By Woo Haoqi
Instead of providing for his family, Rana Md Masud depends on his uncle for financial support. This uncle is also working in Singapore, but it doesn’t change the fact that Rana is a burden to his family.
Says Alex Au, TWC2 Vice president, “Rana represents one of those cases whom TWC2 feels could benefit from a job scheme for injured workers waiting for resolution. Although he was injured on the bridge of his nose, he still looks physically fit. He should be able to do some work to sustain himself. To impose a condition on the Special Pass, banning him from working, is to create unnecessary inconvenience and distress for a man and his family.”
When I first meet Rana, who arrived in Singapore on 16 March 2013 as a construction worker on a work permit, I see a visible scar on the left side of his nose, indicative of the injury he suffered at work. He attributes it to a faulty ladder at the worksite, loose or unstable at its base. On 2 November 2013, as he was puttying the ceiling, the faulty ladder gave way. To break his fall, Rana held on to a part of the ceiling, which soon broke off. Rana landed his face. The resulting cut on his nose led to much bleeding and pain for Rana. “That time many many pain, many many blood coming”.
However, he wasn’t sent straight to medical attention. He was made to wait for the company lorry, which arrived close to two hours later. He finally reached Singapore General Hospital at 9pm that night, received 18 stitches on his nose and was given seven days of medical leave. This was followed by a further 28 days of medical leave on a subsequent visit.
About three days before the end of Rana’s medical leave, his boss called him in to the office. Recalling the incident, “Boss say, ‘Salary I give, you come in.’ After [I arrived], $100 give me.
“Then he say, ‘Sunday I give you go back.’” His boss was blaming him for the long period of medical leave he received and telling him that he would be repatriated.
As for the reason, “Boss ask, ‘Why you MC take?’”
Attempting to plead with his employer, Rana insisted that he was still able to work, but there seemed to be no room for negotiation. “I say, ‘Boss, [when] MC finish, I working.’
“Boss say, ‘No no, you go back.’”
Looking at Rana, who seems muscular and fit, it seems difficult to believe that the injury to his nose would prevent him from working. Blaming him for the long recovery process seemed unfair, as it is something beyond his control.
The sudden decision to send him back was a shock to him, especially as he has many family members dependent on his income, “I very scared, I take care a lot of family,” he points out. Punishing Rana and the financial security of his family over an accident seems excessive, his indignation palpable.
Following the incident at the company office, and at a friend’s recommendation, Rana went to find a lawyer . He has since moved out of the company’s dormitory to a bedspace in Little India. When asked, Rana is unsure if the company has filed an accident report to the Ministry of Manpower, though Alex believes that the first thing his lawyer did would have been to ask the company to do so and to initiate a work injury claim.
Rana is currently out of a job and on a Special Pass which expressly forbids him from working.
Rana’s story illustrates a very common problem – that of injured workers post-recovery, who linger for months or even years waiting for the injury compensation claim to be concluded. The problem is partly traceable to defects in the work injury compensation process. The process is modelled on the assumption that
(a) employers would keep injured employees on the payroll and hold the jobs open for them to return to;
(b) employers who are responsible for medical treatment would not try to delay treatment.
In the main, these assumptions might hold true for Singaporean employees, since they aren’t easy to replace. But given the ease by which employers can import new foreign workers, these assumptions break down in the migrant worker sector. Employers have no incentive to hold a job open for an injured worker to return to, and so terminate them quite quickly. Once terminated, providing timely treatment to restore a worker back to health becomes a low priority despite legal obligations.
Put diagrammatically, for migrant workers, the theory is one thing, actual practice is another:
Rana Masud is in the category of “off medical leave but no job to return to”. He faces an indefinite and financially ruinous wait for the conclusion of his injury claim process. For persons in this category, Transient Workers Count Too has long suggested to the Ministry of Manpower that they be allowed to seek new employment without having to be repatriated or even waiting for the conclusion of the injury compensation process.
There is something else noteworthy about Rana’s story: His employer didn’t terminate him until three days prior to the end of his medical leave. Rana told his boss he was ready to return to work, but still the boss didn’t want him. Surely, an experienced worker ready to return to work would be welcome?
A possible explanation for the boss’ behaviour is this: Making an example of Rana figured more prominently in his mind. Penalising him for taking medical leave (by depriving him of a job) can be useful for sending a ripple of fear through the rest of the workforce. Other workers are put on notice that seeking treatment and medical leave after an accident will be frowned upon.
Is that ethical? That should be a question to consider. Is that the effect that our laws and administrative processes encourage? That’s another good question too.