This is TWC2’s response to a statement by the Ministry of Manpower over “inaccurate or false information” in our recent stories. The statement was dated 6 July 2018 and carried on the government’s “Factually” website.

From time to time, differences will occur between what TWC2 records workers to be saying in our interviews, and what MOM records what they said. MOM seems to take the view their their version is always the correct version. Unless corroborating evidence is demonstrated, there is no basis for such a hubristic assumption.

What workers tell MOM is not always the truth. Highly conscious of MOM’s power over them, their salary or injury compensation claims and future livelihoods, they can be quite strategic about what they choose to say. They’ve also reported that MOM’s interrogation style is such that they know certain answers are desired. Non-governmental organisations like TWC2 have no such power; we are their friends who offer help and support.

Secondly, MOM’s version can be erroneous simply because of a slip in recording.

Below we will deal with the three specific examples cited by MOM in their accusatory statement.

1. Re article: Bumpy ride for Alaguraja as employer goes doctor shopping

The first example referred to a story in which a foreign worker told TWC2 he was taken to three different general practitioner clinics by his employer, with each doctor not giving him medical leave. The article wrote: “According to Alaguraja, he was denied an answer by both the doctor and his employer when he sought an account of why he was only granted ‘light duty’.” Finally, the worker went on his own to Singapore General Hospital where his injured hand was placed in a cast and he received a medical leave certificate for a week.

MOM said that “Alaguraja indicated in his statement to MOM that he went to the Lavender clinic on his own”, saying we were wrong to say that the employer took him there. There is no corroborating evidence in MOM’s reply, merely an assertion weighted with the power behind their name.

That does not mean that MOM is necessarily wrong and that our version is necessarily right, but considering the overall arc of the narrative, to say that Alaguraja went on his own to the Lavender clinic is rather strange because, of the three clinics that he visited, the Lavender clinic was the first. MOM is not disputing that it was the employer who brought Alaguraja to the second clinic in Little India or to the third clinic in Holland Village. If he had the autonomy to choose the first doctor on his own, why on earth would he rely on the employer to take him to the second and the third? Moreover, as the article explained, when Alaguraja finally decided he could no longer rely on the employer for adequate medical care, he went on his own to Singapore General Hospital. If he really had the freedom at the very beginning to choose his own doctor, why didn’t he go to SGH from the start?

MOM’s description of events is less plausible than ours. To assert that ours is “inaccurate” just because MOM’s notes differ in this detail is too far a leap.

Moreover, consider the overall thrust of the article, which was about how employers try to fly under the radar of accident reporting by manipulating how much medical leave company-appointed doctors prescribe for employees. Even if we differed on one tiny point, we note that the overall thrust was not disputed.

2. Re article: Eager to go home after 15 jobless months

The second bit of nitpicking by MOM referred to a story about a worker named Arif who was frustrated that 15 months after his accident, he was still waiting for conclusion of his case, during which time he was not allowed to work. He had been borrowing money from friends and paying his own rent. He decided to withdraw from MOM’s claim process and launch a civil law claim on his employer through the courts instead.

MOM’s criticism was (a) tangential to what TWC2 said in our article, and (b) based on what the employer told MOM. Two key facts that TWC2 highlighted — that it had been 15 months since the accident and that he was not allowed to work during that time — were actually not disputed by MOM, despite accusing us of “inaccurate information”. MOM said Arif launched his case six months after the accident. We didn’t say otherwise.  How could we be wrong on something we never said? In any case, according to law, the employer should have reported the accident within ten days. MOM statement is silent as to whether they are taking the employer to task for late reporting. MOM should spend more effort dealing with employers who fail to comply with the law.

As for the third key fact in our story — that the employer did not pay for his upkeep — MOM’s response relies entirely on the employer’s word. Once again, it should be noted that employers too are highly conscious of MOM’s power over them and are known to give self-serving answers. MOM should not merely take employers’ versions of events to be more true than workers’.

You can see MOM’s statement here: Readers may also notice that MOM does not provide any links to the TWC2 articles they criticise as if they are afraid of readers reading the whole original stories for themselves and forming their own opinions.

We believe in transparency. We invite readers to re-read the original articles from our website (links provided above) and compare that with MOM’s criticism. You will notice that out of the entirely of the stories workers told us, MOM is merely picking on the tiniest points, and even then, with weak rebuttals.