With additional reporting by Mohd Ridhwan

Saju kept reminding his boss for the rest of his May 2014 salary. He had received only $300 compared to something over $1,000 he considered was rightly due. He had put in a lot of overtime work in May.

“Ah Soon, he say later, later,”  reports Saju of his boss Ah Soon’s delay tactics.

Finally, one evening in early June, as Saju was reminding him for the umpteenth time, “he hantam me,” says Saju as he raises his own left fist to indicate where the blow hit his face. This took place “near People Park” in Chinatown.

(‘Hantam’ is Malay for ‘punch’)

“He say, ‘You now no need to work. I send you back.'”

Saju was not going to take that lying down. He made his way to the Ministry of Manpower to lodge a salary complaint. Adding in the work he had put in in June, he felt he was owed over $2,000.

Shahjahan A Majid (Saju’s full name), 26, is a short little guy, but from the way he recounts his story, one senses that he is fully able to stand up for himself.

He has been here in Singapore for about nine months. All unhappy. His first employer (for about six months) didn’t have much work for him, and as a result, the construction worker wasn’t earning what he was expecting. Or, for that matter, what he needed to earn to recover the $3,000 he had paid in agent’s fees to get the job.

The difficulty was that this (first) boss operated what was really a manpower supply business; the company itself didn’t actually have any construction projects, it relied on other contractors being short of labour and calling on him to supply one man here, another man there. Work was thus irregular.

As Saju put it: “this company have little job; many day just sleeping in room wait for boss to call.”

Then he met Ah Soon by chance at a worksite on a rare day when he had work, and Ah Soon suggested that Saju work for him instead, in a new construction company he was setting up.

So he negotiated with the boss, who agreed to him transferring to another job. The catch? “Boss say must pay him $600.” That’s a bit of a scam since it is illegal to demand such a payment from an employee.  Saju reluctantly agreed since he didn’t want to pass up the offer by Ah Soon.

Almost immediately, Saju was confronted by a second scam when he noticed that his new work permit (issued early April 2014) stated the employer’s name to be Mirage Design & Contract Pte Ltd, which was not Ah Soon’s company. He asked Ah Soon about it. “Ah Soon, he say his company cannot apply [for work permits], so he ask his friend company apply for him.”

“I thinking this not right,”  recalls Saju, but being desperate for work and income after six unproductive months, he didn’t feel he had much choice but to roll with it.

Then, “Second day I go,” he was presented with twelve blank payment vouchers. “Ah Soon say must sign. All blank, but must sign.” Saju asked his new boss why. Ah Soon apparently gave him a reason — something about paying in advance for the room where Saju would stay. It’s not clear if Saju was convinced by that, but once again desperate for work and income, yet faced with a third scam, he probably felt he didn’t have much choice.

Two months later, he was demanding his salary and reeling from a punch.

Saju was advised by MOM to make a police report. He did as advised, but later when he showed TWC2 his copy of the police report, we pointed out to him that there was no mention of the assault. All the report contained was a complaint about being compelled to sign blank payment vouchers.

“Why police like that?” he asks us. We can’t explain how that part of the complaint was overlooked, but by then, Saju considered it a secondary matter.

Late June 2014, Saju comes to  see your writer, smiling. “Money get already,” he says. With TWC2’s help, he has recovered all that he felt he was owed: about $2,600. However, he still needs our help to request MOM to allow him to get another transfer and continue working in Singapore. In all these unlucky months, he has barely earned enough (even counting the $2,600 he had just received) to cover what he paid in agent fees and his own living expenses. He’s been no help at all to his family even as they relied on him as breadwinner.

If he has to go home and then look for another Singapore job from there, he has to pay a job agent thousands of dollars all over again.

TWC2 wrote to MOM to help him ask for continuance of stay and a chance to look for another job. The terse reply came back: “We are unable to accede to your request.” No explanation given.

Job agents in Bangladesh must find MOM’s policies very helpful to their bottom-lines.