By Joyce Wong
Monjor’s boss wanted him to accept a lower pay than previously agreed. He refused. Then repatriation agents came.
Last month, testifying before the Committee of Inquiry looking into the Little India riots, Kevin Teoh of MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division, said, as reported in Today newspaper:
Asked about the framework in place to prevent the forced repatriation of foreign workers — which has been known to happen to those who complained about their employers — Mr Teoh said that last year, there were 23 occasions in which the MOM stepped in after it was flagged at the point of departure that the worker being repatriated had “outstanding employment” matters.
This was subsequently “dealt with” by the ministry, Mr Teoh said.
— Today, 19 March 2014, No widespread mistreatment of foreign workers here, COI told, by Amanda Lee
This story may be one of those 23 cases.
Monjor Mostak Ahammed arrived in Singapore on 19 July 2013 for a job promising a daily pay of $22. However, at the end of his first day of work, his boss asked him to sign a new contract with a salary of $20 per day. Surprised, Monjor refused since it was lower than previously agreed.
He then called the employment agent to whom he had paid $3,400 for the job. “If no work, give me my money. I want to go home,” he said at the end of their conversation. The agent assured him he would discuss with his boss and advised that in meantime, Monjor should continue on his safety course.
24 July morning. Monjor received a call from the agent to meet him and his boss. At the appointed time, 1:30pm, Monjor arrived at the restaurant, but seeing the agent was alone, asked, “Madam where?”
“Madam coming.” The agent replied gesturing for him to sit down.
Monjor sat down and thought he would order a drink when four gangsters — Monjor calls the repatriation agents ‘gangsters’ — strode into the restaurant. They immediately surrounded him with two of them gripping his wrists to secure him between them.
Alarmed, Monjor cried out, “What happened?”
One of the gangsters announced that he would be taking the 8:30pm flight back to Bangladesh. Shocked, Monjor turned to the agent and exclaimed, “Why men come to catch me? You don’t want to give me my money! You send me to Bangladesh like this?”
“Sorry brother. You go back first. After I find another company, then I bring you back”, the agent said.
“How [can] I believe [you]? I don’t want to go back! You give me my money!” Monjor implored as thoughts of the $3,400 loan for the agent fee and the interest he has to pay rushed through his mind. Ignoring him, the agent instructed the gangsters to take Monjor immediately to the airport.
As he was being marched to the van, Monjor asked to be allowed to get his belongings. They agreed and made a detour to his dorm. Then they brought him to a hotel near Mustafa Department Store in Little India where they waited inside a room till it was time for the flight.
Meantime, Monjor called his family to explain his situation. “My father very scared, [but] cannot do anything” he tells me. His father instructed him, “Don’t cry. Don’t escape. Don’t fight. Don’t run. Come back and see what God can do for you.”
Four hours later, two of the gangsters took Monjor to the airport. Grabbing the first opportunity, the desperate Monjor approached a policeman standing near the checkpoint. The officer told him that he could just walk out if he did not want to board the plane. After much deliberation, Monjor did just that.
There was nothing the repatriation agents could do once the policeman was alerted, so they took him back to the hotel. Still, Monjor remained confined in a room.
However, he had his phone with him, and he was able to make more calls, eventually getting a number for Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). So alerted, a TWC2 volunteer went to a nearby police station and persuaded a few officers there to follow her to the hotel. Minutes later, they were at the door of the room where he was held. After hearing Monjor’s story, the police requested both the agent and his boss to come to the hotel.
When all the parties were present, the police advised Monjor to register his case with Ministry of Manpower (MOM) the next day. On hearing this, his boss promptly said, “You go MOM no use. I give you $22. Tomorrow start work. Tonight you come with me.”
Unable to trust her, Monjor refused. The agent then offered to take him home for the night and then take him to MOM the next day. This he refused too. In the end, Monjor relied on TWC2 to find a place for him for the night.
Next morning, with TWC2’s help, he registered his case with MOM and was issued a special pass to legalise his continued stay in Singapore while his complaint was looked into.
“What happened since then?” I ask.
Monjor becomes visibly more upset. His case has dragged on for months. And then on 12 February 2014, he was told his mother was very sick and was asking for him. “My mother very sick. If anything happened, who’s responsible?” Monjor continues with agitation. “I cannot tahan already,” he says, using a colloquial word to mean that he can’t withstand the wait any more. “I just want to go back.”
“Did the MOM officer say anything when you told him about your mother?”
“He said ‘Company don’t want to buy [the airticket]. Then how?’” Frustrated, he mutters that he should have just boarded the plane that day if he had known it would take forever to get his money back and a flight home.