By Jennifer Parenteau

Mohamed Ariful sits down beside me and begins to tell me his story. At first it seems like a simple case of improper calculation of his medical leave wages, but as we talk it reveals much more than that!

In June 2014, Ariful was working for the construction company, Calpen Contracters. He was told to pick up and carry a skein of steel rebars for the next step of the project. There were only two men assigned to this job. Ariful took the back of the six metre long skein and his friend took the front. They both knew from the safety course they had done that the maximum weight for them to carry should have been 25kg each, so they knew they would have to be very careful; this load weighed around 65 kgs!

Why did they still try to carry this load when it exceeded the safety limit? Ariful gives a smile and shrug. He knows that I know the answer: to tell the boss it was a safety violation would mean losing his job forthwith — such is the powerlessness of migrant workers in Singapore.

The men decided to carry it on their left shoulders, one at the front and one at the back.  They had carefully begun their journey across the building site when the front man stumbled and fell. Ariful felt the entire 65 kg on his shoulder. Then came pain as he felt the breaking of his collarbone!

Ariful was taken to Mt Elizabeth hospital at Novena to find that indeed his left collar bone was broken. Interestingly, the doctor decided to send him back to work with his arm in a sling!  No medical leave was given  — just a ‘light duty’ stipulation — and no notice was taken of the gross violation of safety laws that had occurred by asking two men to carry such a load.

Ariful was in such pain that he went to another hospital who rightly gave him a three-month medical certificate (MC) and time to heal. His problems were over? Not at all. Now Ariful had to try and collect his MC wages from this employer who had already treated him so poorly. Under the Work Injury Compensation Act, a worker should be paid two-thirds of his previous gross salary while he is on doctor-certified medical leave. Ariful’s salary was $913, so by law he should be receiving $608 every month. On arriving at the company office to collect his first month’s pay, Ariful says he was handed $400 and told by his boss that ‘Singapore government cutting, cutting’ which seems to suggest that the employer was entitled to make deductions from MC wages to cover various government charges (this, by the way is NOT true). No paperwork was given at this time, so Ariful cannot explain what exactly was deducted.

In any event, no further amount has been paid since, even though there were two more months of medical leave.

On further discussion, we learn that Ariful has been penalised in several other ways too. In TWC2’s experience, this is not untypical. It goes to show how disadvantaged workers are under the legal structures here that employers, if they choose to, can exploit numerous ways to claw money back from workers. These often go undetected by the authorities either because of ignorance on the part of workers or, if they are aware, they are nevertheless deterred by the heavy price — losing their jobs — they’d have to pay should they lodge formal complaints. Under Singapore law, a migrant worker is not permitted to look for another job (except under rare circumstances), so losing the existing job is a big blow.

We learn that Ariful’s employer had been taking $50 a month from his wage and calling it ‘savings money’. Ariful tells us that they said this deduction was required by the Singapore government. This is also NOT TRUE.

We also learn that Ariful was required to pay an Indian man, a supervisor of his company,  $1,600 for his work permit. We are hoping that Ariful mentions this to the same MOM case officer, because we feel sure that this is a practice that is not legal or allowed by the Singapore government.

Luckily for Ariful, he came to TWC2 for advice, but the most important thing that he did was to KEEP ALL HIS RECEIPTS. Ariful has taken photos of all of the evidence pertaining to his case. He has recorded everything including pay slips and medical reports. Workers should make this a habit! Our advice to Ariful is to head straight down to MOM where a case officer can see clearly what he is owed and who can call the company in to meet their obligations.

He needs to lodge complaints about, and is entitled to collect:

  • Three months of MC money — he has so far only received $400 so far,
  • The medical expenses he incurred by having to go to another hospital to get proper treatment,
  • The so-called ‘savings money’ that was held by his company each month,
  • A refund of the $1,600 that he had to pay to get his work permit,
  • His work injury insurance pay-out in due course.

And he needs to report the violation of health and safety standards by his company.

Also, because his collar bone is still not healed, he has to be careful not to be persuaded to have a premature assessment for compensation. It will take time before Ariful can reunite with his wife and two sons in Bangladesh, but he is determined to see this through until he just gets what is owed to him.

Ariful’s story tells us that some companies do not always give their workers correct information. Singaporeans can help workers they meet by directing them to TWC2, so that they will know their rights and be given advice how to get what is due to them. Workers should not be left to accept something that just doesn’t seem right!