By Seema Punwani

Workplace injuries are not uncommon. But while for many of us in office jobs it is restricted to the occasional paper cut or stubbed toe, for workers in the shipping ad construction field, injuries can be life threatening. And after the injury, comes the trauma of dealing with the claims process.

So what does a foreigner worker need to succeed in his claim for injury compensation?

  • Proof that injury happened at the workplace (without the aid of witnesses being able to come forward)
  • Doctor’s report of damage (which is not provided until specifically asked)
  • Workers persistence (instead of caving in to the repatriation threats)
  • Means to continue to staying in Singapore till claim is processed.

As one might suspect, it is no simple matter for a worker with few means to overcome these high hurdles. With all the will in the world, it’s still going to take a long time, and throughout, the worker is barred by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) from employment.

Islam Md Meherul, 26, came to Singapore, like many of his friends in Bangladesh, with a dream of a better life for himself and his parents whom he supports back home. He worked in a shipyard, operating machinery, and the first two years passed by well enough. He was lucky enough to get paid, have decent housing and daily meals.

His life changed the day he had an accident at work. He hit his thumb with a hammer and the pain was so intense that he fell backwards and hit his back on the hot pipes behind him. His colleague who witnessed the whole incident took him to the supervisor, who informed the manager who in turn took Meherul to the hospital.

Till now, Meherul has done everything per protocol.

Upon examination, the doctor informed that his thumb and back had both suffered injuries. He was given sick leave for a five days and medicines for the pain. Here was Meherul’s mistake no. 1. He did not know it would be important to ask for a copy of this first report from the doctor. This report is what links the injury to the work place accident. Without this, employers can claim that injury did not happen at the work site.

After five days, Meherul went back to the doctor as his back was still giving him problems. The doctor advised physical therapy and gave him 21 days of sick leave. When Meherul informed his manager of the additional sick leave, instead of getting the sympathy he deserved, the manager shouted at him for going back to the doctor. According to Meherul, the manager’s response was, “Why you go back to the hospital? Just take medicine and rest.” Any explanation fell onto deaf ears. He was then told he would be sent home to Bangladesh. Not wanting that to happen, Meherul immediately sought out a lawyer, who helped him apply to MOM for an injury claim.

At that point, he left the company’s dormitory, seeking shelter with his brother who had a small room in Little India. He has been getting two meals a day thanks to TWC2’s Cuff Road Programme.  And then started an uphill battle.

As Meherul tells it, his employer has accepted that the thumb injury was a workplace accident. However, the employer is disputing the back injury. The company’s position is that the latter was not related to the accident in the shipyard. The stalemate has meant that Meherul has now been waiting for nine months for case resolution. The matter has been referred to the Labour Court, an administrative tribunal, within the Ministry of Manpower, for determination. However, adding to Meherul’s frustration, the court hearing date has been postponed four times already on various pretexts by the company.

This is a classic case of justice delayed is justice denied. How long more can Meherul afford to stay on in Singapore without a job? How much more can he bear physically and emotionally before he breaks and settles for what is being offered instead of fighting for what is deserved? How much more time before his spirit breaks?

There are hundreds of workers in similar situations. Every one of them biding their time, waiting, till they can’t.