Video by Nicole Ng, text by Colin Ng

The above video was produced in June 2016, sixteen months after Anowar suffered his injury. Throughout the months following the injury, Anowar did not get much-needed surgery for his shoulder. Some injury cases, like Farid’s, go smoothly and the worker receives the treatment and compensation due. However, many cases drag on for an unbelievably extended period as a result of obstruction by employers. These workers often have difficulty obtaining the medical treatment they need.

Anowar’s case began more than a year ago when he met with an injury at work. In February 2015, while working in a confined space, his left knee was accidentally sliced by a grinding machine. Reeling from shock and pain, he fell backwards onto a steel beam and injured his shoulder. At the hospital, he had an X-ray (which detects bone injury), but the doctor recommended that he go for an MRI scan to assess the extent of soft tissue damage. Anowar was also given appointments for five sessions of physiotherapy that were to take place in the subsequent weeks.

Of those five sessions, Anowar only managed to attend the first. Physiotherapy was discontinued because the company had found the cost too expensive. Anowar feared repatriation if he were to insist on continuing treatment (for which the company was obligated to pay), especially as he had been instructed not to report the case to MOM. .

Often, a worker’s biggest fear is of being sent back to his country prematurely. Most migrant workers borrow money or sell land to pay exorbitant ‘agent’ fees for a job here. This puts them in debt even before they arrive on the shores of Singapore. When they finally start working, it is a dangerous balancing game of working long hours each day in hopes of paying off their debt back home and getting enough rest so as to minimize the chance of an accident occurring. On top of that, workers try not to offend their bosses by not asking questions, even when salary comes late. To an employer, an early repatriation of a worker just means having to find another. For the worker however, once he is sent back, it is game over.

Anowar managed to avoid this fate, but at the cost of receiving medical care. A later visit to the hospital confirmed that there was no shoulder fracture, though the doctor again urged that an MRI scan be done following his report of persistent pain. The MRI was also refused by the employer, who took the confirmation that there was no bone fracture as a ticket to get Anowar back to work.

In March 2015, left with no choice, Anowar complied with the order to return to work, despite his shoulder not being fully treated.

Three months on, in June 2015, his injury was further aggravated — while guiding a 10m long steel beam, Anowar saw it swing out of control and instinctively tried to steady it by pulling on a rope with his right arm. Pain immediately shot through his shoulder. He soon realized that he was unable to move his right arm. His supervisor instructed him to take a taxi to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of Changi General Hospital, where he received emergency treatment.

Despite his sending the original copies of the medical bills to his employer, payment for the treatment was once again refused. The employer continued to deny that there was any work-related damage to the shoulder. Only in December 2015 did Anowar undergo his long-awaited MRI scan which had been recommended nine months earlier. With the scan showing a rotator cuff tear, the doctor deemed surgery immediately and medically necessary. Still, no operation could go ahead because the employer resisted giving the hospital a Letter of Guarantee (LOG) to cover the cost of the operation.

In April 2016, TWC2 took up Anowar’s case and, seeing the pain he was in, decided to extend to him the necessary funds so that he could pay for his surgery. On 22 June, he underwent the operation on his shoulder.

The morning after surgery, Anowar sits up on the hospital bed, his right arm in a sling, with multiple dressings on his shoulder wound. As I enter the ward, he looks up, smiles and waves weakly with his mobile arm. He immediately turns back to talk to his caseworker, all the while holding a mixed expression on his face. While relieved at finally having undergone surgery, he also worries about what would happen next, knowing well that his case is still far from over.

At discharge, the doctor tells Anowar that the chance of having a full recovery is not excellent, but in the region of 60%. This is due to the months of delay of proper treatment. Even as this operation is now done, ahead lie more visits to a specialist and physiotherapy — which need to be paid for.

Unfortunately, Anowar is not the only worker facing such grim odds. Many others are in similar situations, unable to obtain treatment because their employers refuse to pay. To help workers like Anowar, please consider donating to our Medical Care Fund here:

For Singaporeans, we suggest you donate via
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