By Audrey Tan

He took on a new job with high hopes, but now finds himself at the lowest point of his life. Ragunathan Kaliyarasan, 28, is jobless and struggling to recover after a workplace injury in March 2016. His predicament tells the story of a dismissive employer.

“I want(ed) to land one job perfectly,” Kali says as he shakes his head with a faraway look in his eyes, as if reproaching himself for the naïve aspiration. Kali, who has worked in Singapore for seven years, joined a new company at the start of 2016. He hoped to work for four more years before returning home to Tamil Nadu, India, so that he would be financially stable enough to get married. But an accident at work slashed his four-year plan into a mere four months. It has also left him helpless and injured.

Kali was at work atop a ladder, removing a ceiling fan. He was tasked to help to move the fans from the company’s then-factory to a new workspace. However, the fan was too heavy for him. He lost his grip while hefting the fan off the ceiling. Although he was quick enough to push the loose fan aside so it would not crash onto him, he lost his balance and fell to the ground.

“The ladder 3.5 metres,” Kali extends his arms out vertically to illustrate the height from which he fell.

“Whole body pain, I (could) not move any other place also,” he recounts. The most severe wound was a gash below his left thumb. Soon after the accident, Kali’s employer took him to Alexandra Hospital in a lorry. However, the employer’s initial attentiveness to Kali’s injury swiftly dwindled into dismissiveness.

The doctor scheduled an operation for the next day. However, the next day, before the operation began, the employer cancelled the surgery. This was despite the doctor’s opinion that it was the necessary treatment.

“Boss said, ‘this one not very big problem,’” Kali recalls.

The employer then transferred him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, registering him for out-patient care. There, Kali received stitches for his wound. About two weeks later, the stitches were removed at a clinic in Yishun. Subsequently, the pain had become unbearable and he called his then boss to ask for further treatment. But Kali’s pleas were not met with sympathy.

“When I asked my boss to see doctor again, boss said, ‘Wait, wait’. Then the other boss said, ‘You only have two choice(s): [If] you want to go back [to India], go back; [if] you want to working, go other company.” This other boss offered him a letter permitting a transfer should he want one. Either way, the message was clear: no medical treatment.

Under Singapore’s extremely restrictive laws, foreign workers are not allowed to look for new jobs unless the previous employer permits him to do so. This rule is the source of much disempowerment of workers.

“I don’t say anything. Then I say, ‘Ma’am, please give me one chance. Help me.’”

But his appeal has not led to any change of mind by the employer. Instead, his work permit has been cancelled and he is pursuing a compensation claim.

The obstruction of medical treatment at the very beginning has proven very costly for Kali. He is now unable to move his thumb like before,  and he says he has no sense of touch in the area around the base of the thumb. It appears that nerves have been cut.

If only the boss had not disallowed the immediate surgery, such a serious loss of functionality might not have resulted. “Doctor say 100% must do surgery, but boss not paying,” says Kali.

“Seven years I working, no problem,” he laments. “I lost my feel[ing in the thumb], I lost my money, my family waiting for me. So many things I lost. I want to working,” he says, eyes welling up.