By Sabrina Tay

Amid the buzz of TWC2’s free meals programme, Kamrol Sarker lays out his documents asking what they mean. There are papers showing medical leave and his work injury claim. TWC2 treasurer Alex Au patiently explains to him what each is for and what it says. His explanation sort of confirms what Kamrol has already figured out.

His medical leave ends on 9 April, but he has a follow-up medical appointment on the 14th. What is he to do between the 9th and the 14th? He doesn’t feel well enough to go back to work, he says.

Alex clarifies: “Because your MC is ending on 9 April, you have to go back to work. Your work permit is still valid.” He adds, for emphasis, that “If you do not report to work, the company will have reason to terminate you; they may even report you to the police as a ‘run away’ case. This may result in a police record, and won’t be good for your future job applications.”

Kamrol is then advised that on going back to the job, he can explain his predicament to the foreman, and see if the company can give him any leeway or light duty to do. At the next medical appointment, he can talk to the doctor to get a new MC.

If a compromise can’t be worked out and he needs more advice, he can communicate with our social workers. Alex passes him a contact form and directions to TWC2’s office.

This is one small moment and one case amidst the thousands that TWC2 sees every year. Yet it tells us quite a bit.

Being a foreign worker in Singapore is not easy, to put it mildly. As this above anecdote about Kamrol shows, all documents are in a foreign language. Rules and expectations (unwritten rules) are different from that of the home country and difficult to comprehend. A worker may not be able to understand or foresee the consequences of his actions nor navigate the complicated bureaucracy of the host country.

Together, these stresses disempower him; he is even at a loss sometimes where to seek help.

Kamrol has worked with a construction company for 17 months, doing hacking with a fellow worker. On the afternoon of 9 March 2015, Kamrol took a rest from his dusty, sweaty job, took off his goggles and went downstairs. He explained that he tripped. “Downstairs batu (stone), leg touch batu, head fall down”. As his head fell, it was unfortunate that there happened to be poles amongst the stones and one of which, pierced straight into the side of his right eye.

With a bleeding eye, the company’s supervisor brought him to Gleneagles Hospital for treatment. Kamrol tells TWC2, “Doctor no talk, only see the eyes. He clean, then give eye drop and say you come two days later. (He) give painkiller, two days later go back then show him the cut, then stitch.”

Continuing, he says, “Manager say [to doctor] don’t give MC… so no MC.” As he speaks, he takes out a piece of tissue and gently cleans and wipes his injured eye.

Without medical leave, Kamrol went back to work the next day. However, it was difficult for him to even see what he was working on. Thus, he negotiated with his supervisor and on one of his medical appointments on 17 March 2015, the doctor proceeded to give Kamrol his medical leave till 9 April 2015.

Almost a month has passed since the accident. This evening however, he still reports difficulty in seeing and pain in the eye. Yet, the MC is running out. What’s he to do?

Explains Alex to me: “TWC2 encourages workers to work out amicable solutions with their employers where possible. In this case, I noticed that the company has not cancelled Kamrol’s Work Permit; it may be a sign of good faith… a sign that the company is prepared to wait till the man is fully recovered so he can resume his job.”

“It isn’t wise for him to take precipitate action.”