By Beh Jing Yi, based on an interview in June 2017

It has been five months since Alam Md Khorshed received any medical leave wages from his employer. He estimates he is owed about $3,900.

He has approached the Ministry of Manpower for help over this, he says, and meetings with his employer have been organised. According to him, Rockmann Pte Ltd attempted in these meetings to avoid liability by disputing the relationship between the accident and the medical leave he has been given. The company is apparently picking on the fact that Alam was first sent to a private clinic for treatment, but he himself chose to switch to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), a public hospital.

Recalls Alam of one of the meetings: “The company man say, ‘My company have clinic, why go TTSH?'”

Alam thinks the company is trying to make a claim that there were underlying causes for the pain he is suffering, unrelated to the accident.

The incident occurred in October 2016. Alam fell off a 2.5m ladder, injuring his head, lower back, and left arm, leaving him unable to work since then. Alam blames the company’s refusal to abide by safety rules that require one man to watch the ladder when another climbs onto it. He says the boss did not want to spare an extra man to watch the ladder he was on; the boss wanted each man to be working on something. In Alam’s words, “One man one man working. [If] two men [at same job], boss angry.”

Other allegations Alam makes about the work culture in the company include the lack of safety helmets and goggles.

Despite initial treatment at a clinic he remembers as “J J Clinic”, Alam suffered persistent pain in his back. So he sought follow-up treatment at TTSH; he still has appointments there. However, he has had to pay for his own visits. He says the company has refused to pay those bills. “Medical bill no pay, MC money no pay, how?” He is frustrated with having to bear the costs, yet not receive his medical leave wages.

He has tried to get the company to pay, but hasn’t succeeded. “My boss, [when] I talking, no listen.” He is a confident and articulate young man, but right now, he’s facing a stone wall.

What Alam describes is quite a common problem. Although the intention of the Work Injury Compensation Act is to provide a no-fault, hassle-free process to provide for medical costs and disability compensation for workplace injuries, in practice, many workers find the experience to be very frustrating.

In this story, it appears that the employer is trying to argue that the treatment Alam is seeking is for a condition unrelated to the accident. What grounds there are for such an argument is not apparent from the tale. Alam clearly disputes the company’s claim as entirely spurious.

Even though employers would have bought insurance (it is mandatory) and therefore should not be out of pocket for medical and compensation costs, many of them still throw as many obstacles they can in the direction of the worker. Expenses therefore can’t be the motivation for the level of obstructionism we see. TWC2 suspects that it is primarily an exercise in intimidation; a case of “kill the chicken to scare the monkey”, so that other employees will learn not to make injury claims.

But is this the kind of company culture that best motivates employees and raises productivity?