By Jiang Zhi Feng, based on an interview in November 2017
“Fall down how?” a concerned Miah asked his company’s supervisor about precariousness of mending a pipe two metres above ground without a safety hook.
His supervisor replied, “Nothing one. No problem. Can do,” directing him to carry out orders.
On 22 September 2017, Miah was unconscious for an hour after falling two metres to the ground. “Anything also cannot remember,” says Miah, attempting to recall what exactly happened after his fall.
Upon regaining consciousness, Miah requested his supervisor’s permission to see the doctor at a hospital. The shipyard safety engineer concurred, suggesting that Miah needed to be sent to a hospital for a check up. However, the supervisor and the company engineer refused to send Miah to the hospital. They even “don’t want me to talk to Safety,” says Miah using the shorthand for Safety Officers at the shipyard.
Despite suffering pain in his back, left elbow, and left side of his head, Miah was not sent to the hospital.
That night, Miah “cannot sleep” because of his “many pain,” which he “cannot tahan [withstand]”. His head throbbed so much that “water come out” from his eyes as he tried to sleep. He desperately called his supervisor asking to be allowed to go to a doctor. His supervisor again refused his plea, saying “no need to go.”
The next morning (23 September 2017), Miah asked again. Again the supervisor refused.
“Many pain. How can I not go hospital?” Miah asked, calling into question the supervisor’s absurd lack of care and sensibility. By this point, no longer able to bear the excruciating pain, he ignored his supervisor and used his own money to take a taxi to the Tan Tock Seng hospital. Upon seeing the doctor, he was placed on drips for two nights at the hospital.
On discharge, his supervisor angrily confronted, “why you go hospital?”
I skip to explore why he is no longer staying at the company dormitory. Because “Nobody take care of me. No take care,” says Miah.
In particular, there was a question of food. At their Jalan Papan dormitory, workers cook their own meals. With pain all over and his mobility restricted, Miah was unable to cook for himself; he spent most of his time resting on his bed. He could not bend his back fully. His left elbow could only make small movements, with “no speed”. He was unable to carry heavy items. He thought he could depend on his supervisor to arrange supply of meals, but in vain. On the contrary, his supervisor even questioned him “why you not working?” and insisted that he “no need to go [for follow-up] appointment” with the doctor.
Like Miah, one would expect a duty of care towards one’s employee or at least, a fellow human being. Having worked for his company for five years and having his contract renewed two times, Miah has been a dutiful worker. Once injured, however, Miah was left to cope with the vulnerable and painful situation he found himself in.
Local citizens generally have family that can take care of a family member while he is recuperating. For foreign workers staying in a dormitory, the work group is all they have. If no assistance is offered by members of the work group, who else can they turn to for help?
Even so, coping with his physical injuries and financial uncertainty is not as painful as his emotional loneliness. Miah has not informed his parents about his injuries nor has he told them that his Work Permit has been cancelled. “I scared my parents cry. Mother cry… I cannot take it. When father, mother call, I say ‘I okay’. I did not talk [about] falling down. I cannot talk falling down.”