By Samantha Ege
“This leg, very big already,” Ali tells me, gesturing towards his noticeably swollen foot.
On 23 February 2015, Ali was working as he would normally do, at a shipyard. He was dressed in the necessary protective gear, complete with brand new safety footwear. However, this was not enough to save his foot from the impact of the heavy steel beam that fell on it.
It has now been seven months since the accident, yet Ali has not undergone a single operation on any of the occasions he has been to hospital. Ali describes his first visit to the Mount Alvernia hospital: “Doctor no have, nurses only.” Ali returned the next day in the hope of finding a doctor. The doctor who examined him confirmed via X-ray that indeed there was a broken bone in his foot, and yet no operation was performed.
Seven months on, “No operation… even now,” Ali tells me, and adds, “still pain. One place five minutes sitting, cannot walk. Many pain coming.”
A few months after the accident, Ali gave up on Mt Alvernia, and visited Changi Hospital. Yet, at Changi, “doctor say, ‘now broken, no join.’ I say, ‘operation can?’ Doctor say ‘operation cannot’.” This was followed by the suggestion that Ali return to Bangladesh for treatment.
Ali does not know why his broken foot cannot be fixed surgically. Even today, months after the accident, there is still noticeable swelling.
The first thought we have is that the employer is refusing to pay for an operation. But upon digging deeper, it transpires that his employer has not been dismissive of the matter. It appears that the company has done its part, informing the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) of the incident, as there is a record logged in the ministry’s database. It states:
We have been informed of your accident at work. If you wish to make a claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act, please submit your application form to the Ministry.
Ali’s next step should have been to initiate the claim process so that he would be able to access medical care and the reimbursement of ensuing costs. His legal rights under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) do not come into effect until his claim is initiated. Is this the reason why doctors aren’t scheduling an operation?
Since Ali has engaged a lawyer, it is not right for TWC2 to intervene by making deeper enquiries. Instead, Alex Au of TWc2 advises Ali to go check with his lawyer again and ask why a WICA claim has not been initiated.
It can often be the case that migrant workers fall through the cracks when they are unaware of the bigger picture, or of bureaucratic paperwork requirements. Involuntary ignorance is fostered when workers cannot seek information; they do not know where to look, and more significantly, they do not even know what they are looking for. Yet there are those that not only have this information, but also work in the best interests of migrant workers to help them find it and take action.
As Alex says to Ali, “If the lawyer is able to help, then good. If not, talk to brother,” gesturing to another volunteer at TWC2’s Cuff Road Project. “We can help you discharge the lawyer and advise you what to do next. That’s what we are here for.”