He’s been hobbling around with that boot and a crutch for four months already. Every day he goes up and down three floors to get his free meals provided by Transient Workers Count Too, each step presenting a risk of tumbling down. Unable to put weight on his broken right foot, he largely hops from step to step with his left foot. He has “no choice” but to negotiate the steep stairs, he says, for the only accommodation Ramasamy Sivakumar can find is up on the top floor of a crowded shophouse in Little India.
It is quite shocking what little provision Singapore makes for workers with injuries, especially migrant workers like Siva, 37, who has given nine good years of his adult life building our city.
I ask long-time volunteer Bala why TWC2 doesn’t have a shelter for injured men like Siva. “We don’t have enough funding,” she explains. Indeed, while donations to TWC2 aren’t unhealthy, just running the soup kitchen feeding 300 -400 workers a day breakfast and dinner takes up a lot of the resources. “We have to choose between making sure they don’t go hungry and helping a handful with a nicer place to sleep,” she adds.
Given the high cost of space in Singapore, it is quite obvious what the choice is, tough as it may be.
29 October 2013 was the fateful day. Around 1pm, at their construction site, the foreman called Siva to a meeting. “One area cover with polyfoam, but it cover a hole and I cannot see. ” He describes the hole as only about 50 cm by 30 cm, but it was enough for a man to slip right through. The picture at right on Siva’s mobile phone shows the dangerous opening.
“I whole man drop inside,” he quite dramatically describes the moment. “Fall five metre.” It wasn’t a hole in the ground, it was an opening in a floor slab through which he fell all the way to the basement parking garage below.
He was rushed to Raffles Hospital where he was operated on and a metal rod inserted into his right ankle. “Doctor say, six month after, can take out metal.” This means he will need a second operation. It may be many months before he walks normally again. “Doctor say this injury long time, big problem,” reports the worker. Four months after the accident, he is still on medical leave, as should be obvious since he is still on crutches.
Like so many injured workers seen at TWC2’s soup kitchen, Siva finds himself unable to trust that the employer will support him back to health. “Company never even report accident,” he tells me. “How to believe company? Support or not?”
Manpower ministry rules require that any accident resulting in an injury given more than three days’ medical leave must be promptly reported to its Work Safety Division.
“What I think? I think company don’t want MOM know have accident.”
“I sit down, can?” he asks.
I feel totally ashamed, having kept him standing while I interview him.
“Walking have pain,” he explains. “But sleep and sit down no pain.”
We talk some more, with him telling me how he has to dig into his savings to pay the rent for the crummy bed at the top of the stairs, and how he’s thinking of abandoning the ministry’s work injury compensation (WICA) process and suing the employer for negligence through the civil courts instead. “I think WICA take long time, I want go home faster,” he says, explaining his thinking. “Stay in Singapore very expensive. Where to find money to pay?”
Bala then explains to him his right to medical leave wages; he looks surprised to hear about that. Has nothing been paid to him all these months?
I don’t want to interrupt any further — it’s important that he should know about such things — and take my leave.