By Lim Shaomin
“See the doctor yourself, after that money give you” is the phrase most dreaded by foreign workers. The statement is duplicitous in its simplicity; settling injury claims are never as straightforward as they seem. Getting reimbursement can take months. In Moyjjin’s case (as in the case of many others), it continues to be a frustration.
Moyjjin Khan Mohammad sustained injuries to his limbs, right shoulder and lower back at work. He had slipped while hoisting heavy metal bars. His foreman brought him to a small clinic in Jurong East, but it was ill-equipped for proper diagnosis of his condition. X-rays were urgently recommended to determine the full extent of his injuries, but for that, the doctor said, he should be sent to a proper hospital. The implication that this would lead to higher fees and more complex medical issues deterred Moyjjin’s employer from sending him to one.
Knowing this, and unable to withstand the pain, Moyjjin visited Alexandra Hospital himself, footing the bill on his own.
As expected, the injuries were serious. Moyjjin received immediately five days of medical leave. He was also booked for several follow-up appointments and physiotherapy. None of this would be affordable for him, and Moyjjin knew it. This prompted him to request for his previous month’s salary in advance. It should not have been a problem, as Moyjjin’s pay was due in 4 days regardless. Yet, not only was he refused this simple request; his salary was delayed a day late, with no reason given.
His financial woes did not end there. His employer also shrugged off his requests for medical leave compensation. His overtures were continually met with vague replies of “later, later”. Unable to finance his medical bills, Moyjjin resorted to borrowing money from a friend. To make matters worse, his employer suggested Moyjjin return to Bangladesh for medical treatment. This is a common tactic often reported by injured workers. Sending ‘troublesome’ workers home on the premise of a break or medical treatment means employers can quietly terminate contracts while they are outside Singapore without extra costs or repercussions.
Unsure how to protect his interests or to lodge an injury compensation claim, Moyjjin sought out a lawyer. But the lawyer has not been a big help so far, says Moyjjin. All he has done is to file an insurance claim at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), and hasn’t tried hard enough to get medical leave pay (“MC wages”) wages from the employer. MC wages are to be paid monthly just like salaries, without which, what is Moyjjin to live on?
Moyjjin’s relationship with his employer deteriorated rapidly. The boss confronted him about his visit to MOM and was furious that Moyjjin would consult a lawyer and make a report. Workers have a right to make such reports; it’s in the law.
There was also a problem with accommodation. This employer houses his workers in shipping containers, the airconditioning for which is powered by generators. “Working time, company switch off generator,” explains Moyjjin, which isn’t a problem when all the men are out at work. “But when I have MC, I must rest in container,” he says, “but company not switch on generator, so very hot inside.”
Coupled with fear of repatriation agents coming to take him to the airport against his will, Moyjjin had little choice but to move out of the container unit he had shared with seven others. He now has to pay to rent a bunk elsewhere.
Through no fault of his own, Moyjjin is left with worrying physical injuries and a mounting bills. These are not issues that any foreign worker should have to deal with.
Moyjjin describes his pain to me vividly. For him, getting out of bed in the morning already creates “so many problem”. Every day that his compensation is delayed translates into another day of uncertainty and frustration. Despite the difficulties he has faced, Moyjjin remains hopeful that things will fall into place, and one cannot help but hope that the odds work in his favour.