By Lee Zi Xin
“I have nothing to do every day”, says Ahmmad, as he speaks to me about the long wait for closure of his injury compensation claim. It’s been four months since the accident, and he has been out of work since.
His relationship with his boss has deteriorated and his former workmates appear unwilling to be in contact with him.
Ahmmad recalls that before the accident happened, his boss and co-workers were nice to him. His is a tale of strained relationships, probably one that is repeated among many injured workers.
Ahmmad was an air-conditioning repairman for about two months before the December 2015 accident, where a part of his hand between his thumb and index finger suffered burns. At first, Ahmmad didn’t think it was anything serious because, according to him, it didn’t hurt much. When, two days later, it became painful, Ahmmad went to his boss for help. Ahmmad’s boss asked him to go to a clinic in Little India, but the doctor there redirected him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). Apparently, the injury was too serious for the doctor to handle.
When Ahmmad came back to his company dormitory and told his boss he had been referred to TTSH, his boss’ response was a surprising one. “Why you go Tan Tock Seng?” the boss said. “Tan Tock Seng no good!”.
The boss personally drove Ahmmad to Changi General Hospital where he was admitted and underwent a skin graft operation. Up to this point, the boss seemed to care that Ahmmad got the necessary medical care.
Today however, whenever Ahmmad calls his boss on the phone, the boss is hostile towards him. As for his workmates, Ahmmad says they’re shunning him. They “no receive my call.”
Maybe the change in the boss’ attitude is the result of Ahmmad’s long stay in hospital and the high cost that resulted. He was in hospital for two weeks, he says, and after that, was given more than three months medical leave. It is quite apparent that the boss finds him a burden to keep on the payroll.
This would be consistent with what a workmate told him one day: that the boss was wanting to repatriate Ahmmad. To avoid this fate, he immediately gathered all his things and left the company dorm without telling anyone. He now stays with a friend who is helping to cover the accommodation costs for the time being.
When I ask him why he didn’t want to go back to Bangladesh, Ahmmad explains that he wanted to continue receiving treatment for his hand. When it has healed, he does wish to return and see his family.
Initially, Ahmmad did not tell his family in Bangladesh about the accident because he was “scared they all crying”. It was Ahmmad’s uncle, who is also working in Singapore, who broke the news to his family. Ahmmad says that when he spoke to them over the phone, “they crying a lot” and “ask me to go back”. Ahmmad adds that being short of money, he hasn’t been able to call home as frequently as before.
For now, Ahmmad is fortunate enough to have people who are helping him through this period. He gets meals from TWC2 and his uncle extends him some cash. But the family is having a hard time. His parents are not working and they, together with his younger sister and two younger brothers, all depend on the money Ahmmad earns to sustain themselves. Following the accident, “makan [is] very hard for them now”, he tells me with a sad expression.
Despite this setback, Ahmmad still wants to find another job in Singapore. His family needs the money. This says a lot about how little choice foreign workers have. They’d pay large sums of money to buy jobs in unfamiliar countries, working under employers who may abuse and exploit them, in jobs that are dangerous and put them at risk of injury. Despite the accident, Ahmmad would do it again.