Express Point Engineering Pte Ltd took exception to our article published on 17 December 2014, titled ‘Injured Hossian hidden away in locked container’. The employer asserted that this was untrue, though this was possibly later qualified with a further nuance: that they had no knowledge of any such incident.
Following an email from Express Point, TWC2 met with a company representative in the third week of January 2015. Much of the conversation centred on three key claims made by Bangladeshi worker Hossian Ramzan who was injured on 24 April 2014 at the Asia Offshore shipyard where he worked. In Hossian’s account the three claims were:
1. That very soon after the accident, he was moved by two other workers to a container and left there with the door ‘locked’.
2. After the shipyard notified Express Point of the incident, the company did not take him directly to medical attention. Instead, they took him back to the company office off Pioneer Road North. Hossian had to make his own way to hospital.
3. After seeing the doctor, he was made to sleep in a room in the company workshop, and not returned to his dorm, and that the company tasked another worker to guard him.
Was the worker left in a container?
With respect to the first point, the Express Point representative showed TWC2 copies of two incident reports. One was made by Nagalingam Ventriselvam, a marine worker, the other was Chellaiah Chellapan, a supervisor. Both were presumably under the employ of Express Point Engineering Pte Ltd though the documents do not state so explicitly. The statements were recorded by N Senthil Kumar, the Safety Coordinator for Express Point Engineering Pte Ltd. Both reports (each about 130 – 160 words) recorded how they found Hossian immediately after the accident. Nagalingam Ventriselvam concluded his report by saying that “I informed my supervisor Chellaiah Chellapan about this.” As for the latter, he concluded his report: “I called Driver Mr Gunasegaran to bring him to clinic immediately. Driver reached on the yard and brought him to the clinic around 11:30 Hrs.”
Both reports were silent about what transpired between the accident and the arrival of the driver. Nothing was said about Hossian’s location. The worker himself had said to TWC2 (as noted in the earlier article) that he was first brought to a staging area, and then, on the company supervisor’s (whom he did not name) instruction, transferred into a container. He had to knock loudly on the walls of the container to attract the attention of the shipyard officials (i.e. Asia Offshore not Express Point employees). And that all this happened before the company vehicle arrived.
The Express Point representative said to TWC2 that since the reports mentioned nothing about Hossian Ramzan being placed in a container, it was therefore untrue that he was ever in such a position. “Locking into container never happened,” the company representative told us.
TWC2 requested for access to Ventriselvam and Chellapan to probe further since their reports were silent on the specific issue of where the worker was placed. Express Point was initially agreeable, but further on in the conversation, the request was declined. This occurred after TWC2 said that even after interviewing the two, there is no guarantee that Hossian’s account will be retracted or repudiated. Much depends on what the two men will say and in any case, it is TWC2 policy to leave on record statements made by workers to us unless those statements are contradicted by such a preponderance of contrary evidence that they are clearly false. Our policy is to let readers judge wherever there is room for doubt or interpretation.
Express Point additionally pointed out that while they were the employers of the men, they were not in control of the shipyard where they worked. Except for workers pre-authorised to enter and work in the shipyard, other company officials have no access. “Since our company has no control over the shipyard, if something happens at the yard, how can the company be held responsible?”
In any case, the question of whether telephonic contact was maintained between the company executives and leading workers within the yard was not discussed. Nor was the possibility that employees acted on their own in placing the injured worker in a container, without specific instruction from above.
At the office
The company’s timeline is a lot more consistent. The accident happened around 10:55h, the above-mentioned incident reports said, and the company vehicle was called and arrived around 11:30h. Hossian may have exaggerated the length of time he was made to wait.
Chellapan’s statement that the company driver “brought him [the injured worker] to the clinic around 11:30 Hrs” appears not to be accurate as to the destination. The company representative confirmed during the meeting what Hossian said — that he was brought to the company office. She explained that the intention was to take him to Bless Medical Centre, a general practitioner clinic in Boon Lay Place, but since he was brought to the office around 12 noon and the clinic was likely closed for lunch, they decided to let Hossian take his lunch first. “We told him to take his lunch. But he didn’t take his lunch and without informing any staff, he went directly to NUH (National University Hospital).” She believed he hobbled out from the office to the main road and hailed a taxi from there.
Sleep at office instead of dorm
The doctor at NUH told the company that Hossian’s injured leg left him in no position to climb stairs, the company representative explained to TWC2. Hence, instead of returning him to the dormitory (which had no lift) they let him stay in a room on the ground floor of the company’s Pioneer North workshop. The bare stated facts are consistent with Hossian’s account. However, the worker interpreted the choice of location more sinisterly. Moreover, what the company described as “We gave him a helper — a colleague who came all the way from Kranji dorm — and we gave him everything, we gave him food,” was described by Hossian differently. He saw the ‘helper’ as someone tasked to keep guard over him. The company named this helper as Sundaresan Kochengan, a Tamil Indian worker. Hossian did not name him in his earlier interview, other than saying he was the company’s ‘tamil timekeeper’.
As told in his earlier account, Hossian Ramzan accused the timekeeper of stealing the SIM card from his mobile phone. Using his other phone, which he said the timekeeper was not aware he had, he then called the police. The company representative acknowledged to TWC2 that the police did show up one morning, but “we have no idea about the missing phone.”
TWC2 caught up with Hossian about a week after the meeting with Express Point. We told him we had spoken with the company and asked him whether he still stood by his earlier account that he had been locked in a container. He insisted it was all true. He then showed us a photo he had on his mobile phone. This photo, he said, was taken while he was sitting on the floorbed of the container. “You can see the container door there, and the supervisor’s legs. You can see I am definitely inside the container taking this picture.”
In case it is argued that the door could be a door to a room, not a container, a slightly over-exposed version of this shows corrugated walls, very typical of a shipping container.
With respect to being sent (about a hour after the fall) from the shipyard to the company office rather than directly to hospital, Hossian reiterated that he was told the reason they were waiting at the office was because either staff need to get instructions from the boss or they were waiting for him to come. “I tell them I very pain, I crying, but they don’t want to send me see doctor immediately.” In any case, it is not in dispute that whereas Hossian wanted to be sent to a hospital, the company intended only to send him to a family clinic. And after lunch too. Realising this, Hossian must have felt it necessary to take matters into his own hands.
“Also, company never give me lunch. Only say, ‘wait, wait.'”
As for the third point: the matter of interpretation whether he was being cared for or being imprisoned in the ground floor room of the company’s workshop, Hossian pointed out that it was noteworthy that the company assigned him a Tamil worker to “care” for him. Hossian Ramzan’s counterpoint was that his friends were Bangladeshi and if the company wanted someone to help him through his recovery, they could have asked one of his friends and not assigned a Tamil worker he hardly knew.