By Gek Han
Family was the only consideration when Jakir decided to work overseas. Jakir was fifteen when his father died, and Jakir’s elder brother was not earning enough to support his family of six. But Singapore wasn’t Jakir’s first choice of destination.
Jakir had wanted to go to the Middle East, because he thought it might be easier to adapt to life in a Muslim country, where he can freely practise his religion and easily pick up Arabic, which he had learnt in Bangladesh.
Jakir only decided on Singapore when a family friend, who had been working in Singapore for eight years then, assured him that Singapore was a nice and clean country where ‘money get so much.’ Likely income was the most important factor; the family needed money to survive. The recruitment cost (‘agent fee’) was a factor too. At that time, it cost less to find a job here than in Saudi Arabia. So he came. That was eight years ago.
How has life in Singapore been for Jakir? Language is a problem in Singapore, Jakir said. Although he now speaks quite good English, not all his coworkers do. Once, he had a supervisor who only spoke Chinese, and they were unable to communicate. Jakir was worried that he would meet with an accident and be injured if there was no proper communication about the task at hand. He observed that the number of injury cases has gone up since he first came.
As for practising his religion, Jakir said that in his first few years of working here, he used to be given ‘coffee time’ at 10am and 3pm, when Muslim workers would take ten minutes of the break time to pray. Now, because of a lack of workers, ‘coffee time’ is no longer given.
Jakir has worked for three companies in the past eight years. He later realized that he could have chosen to work in Malaysia and Brunei. The former’s currency is too weak, but the latter was ideal as it was both a Muslim country and its exchange rate was equivalent to Singapore’s. But since he came here to work, he has not thought of going anywhere else. He is also unsure of the working conditions in the Middle East, as he is not in touch with friends who work there. (Apparently these friends perceived Jakir as ‘rich’ because he works in Singapore, and have not returned the money that they had borrowed from him.)
According to a senior volunteer, TWC2’s stance is that the government should encourage employers to hire experienced workers like Jakir and partially close the door to hiring new workers from overseas. Experienced workers have better English language skills. Language is not only a factor in work safety, but also in socialization at the workplace and in the wider Singaporean society. In addition, experienced workers would have adjusted to the social and cultural norms and behaviour in Singapore and built their own social networks.
Jakir said he has no regrets coming to Singapore. He has no idea if he intends to go back in the near future to be with his wife and five-year-old son. Clearly, family remains his principal consideration. He wants to work here as long as he can, so that his family will never have to worry about money again.