By Nguyen Minh Quan
“Mother must die”, says Muthu Chetty Murugesan when he shows me his injured left eye. What he means is his mother will be devastated when she learns that her son has lost an eye.
He hasn’t yet told anyone back home about the injury. “My country no one know,” he says, and explaining why he hasn’t told anyone yet, “My mother my father cannot understand.” The sad voice and the stitched eye fill me with both empathy and confusion.
Murugesan came to Singapore two years ago as a brick layer and plasterer for Kia Engineering & Construction Pte Ltd. He has an uncle who has been working in Singapore for nearly eight years in a shipyard so settling in Singapore wasn’t a problem.
Everything went well until the accident on the afternoon of 11 February 2014. A colleague was working no more than a metre from him with a silicone gun, but all of a sudden, the silicone pack burst open. Silicone got into Murugesan’s left eye, and he felt immediately blinded. The company’s supervisor and a safety supervisor from the main contractor took him directly sent him to Raffles Hospital which is located near the workplace. He spent four days there before, on Raffles Hospital’s advice, he was transferred to Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
I ask him if he has received his medical leave wages (commonly known as ‘MC pay’). He is unable to answer, and I get the impression that Murugesan doesn’t know about he’s entitled to two-thirds of his usual gross salary for the past two months.
Unable to resume work, Murugesan soon heard from his boss suggesting that he return to India with a lump sum pay-off: “Two month, three month one time I give you salary,” is what his boss reportedly told him. Murugesan rejected this offer because he wanted to wait for his eye to recover.
He spent ten days in SGH and went back for check-up once every two weeks.”Medicine give, I never pay anything”, says Murugesan when I ask if he had to pay anything towards his medical expenses. It looks like the employer did its part to cover these costs.
At the moment his eye doesn’t hurt any more so I presume that he has received adequate treatment.
The very morning before the interview — two months after the accident — Murugesan went to consult a legal assistant at a law firm on the suggestion of his uncle, but his description of what happened there is rather unusual. He says that it was his uncle who discussed directly with the legal assistant while Murugesan himself had to wait outside the meeting room. The significance of this unsolicited comment is difficult to ascertain.
Many injury cases stretch a long time. Murugesan’s may too. Even though eventually he may receive financial compensation for the loss of an eye, it is not possible to heal the scar inside him. How can he explain to his family when he goes back? How can he get married with this handicap?Where will the life of this young man lead ?
This short tale illustrates a typical way an injury case unfolds. A worker is injured, treatment is begun, but quite quickly, the boss suggests that he abort the treatment and go home. The worker, feeling pressured by the boss’ attitude, looks for a way to buttress his right to stay in order to complete the treatment (and possibly, compensation) process. Engaging a lawyer is what he does next, but even then, the worker is little more informed than before of his rights.
Only later, when the worker discovers TWC2, does he come to us, and we tell him that actually, he has never needed a lawyer in the first place. Moreover, TWC2 takes greater care to ensure that he knows what he is entitled to (e.g. medical leave wages, as mentioned in the article above) and what he can reasonably expect.