It is still October 2014. Chodawre Badal doesn’t say much, but just shows your writer a letter from the National University Hospital (NUH) giving him an assessment date for 8 May 2015, seven months away.
‘Assessment’ is the stage when a worker, following a work injury, is assessed for residual permanent incapacity, so that an appropriate compensation amount can be worked out.
But what’s he going to do between now and next May?
Nor does it mean he will be going home soon after that. TWC2 has seen cases where the men stay on for months more because the assessment is disputed by one or more parties causing further delay in the case resolution. There’s a good chance that Chodawre will remain stuck in Singapore till the end of next year. But he won’t be allowed to work. The Special Pass that legalises his stay contains a stern condition: that he must not engage in any employment.
Chodawre’s accident occurred on 2 February 2014 in a shipyard. He fell about three metres, hurt his back and both his knees — he must have landed on them — and was first taken by the company driver to Mount Alvernia Hospital. But “Alvernia not give treatment, because must have cash money. I not have money, driver not have money,” he explains. “So have to go to NUH.”
NUH has a different policy. “At NUH, just show permit, can see doctor.” Since employers are responsible under the law for foreign workers’ medical care, all the hospital has to do is to take down the employer’s name as shown on the Work Permit.
Chodawre was given around 20 – 25 days’ medical leave, followed by about 30 days’ light duty. During his ‘light duty’ period, “must do grinding. Very hard job.”
Yet, when his medical and light duty periods came to an end, he wasn’t quite reinstated to his old job. Instead, the Work Permit seemed to have been cancelled. Chodawre couldn’t tell your writer why, but a possibility — because we see it frequently — is that as soon as Chodawre engaged a lawyer to pursue a work injury claim, the company felt that conflict was unavoidable.
A researcher from the Singapore Management University who had been doing interviews with employers told your writer, “employers absolutely hate lawyers”.
Chodawre’s injuries are largely healed, though whether there is any permanent impairment is not yet ascertained. He has no more medical and physiotherapy appointments. He has nothing to do. Disallowed from working, he has no income. Yet, for some mysterious reason, his assessment date is seven months away.
It is possible, especially with back injuries, that the medical protocol would be to give it time to see how much the body can recover by itself. In that light, a later assessment date makes sense. But the problem is that our present migrant labour regulations are unable to accommodate such situations. There may be the assumption by the hospital that their patients, once off medical leave, all go back to work, that employers are happy to take them back or that MOM freely allows workers to look for new jobs. And that it will be easy to find new jobs.
In the real world, none of the above applies. This huge gap in the system seems to escape the attention of policy-makers. And one after another, workers like Chodawre Badal keep falling into them.
The ministry may point to by-laws that stipulate that (former) employers should continue to provide “upkeep and maintenance”, but this is hardly realistic, especially when a case stretches well beyond a year. Law that is impractical and unenforceable is bad law.
So what do the men do? Let’s get real. They’re not going to just obey the Special Pass, stay idle and quietly starve. They’re going to look for work in the underground economy. If caught, they will be punished by MOM, even though it’s MOM’s regulatory framework which compelled them to look for illegal work in the first place.
Law that creates injustice is also bad law.