By J Wen

In a recession, should a company prioritise cutting costs over the health of its employees?

One engineering firm in Aljunied seems to think so, after leaving one of their injured workers with a twisted, bloodied finger for more than five hours before he was sent to the hospital for treatment. All in a bid to save costs.

It was around six in the evening when Rajendran Kalathi met with the mishap at the factory in Tuas South. He was assembling a mixing machine with a co-worker when his finger got caught in the machine, cut and twisted.

To his distress, Rajendran’s supervisors brushed aside his pleas for immediate medical aid on account of the company’s lorry being away. Rajendran, who has been working in  Singapore for a year, said: “When I ask for doctor, driver just say ‘lorry coming’, so I wait.”

What happened to calling for an ambulance?

A safety officer who happened to be at the site attended to the Tamil Nadu native by bandaging his finger. When the officer offered a lift to a hospital, Rajendran’s company again turned down the offer!

It took five hours for the company lorry to arrive, at nearly 11.30pm, to take the 29-year-old to Ng Teng Fong Hospital in Jurong. Thankfully, his finger was not infected and an X-ray cleared him of additional injuries.

During the long wait for the lorry, he was not provided food either, though he might not have had any appetite given the searing pain.

Rajendran later revealed that his company had haggled over his medical fees. He said: “My company driver give me $100 for hospital, but he say he will take back from my next salary.” Company drivers, despite their lowly title, are often highly trusted by bosses and serve as enforcers over foreign labour.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers are required to be responsible for their Work Permit holders’ medical expenses, subject to a small co-payment element but only if co-payment is explicitly stated in prior contract. For most Work Permit holders, there isn’t even a contract.

Fortunately, Rajendran’s injury did not turn out to be particularly serious. The hospital dressed his wound, prescribed some medication and time off from work, putting him on the road to recovery.

Nevertheless, his employer’s resistance to let him seek immediate medical attention appears baffling. Even if the lorry was busy ferrying people or goods, the reluctance to consider alternatives, such as accepting the safety officer’s offer of a lift, calling for an ambulance, or just letting Rajendran make his own way to a hospital by taxi or public transport is hard to understand.

In an emergency, why is the cost of transportation put before a person’s welfare?