Once in a while, we come across a worker who tells us that he is treated well by his employer. Vijay is one of them. He has asked us not to use his real name because he hopes to continue working with the same employer after he has recovered from his injury. To reveal his name and the employer’s may complicate an otherwise good relationship.
He walks slowing with a crutch for assistance. His right foot is in a special boot that extends all the way up almost to the knee. It is there to immobilise the lower leg and the ankle to help the bones fuse.
“I think [it is] better now,” Vijay says of his right leg, four months after the work accident, though he still has a string of hospital appointments to attend in the months ahead. It is a slow recovery. He has a brother’s wedding coming up in January, and he is slowing losing hope that he will be able to make it. The leg may not be well enough for him to travel back to India in time for the occasion.
Vijay, 37, is an employee of a company that does cable-tunnelling work. They apparently have to bore tunnels up to seven metres wide, though your writer remains mystified why tunnels need to be so large just to carry cables. To prevent the earth from crumbling and falling back into the newly-bored tunnel, compressed air is pumped in. “Must have 6 bar,” he says. The ‘bar’ is a measurement of air pressure. Supplying the needed compressed air is a huge and powerful air compressor.
One morning in July 2014, some mistakes were made (by others) in not securing the safety locks of the air compressor. When it was turned on, the hose whipped around with great force. It hit Vijay in the shin, felling him backwards. An ambulance was called, and he was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he was found to have suffered a fractured leg. He underwent surgery that night and was warded for five days.
On discharge, it was clear that he could not go back to his usual quarters along Serangoon Road — a room shared by twenty workers on the second floor of a shophouse. It would have been impossible for Vijay to negotiate the stairs. The company transferred him to another room, “near Farrer Park station,” he says.
“This one on ground floor. Have twelve men sleeping there.”
The company has about 150 employees, “from so many country, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Korea also,” and they are spread out over several shophouses. Fortunately for Vijay, one of them is located on the ground floor.
Already the story sounds hopeful, and a happy contrast with cases we at TWC2 too often hear: Of employers out to make life unbearable for injured employees so that they will quit the company quarters, thus freeing the employer of the cost of housing them. Not a few employers even go as far as to hire strong-armed repatriation agents who seize workers and send them to the airport against their will, thus depriving them of medical treatment.
Instead, Vijay’s employer shuffled people around to make room for him.
Then it gets even better, although initially, there’s a bit of a hiccup when your writer asks Vijay whether he’s been paid his medical leave wages. He’s still on medical leave and should be entitled to it. At first, he doesn’t understand the question. But instead of this implying trouble, it turns out that the reason he doesn’t understand the term is because he is still being paid the full salary. “Company pay me basic salary and three hours overtime,” he explains. With a basic pay of $750, this totals over a $1,000 a month. It is a little less than what he normally earned. Before the accident, he used to clock about five hours of overtime a day. But he has no reason to complain; the employer is being more than generous. Salaries have been paid promptly too. “Always pay every month first day,” he explains.
We’ve saved the best for last: The employer has also paid for his wife to come visit him. “Altogether, company pay about $1,500 — for air ticket, room rental ($850 of that $1,500) and food allowance.” She stayed for a month. While she was here in Singapore, his parents in India looked after his two boys, aged five and ten.
We joke and tease him: With the wife spending a month here, there’s going to be a new baby in nine months’ time. He has to get well quick and go back to work, for the money will be needed.
“No baby, no baby,” he says, catching on quick and laughing in mock horror. “Two enough already.”
Unlike so many other workers whose Work Permits are cancelled soon after suffering an injury, Vijay’s permit is still ‘live’. As soon as he is fit to work again, he can resume his job. He is really looking forward to that. He likes his employer and is grateful for what they have done for him.