“So many years, I not sick,” says Mollah Jahangir, 35. “One time have problem only, boss quickly want to send me home.” This employer enjoyed loyalty from his worker for eight years, but showed none in return.

Mollah Jahangir worked as a grass cutter and occasional water pipe fixer for CPK Contractor Pte Ltd, one of five companies in the Poh Kong Environmental Services group, he tells TWC2. Together, the boss had as many as 100 workers under him.

Terms of employment gradually deteriorated over the eight years — more details in Part 2 — but 2014 was impossibly bad. Mollah Jahangir’s last pay packet was for December 2013.  Since the start of 2014, he has not been paid. He was terminated for complaining on 13 June 2014.

“Five month, ten day, no pay salary,” he says of his employer. “I every day work, Sunday also work.”

He felt so powerless, he might have continued working if not for a problem in his tongue. This began around 19 May. “Many fever,” he recalls, with pain developing on the right side of his tongue. He went to a polyclinic in Tampines, was given a prescription, but didn’t feel any better for it. About a week later — “I cannot eat, only eat banana slowly; drinking water also have pain” — he made his way to Changi General Hospital. There he was given more medicines and a further appointment for 10 June.

At the 10 June appointment, he was advised that he needed an operation. The hospital printed out a cost estimate and asked him to get a letter of guarantee from his employer.

Back at the office, the boss hardly said anything at all on receiving the hospital’s letter. But when Mollah Jahangir reminded him of the request for a letter of guarantee a few days later, the employer was clearly annoyed. “Boss say, ‘this not my problem’.”

“I then say I cannot makan [eat]. Like this I die. Again, boss say, ‘You listen me, I say already this not my problem.'”

So Mollah Jahangir suggested that he might consider paying for the operation himself. However, to do that, he needed all his owed wages paid up. “But when I ask [for] my salary, boss angry talking: ‘You go home. I cancel your work permit.'”

Seeing that his job was gone, he marched right off to MOM to lodge a complaint. He believes he is owed around $4,400 for those five months of 2014.

The terms of Work Permits issued by MOM under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act make it very clear that employers are responsible for the medical care of Work Permit holders. Employers are required by law to purchase insurance of at least $15,000 to cover precisely such eventualities. It is also illegal not to pay salaries on time.

CPK Contractor Pte Ltd states on its website  that its clients include town councils, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, ITE colleges and the Prison Department.

Says Russell Heng, TWC2 president, “State bodies should set a good example and contract only with companies that respect the law and live up to their obligations towards their employees.”

Leavening that with a touch of generosity, he adds: “It is possible however that hitherto, they have not had any monitoring mechanisms in place. But with this story, TWC2 intends to make them aware that they have a responsibility to ensure that as buyers of services, they should take proactive steps to verify compliance and not turn a blind eye to any abusive practice and flouting of the law.”

Knowing that the process of getting MOM to press the employer to cover Mollah Jahangir’s operation cost may take weeks or months, TWC2 advanced him the money to get the operation done. This does not discharge the employer from its responsibility; TWC2 expects the employer to reimburse the worker the cost of the operation, so that the worker can return the loan.

Mollah Jahangir is eating well and talking freely now — we won’t have been able to get his story if not for that. But it turns out that the story stretches far back. Salary short-payments and demands for kickbacks have been going on for years, with eye-popping sums.  More in part 2.

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