By Danielle Hong

Mohammed Gafur is here at the TWC2 office with a friend to deal with his injury compensation. He has kept all his bills and time cards, a practice of storing evidence learnt in the eleven years he has been living in Singapore. Though calm and rational, he is anxious, having witnessed too many of his acquaintances undergoing a similar process, with outcomes not always satisfactory.

Older than the average Bangladeshi foreign worker, Gafur has spent the last 23 years of his life on the circular migration route looking for work, first to Saudi in 1991 as a fresh-faced 21 year old, then to Singapore a decade later.

Life was relatively good in Saudi, where he was able to rent a car to travel to the work site. The food, he reminisces, is also of a much better fare than what he is able to afford here now. “Everything so cheap, food is good, I can also have car.”

This feeling of freedom also extended to looking for job opportunities. If he was dismissed from one company, he could easily find another due to the vast number of construction projects. Working hours were strict, with little work done overtime. This combined with the much better salary he received prolonged his stay in the Middle East for that long decade.

Although “My brother say Singapore not good, he work in Korea and Japan before,” he chose to come here. “But I told him, I must experience Singapore,” he laughs wryly, recounting his decision.

And so he landed here in 2003.

Gafur shares with us that no straightforward comparison is possible. There are different aspects of working here, he says, not least – ironically enough – the regulations in place which both aid and hinder his employment opportunities and compensation process. “Singaporeans good, actually law is good too. In Saudi if you are injured, that’s it, finish.”

Thus while there is greater freedom in working and living in Saudi, including the ability to command a higher pay, this is also measured against the lack of structures for protection or reparation processes for injured or exploited migrant workers. Conversely, while Singapore provides a more regulated work experience, appropriate laws also hold back workers from easily receiving reparation due to legal loopholes or the lack of enforcement. Or a lack of foresight in designing regulatory systems.

Now held back by a knee injury, and forbidden to work by the terms of the Special Pass he is on, he is feeling the pinch of financial loss. And it’s not just him. His family in Narayanganj is not receiving any remittances, naturally. Should he be left a permanent disability from the injury, this will also limit his chances of looking for a new job placement in future.

There is a sense of resignation while the bureaucratic compensation process grinds on. Years of experience have taught Gafur how to deal with the Ministry of Manpower. As the friend beside him remarks, “must push MOM you know, no push they do nothing!”