Talukder Joynal approaches me hesitantly, yet he does not strike me as a man of low self-esteem. Clad in a brightly coloured checkered shirt, with a good trendy fit, he definitely cares about his appearance. His face is one that has not yet been marked with the hardships of life and I am a little taken aback by how youthful the man before me is. He introduces himself and gives me his particulars in a soft, halting tone and I have to perpetually lean in to try to catch what he is saying. Despite all this, it is clear that he is eager to share what he has to say.
I suppose most people would consider the story of how Joynal got here typical enough, if they were familiar with migrant workers in Singapore to some extent. He paid an agent six lakh takas, (about 10,000 Singapore dollars) which, in Bangladesh, is an exorbitant sum. But he thought it would be worth it for the promised two-year job. He raised cash to pay half of it, with his boss deducting the rest from his first six months’ salary. He is the oldest of six brothers, with two still toddlers and three of school-going age. Joynal had to give up schooling at the age of 15 due to a lack of funds — I feel sad hearing this. His father works when physically able, either as a tree cutter or a farm hand. However, age is catching up and the father sometimes is unable to work due to physical ailments and as you can imagine, this large family is in a tight spot. It’s not hard to see how easy it would be to tempt him to come to Singapore with promises of income to be earned. Joynal said the agent painted Singapore as a better deal than Dubai.
Joynal arrived here September 2014 but was not given the standard medical check-up. He didn’t know that that was unusual — “First time, never come before,” — and that it would imply trouble ahead.
According to Joynal, Mr Ling, his boss, largely farmed him out to other contractors. He thus ended up doing different things, such as gardening, depending on what work those other contractors had. Joynal emphasized that Mr Ling’s was a small company, “Five worker have”, he stated.
So is this a salary problem? I am trying to get to the crux of the matter. After all, he is right here at TWC2 appealing for help, but first I have to understand what the problem is. Joynal says it’s not. His salary was paid: something between 500 to 700 dollars a month, the figure being variable, being dependent on overtime, I guess. “Makan money have”, he clarifies, patting his pocket. The reason that Joynal only had ‘makan money’ (money for meals) would be that the boss was paying off the rest of the agent’s fee.
If it’s not a salary problem, what is it? Joynal tells us more: something about his Work Permit being only for six months. At this point, I start to get the gist of the issue. It seems like Joynal arrived here on what might be called a Training Work Permit, which is valid for only six months. This also explains why he didn’t get a medical check-up on arrival — it is not required for training passes. His agent promised him that getting a two-year work permit thereafter would not be issue, but like many of the humble hopes of such men, this did not materialize.
Apparently, he was not the only employee feeling duped. In March 2015 (six months after coming to Singapore), two fellow workers lodged complaints with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Ministry officials then told the boss to send all the rest of the workers over, including Joynal. When they showed up there, all their passports were taken by officials.
A few things seemed to have happened since. The former boss is under investigation by the MOM. However, it remains unclear what really transpired. While investigations proceeded, Joynal received a temporary job a dormitory. He initially took the night shift there as a cleaner but was given the day shift when the night shift took a toll on him. He earned 800 dollars monthly at this job, which for him, was a decent enough salary. However, it is the rule that temporary jobs last only six months and it looks like Joynal has to leave Singapore soon.
He is nowhere near recovering the $10,000 he invested to get the original job. Joynal’s impoverished family has taken a financial loss for him to come here, which considering the mouths to feed, they can ill afford. I believe his story is representative of many men coming to TWC2 for help: duped by agents back home, who took advantage of their poverty, their lack of education, and their reticence in asking questions. And when they find themselves in trouble, they remain fearful of authority and unable to navigate the system effectively.