With additional reporting by Debbie Fordyce
Part 1 described how Mollah Jahangir lost his job as soon as he asked his employer to pay for medical treatment. This, even though he had loyally worked for the company for eight years. And even though he continued working for five months since the start of 2014 when salary payments stopped altogether.
However, salary issues were a rumbling problem for years before that.
“At beginning, salary $18 one day and OT [overtime] three hour, because working 7am to 7pm,” explains the grasscutter. But not long after commencing this job, “cut one hour from time card.” Instead of recording the actual time when he finished work, the supervisor recorded it to be one hour earlier.
The crew worked seven days a week, “but Sunday not pay double.” According to the law, if an employer asks a worker to work on his rest day, the employer should pay double rate.
This illegal trimming of salaries affected not only Mollah Jahangir. “All men same same counting,” he tells TWC2, meaning that all the other workers were likewise suffering these reductions. Some raised the matter with their boss, but when they did so, “Boss angry. Boss always say, ‘[if] you not happy, tomorrow I send back.'”
The message was clear: Accept these dishonest time cards and underpayments or lose your job.
“After [this], all men scared, not talking boss anymore.”
This is how employers impose a reign of terror.
What has law and justice got to do with anything? Even if the men complained now, bureaucrats will take the easy position of asking workers for documentary proof — ignoring the fact that it’s the boss who controls the time cards, so how can the men present proof? — and telling the workers that if the complaint relates to anything more than twelve months ago, the ministry is not interested.
Twenty minutes into the conversation, Mollah Jahangir mentions two more problems.
The law on annual leave entitlement be damned — that was the employer’s attitude. “Take one day off, $30 summon,” says Mollah Jahangir, using the word “summon” to mean a fine. Recall from above that the men’s basic pay was $18 a day.
Moreover, every second year, when his work permit came up for renewal, “Boss take $3,500 for renewal. All men same. ”
This is a shocking amount. Even taking $1 would be illegal, but $3,500 is equivalent to four months’ gross salary (i.e. including overtime). More recently, Mollah Jahangir heard from his co-workers who’s had recent renewals that the rate has increased. “Now, taking $5,000.”
Then, as mentioned above, salary payments stopped altogether after December 2013.
And yet, only Mollah Jahangir came to TWC2 for help, and this was because he needed medical care. It appears that all his co-workers are still working without pay.
After intervention by TWC2, an MOM officer called Mollah Jahangir on 11 July 2014 to tell him that the company had deposited the owed salaries into his bank account. However, the amount was $420 less and when Mollah Jahangir told MOM this, the officer asked him to call his boss directly.
That he did, and “Boss angry. He say call [company] office. So I call office, and office man say ‘I give ‘ready your salary.'” He’s at another impasse.
He also learned that 20 co-workers from CPK — all Bangladeshi men — went to MOM the day before. They all received money, but Mollah Jahangir couldn’t tell TWC2 whether the amounts were correct or not. They were sent home immediately. As for other employees of the same boss in related companies of the Poh Kong group, Mollah Jahangir’s information was that they have not yet received their salaries. Mollah Jahangir names those companies by shorthand: NGB, GMS, TT500 and Poh Kong Environmental.
In actual fact, Mollah Jahangir has so far not mentioned the plight of workers in the related companies to MOM. “I not yet tell MOM about the other companies, ” he says. “Maybe those guys angry [if I do so]. Not sure.” He expects MOM to carry out due diligence without prompting. “MOM can check, salary give or no give.”
MOM has also told him he was eligible for a six-month temporary job, and gave him a list of agencies who could find one for him. “I call one of them,” Mollah Jahangir informs TWC2, “and he say wait seven days and maybe he can arrange a company for me.”
[Update, 6 August 2014: Mollah Jahangir started on a temporary job on 1 August 2014. It’s for only six months, as a cleaner in a worker’s dormitory.]
Oh yes — the cost of the tongue operation which started it all, and which should have been the employer’s responsibility in the first place. It’s still hanging in the air. “Still waiting for the MOM man to help me with my hospital money.”