By Polly Perdereau

“Working very good, accident no good”. This, in his own words, is Sabuj’s sad realisation about life after an injury.

Sikder Sabuj started working in Singapore three years ago. He is from Bangladesh. According to him, he had to shell out $9,000 in “agent money” to be able to come here to work. He spent his first years in Singapore paying off his debts. He was paid $21 per day and generally got two hours of overtime daily.  Everything was good as far as his work was concerned… until an accident at the start of this year.

Sabuj reported for work on 10 January 2015 at 8 am — his normal schedule — at a shipyard in Jurong. He operated a gouging machine as usual, which is a steel cutting machine. At around 3:45 pm, as he was cutting a slab of steel, there was a sudden spurt of minute metal particles towards him. His right eye was hit despite wearing safety goggles. The pain was intense.

The boss told him to go seek treatment, but when Sabuj asked for money to pay for treatment, he was told, “Now you pay, I pay you later”.

Sabuj went to a nearby clinic injured and alone. The doctor cleaned his eyes and removed the particles after which he gave Sabuj some pain medicine. At some point, with pain continuing, the clinic gave him a referral letter to a big hospital. The following day, he went back to talk to his boss and showed him the referral letter. The boss agreed that he should to the hospital but again, when he tried to ask for some money for medical expenses, Sabuj recalls, “Boss say, ‘You pay first’.” 

Disappointed, Sabuj had no choice but to go to Alexandra Hospital and pay for further treatment out of his own pocket. The doctor there cleaned his eye and removed remaining particles, prescribing more medication. Sabuj was also given a Medical Certificate (MC) for medical leave and was advised to come back after a week for follow-up. A series of treatments ensued and has been ongoing ever since. Sabuj spent $150 for his first treatment and about $60 for each of the succeeding ones. To date, he has spent more than $1,000, he tells TWC2.

Every time Sabuj undergoes treatment and gets an MC from the doctor, he proceeds to his workplace to see the boss and present this, together with payment receipts, to him, hopeful to get some money to cover his medical expenses. Money is short. Sabuj says he has still not received his last salary; furthermore, the company owes him about $750 in “savings money”. This is a commonly-used term to refer to illegal and arbitrary deductions made by employers to workers’ salaries, on the pretext that the employer is “helping the worker save”.

However, every time he sees the boss, he is dismissed and given a standard reply, “next week, next week”. Lately, it is only the boss’ son who talks to him and gives excuses like “boss not here, he in Malaysia”.

The law makes it very clear that employers must provide medical treatment. Making an employee’s access to treatment dependent on having his own cash at hand is to subvert the spirit if not the very letter of the law. As stated in the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (Work Passes Regulations 2012), Fourth Schedule, Part III, paragraph 1: “The employer shall be responsible for and bear the costs of the foreign employee’s upkeep (excluding the provision of food) and maintenance in Singapore. This includes the provision of medical treatment….”

Sabuj has engaged a lawyer to press his injury compensation claim but has not seen any real development in his case. In the meantime, he has no money and says “makan, how?” Luckily, he has a brother who is also working here in Singapore and gives him a bit of financial support. He feels fortunate that he has family here to help him, an advantage not shared by most of his compatriots in similar straits.

Meanwhile, the employer has cancelled his Work Permit, so even when he recovers, there is no job to go back to. He is resigned to the fact that he will be returning to Bangladesh after his treatment is done. He can only be hopeful that his company will pay what is due him before that date comes. Obviously broken by the experience, he can only blurt out his opinion of employers’ concern for their employees: “company no care”.