By Keith W
Nazim Chowdhury shows me a three-page document he printed out. It’s the formal accident report that his employer provided to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The incident was described in the document thus: That he
“… with a co-worker was tasked to remove a beam at the location. While handling the beam, it fell off from both the worker’s grip causing it to struck onto injured person hand. This case was not reported to Keppel Fels.”
That sounds like an honest report, I remark to Nazim.
“What honest?” he says. “At first, company don’t [even] want to make report.”
Reading the document more closely, I now notice that that accident occurred on 20 August 2012, but wasn’t reported to the Ministry of Manpower until 27 June 2013.
“Company not make report. [Only] after I go lawyer, then make report,” the worker says.
Under the law (detailed in footnotes), employers are required to report accidents to the authorities within ten days if a worker is given more then three days of medical leave by a doctor. In Nazim’s case, he was given 80 days.
Also evident from the document is the employer’s admission that although the accident took place at a shipyard worksite belonging to Keppel-Fels, the employer did not inform Keppel-Fels either.
Most workers are like Nazim, with no idea about employers’ obligation to report accidents. They aren’t aware that workers themselves can notify the ministry on their own, and the ministry will then demand a full report from the employer. There is no need to engage a lawyer. Nazim didn’t know he could notify MOM himself.
Work like before or you’ll be sent home
So what triggered him to search for a lawyer, who then notified MOM on Nazim’s behalf?
When the treatment phase came to an end, “doctor give letter,” explains Nazim. “Letter say this hand don’t give hard work.” Nazim handed the letter to his employer, “but company say, ‘You do same job’… hard work like last time.”
“I say I cannot do. My hand like that, cannot do hard job.”
Indeed, Nazim has a bony bump on the back of his right hand, and movement of his wrist and fingers appears quite restricted.
According to him, when he protested about being assigned his old job, requiring heavy labour, gripping steel beams and such like, the company told him that if he didn’t comply with orders they would send him back to Bangladesh.
With relations soured, he had no choice but to move out of the company dormitory. Now he is paying over $200 a month for a cramped bedspace, despite being broke and without work, hoping the compensation process will finish quickly. Normally, an assessment date is given as soon as the treatment phase ends, which in Nazim’s case, was more than half a year ago. But that’s provided that the ministry is even aware that an accident occurred. As is clear from the above document, officials weren’t notified till June 2013.
He has finally been given a date. “I have assessment date 11 January,” Nazim tells me. However, a TWC2 case helper present — I forgot to ask her name — advises him that the paperwork after the assessment date can take as long as three to six months before he gets any compensation at all and is free to go home.
He looks depressed as we take our leave.
The delay in reporting the accident may have created this situation where Nazim needs to stay on in Singapore for several more months than necessary, this TWC2 volunteer says to me after Nazim has left. Meanwhile, he’s paying the cost of his employer’s delay.
The ministry’s website says that employers must report an accident within ten days. The volunteer remarks: “It will be interesting to know if MOM will prosecute the employer for breaching a legal obligation to report.” She has yet to hear of any instance when employers have been prosecuted. “Perhaps that’s why we see so many examples of late reporting,” she adds.
Is Nazim and others in similar straits, by having to stay on in Singapore to await delayed processes, the ones paying the price for it?
Section 6 of the WSH (incident reporting) Regulations, subsidiary to the Workplace Safety and Health Act, says:
Duty to report accident leading to injury
6. —(1) Where an employee meets with an accident at a workplace and he —
(a) is granted more than 3 consecutive days of sick leave by a registered medical practitioner for that injury; or
(b) is admitted in a hospital for at least 24 hours for observation or treatment,
the employer of that employee shall, not later than 10 days after the accident, submit a report to the Commissioner.
Section 10(1) of the Workplace Safety and Health Act prescribes a maximum fine of $5,000 for the first offence of failing to notify and report an accident.