By Nadira Mohd Iesham

Except for the first day, Hosen Mobarak has had to fight to get medical treatment. He has not always succeeded. What began as a broken fingernail ended up requiring surgery — which, from the sequence of events narrated to me, appears to be a consequence of the employer’s obstructive tactics.

As Hosen Mobarak, a young 20 year old Bangladeshi, tells me his story, he appears to have difficulty making the slightest hand gestures. His injured middle finger on his right hand is terribly swollen accompanied by a fresh-looking cauliflower-like keloid below the fingernail area. Maybe it hurts to move the hand.

It has been more than a month and a half since the accident happened on 19 July 2016 around 11.30am. Hosen was at work. A strong gush of wind slammed a door. Hosen found blood gushing from his finger, his fingernail smashed.

In his broken English, he tries to tell me what happened next. “Blood came out… company supervisor informed safety [supervisor]… and boss say doctor go,” he recalls. Even so, he wasn’t immediately taken to medical attention, for reasons not entirely clear. It was about 3pm before he finally got to a clinic.

The doctor gave him three days medical leave and a follow-up appointment for the day after. But two days later, his company supervisor came up to him asking him to resume work. By then, Hosen was finding it painful to move his fingers. He didn’t think he could work. He recalled, “Boss ask to working… I say, cannot work. Finger no good, no good… Very pain”. His plea fell to deaf ears.

The situation worsened when Hosen tried to go for his follow-up appointment.“Boss say, no go.”

Infection set in. The pain got worse. Hosen decided to make his own way to a hospital, except that he didn’t know where to find one. “Many hospital.. don’t know.. go,” he recalls of his confusion. It was a friend who directed him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He thought he would only need a new wound dressing when he arrived but his infected wound was so bad that he was immediately given surgery. After the surgery, Hosen was given medical leave for a week along with a follow-up medical appointment.

“It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?” muses a senior volunteer. “By not ensuring prompt treatment and easy access to follow-up care for his worker — for what may have been a small injury — the company is now being billed for surgery.”

Once again, his employer blocked the follow-up. “Boss say no go”, he recalls with exasperation. This time, however, Hosen decided that he was not going to back down. He went to the hospital anyway but to his great dismay, he was turned down by his doctor. “Doctor say no appointment. Boss never pay for last time,” he sighed.

By refusing to pay, the boss effectively denied him any follow-up care.

This is a violation of law. Through its subsidiary legislation, the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act makes it clear that:

“The employer shall be responsible for and bear the costs of the foreign employee’s upkeep (excluding the provision of food) and maintenance in Singapore. This includes the provision of medical treatment …”

(This can be found in Section 1 of Part III “Conditions to be complied with by employer of foreign employee who is not domestic worker, who is issued with work permit”, of the Fourth Schedule of Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) regulations 2012.)

Not all workers suffer such mistreatment. I interview a few more foreign workers, and they claim that they had not experienced anything of this sort; their bosses had dutifully paid for their medical treatment. “Surgery have. Follow-up have. All boss pay. Company pay,” one recounts.

Hosen is now out of a job. He has filed a work injury compensation claim, but as at the date of interview, the employer has not confirmed to the authorities that he was injured at work. The dark clouds have yet to pass. With a hopeful smile, Hosen says he is still waiting patiently for his case to be settled.