driver pulled to a halt and called their supervisor. The latter rushed over to take Naidu to the National University Hospital (NUH) in another lorry. He was given treatment and warded for the night, not in NUH because there was no available bed, but at Alexandra Hospital (AH). But he was discharged from AH after just one night because there was no doctor available to operate on his broken wrist.
Naidu endured pain for a few more days in his dormitory before he had his first surgery at NUH. A month later, he had his second surgery followed by more physiotherapy and medical reviews at the hospital.
Then, one day, his boss told him that he would be sent back to India on the expiry of his work permit — which would be 22 August 2013. Naidu was dumbstruck. How can he go back like this? He still cannot flex or rotate his wrist without pain and he has not finished his treatment at the hospital.
Upon learning of his plight, Naidu’s friend brought him to a lawyer and his situation was subsequently reported to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). During one of the appointments at MOM, Naidu met his boss who asked him angrily, “Why choose lawyer? You can’t get any accident money.” Naidu told his boss that he just wants his left wrist to be well again. His boss stormed off after hearing his reply.
The family back home
At this point of his recounting, Alex Au, the vice-president of TWC2, comes by and asks Naidu about his hometown and family.
“From AP (Andhra Pradesh),” he replies. “Have father, three sisters, one brother.” His father is 64 years old and used to work as a hired farm hand, but apparently has retired. Currently, only his brother is working.
“Any sisters married?” Alex asks. Naidu shakes his head. “No money to marry?” Alex smiles as he ventures a guess.
Naidu suppresses a smile, which Alex takes to mean that his guess was right. Naidu then explains the family’s financial worries: his mother had heart surgery a few years back, using up all their savings (with some borrowed money too). “So came to work here. Now Mother died already,” he continues.
Noting that he has not been working since the accident in June, Alex enquires: “Does your family ask you for money?”
Naidu nods. In a grave voice, he confesses that he has lied to his family, saying that there is no overtime work for him now, so he does not have extra money to send them.
“Have you told them about your accident?” Alex asks again with concern.
Naidu shakes his head solemnly. “[If] I tell to them, they crying and so sad.” He pauses. “[Even] if I tell them, what can I do?”