By Kimberley Cham

Four days. That is how long Humaun has before he goes back to Bangladesh. Back to his family, his wife, 9-month old son Tanjime, father, mother and 22-year old brother. Yet when Humaun reaches home, he does not return from a fruitful time in Singapore. Instead, he brings back heartbreak and gloom. “Every night now, I don’t dare call my wife,” Humaun recounts in a resigned manner.

Humaun shows us a photo of his baby child on his phone

Humaun shows us a photo of his baby child on his phone

Humaun picks up his documents and shows them to me, explaining the issues he faced, with no solution: “This one cannot settle, go back many problem. This one cannot settle, I go back, I don’t know…”. He gives a loud sigh, leans back, hand to forehead, eyes focused on a faraway object.

Suddenly, he faces me and asks: “This world very hard to live, right?” I stare blankly, taken aback. I give only a half-smile, unsure of how to respond, for what do I know of his burdens?

Cases like Humaun’s in which young males from Bangladesh are duped, are unfortunately a dime a dozen. The recruitment scam he was embroiled in is a typical scenario. Humaun and seven other workers (from different parts of Bangladesh) paid around $3,000 to $4,000 each to a recruiter in Bangladesh to secure a job in Singapore with Jabel Process Engineering Pte. Ltd. Full of hope, they all arrived in Singapore on the 31 March 2015 eager to start work and begin to recover the amount they had paid to the agent.

“Wait lah, wait lah, tomorrow I do permit for you!,” was the common refrain the eight workers heard from their employer.

Today, it’s 8 June. Two months and a week since their arrival. They haven’t worked a single day. They haven’t earned a cent. In fact, the In-Principle Approval (IPA) for a Work Permit issued to them by the Ministry of Manpower before they travelled to Singapore has not even been converted into a Work Permit.

According to a page on MOM’s website employers are legally required to send their foreign employees for a medical check-up within two weeks of arrival. This step, which was supposed to be done by 14 April, was not done either, without which the Work Permit would not be issued. And without a Work Permit, the men could not begin work.

But it didn’t seem as if the company had any work for them either, which begs the question: why were they even recruited? Perhaps the answer lies in the “agent money”. Together, the eight men paid about $28,000. Who profited?

With none of the processes completed, Humaun and the others were stuck with the IPA letter. They were helpless. Without income, they had no money to get food and to send back to their family. The only silver lining was that their employer paid for their housing. At least, Humaun and the others have a place to sleep.

As the days passed, Humaun grew increasingly frustrated. Not only was he unable to account to his family members, he was afraid of the police. Unless his IPA was converted into a Work Permit, his legal stay in Singapore was limited to only the 30-day visa on his passport. Humaun was afraid that he may get caught by the police when his visa expires. “I scared police wait hantam!” he exclaimed. Humaun finally went to TWC2 for a consultation, and on our advice, went to MOM to lodge a report. However, Humaun recounts disappointment: the only help MOM could give was a brief opportunity (two weeks, extended by another two weeks) to find another employer.

Grabbing at this faint glimmer of hope, Humaun went around knocking on doors. Unfortunately, his efforts were to no avail. One company he approached said they could not hire him as they had reached their foreign worker quota. Another company turned him away because they claimed that since Humaun had approached MOM, the company would have to “pay more levy” to take him on. However, this is untrue. MOM’s webpage on foreign worker levy clearly states that the amount of levy is determined by two factors — the worker’s qualifications (skilled or unskilled) and dependency ceiling or quota. Neither of these factors have anything to do with whether the worker had lodged reports at MOM before. Up to 8 June, Humaun has visited MOM three times, each time more and more desperate.

What makes Humaun’s story particularly heart-wrenching for me was how he had came to Singapore to work in 2006 and had a smooth-sailing working experience. His experience now is indeed a far cry from those times so many years ago.

Towards the end of the interview as I wave Humaun goodbye, I casually ask what he will be doing for the next few days. “Sleep, makan, sleep, makan. Also don’t know what to do… Sometimes, I cannot sleep at night [because I] remember my wife’s crying.”

See also TWC2 commentary at Section 22B of EFMA: A deficient law