By Long Yiou
As a rookie interviewer, I feel that Hossain Mohammad Alamgir’s injury case is far more complicated than the storyline of the movie Inception. Though he has only been in Singapore for two years — he came in August 2014 — Hossain has had two injury disputes with three different companies.
The interview hits many roadblocks. His English is not good and I don’t speak any Bengali. Because of language difficulties, the story comes across as even more intricate.
The first company Hossain worked for was Precious Engineering. After ten months, Precious Engineering sent Hossain to China Railway under a one-year contract, he explains.
While working at China Railway’s construction project on 25 July 2015, he was hit by “a metal”. Hossain shows me a picture of his leg at that time: swollen and disproportionate flesh bulged out from his knee. He was sent to West Point Hospital on that day. “Doctor say cannot work, two day MC [medical leave], injection, medical.” He then adds, “Must go [back to] hospital after three days,” for follow-up.
So three days later, on 28 July 2015, Hossain requested to be taken to see the doctor again. However, his employer objected. “Doctor say I need to go again, but my boss never bring,” describes Hossain of that meeting with his boss. He was told that if he didn’t show up for work, “if go hospital, cut 50 dollars.”
“Reports of employers attempting to deny medical care are common among the injured workers who come to TWC2,” says Pat Meyer, who has volunteered with TWC2 for some ten years and personally seen hundreds of cases. “Injured workers are often pressured to return to work despite their injury or medical leave by fines or threats of job loss.”
Hossain insisted on going to the doctor. “My leg very, very, very pain.” Not only did he suffer a $50 salary deduction, Hossain also paid the cost of this and subsequent medical appointments at West Point Hospital.
I can see a complication as he tells me this and I ask him: Who is supposed to pay these bills? China Railway or Precious Engineering? Hossain’s response is unclear, and it is possible that he himself, as a lowly construction worker, is unsure about such matters outside his control. The best he can do is to explain where his salary came from. “China Railway give money to my boss [Precious Engineering], my boss pay me.” Hossain’s work permit was under the name of Precious.
Anyway, we need to proceed with our interview. So I ask, “brother, did you report to MOM?”
“No,” Hossain first shakes his head, and then after pausing two seconds, says “I go MOM on 27 April 2016.”
What? That is nine months after his leg injury!
Hossain continues, “I report my leg and my chest, MOM say no.” I am quite confused. Even without much experience in migrant worker issues, I feel there is something wrong. I can’t grasp it immediately, so we move on to the second injury case: the chest injury dispute with Lew & Lee Engineering.
On 6 December 2015, getting hit by “a metal” again at a construction site, Hossain felt pain in his chest. This time, he went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Having learnt from the “50-dollar mistake” last time, Hossain continued to work for Lew & Lee after the incident even though he was given medical leave. In the following months, Hossain went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital several times for a series of treatments… until early April 2016, when “I ask my boss I go hospital again”. Hossain’s employer, Lew & Lee Engineering, was unhappy with his “frequent” visit to hospital, and rejected this request.
Worse still, Hossain’s work permit was cancelled.
Hossain had no choice but to file a complaint with MOM on 27 April 2016. He repeats: “I go MOM, I report my leg, my chest,” and then, knitting his eyebrows, “MOM say no.”
What does “no” mean? [See footnote].
By now, the storyline of Hossain’s case is too complicated to go any further. Yet I find something else quite clear. As a foreign worker, Hossain prioritises his job over everything else, including his health. This is because once he loses his job, he loses everything: his income, his residency in Singapore and financial support for his family. This is probably why Hossain did not report to MOM immediately after his first or second injury dispute – he wanted to keep his job, he wanted to secure his life. It was only when his employer cancelled his Work Permit, when all his efforts were in vain, that Hossain approached MOM as a last resort.
Unfortunately, due to the delay, his case has probably become complex: two separate incidents, different parts of the body, quite long ago with evidence gone cold. Will his injury compensation claim succeed?
A quick check with our database shows that MOM didn’t totally reject the case. Hossain does have a case on file but the validity of his claim is still under investigation — as at the time of interview.