Polash is well-dressed and carries himself with self-assurance. He’s been a responsible son for ten years, working in Singapore supporting his parents, brother and sister in Bangladesh. But now he’s in limbo, waiting for his injury compensation claim to conclude.
Your writer looks at him more closely, but cannot tell where he’s been injured.
“Three toes, left foot,” he points out. “Crushed by panel.”
‘Panel’ has a rather broad meaning, and Polash is intelligent enough to know that it needs elaboration. He proceeds without prompting to explain that it was a concrete panel 4 metres by 600mm.
“To build a wall?” your writer hazards a guess.
“Yes. Inside a factory, a partition wall.”
He whips out his phone and retrieves a photo of a stack of such panels. The next photo, however, is of his foot in an orthopaedic boot. He spent well over a month in it.
That was the best the doctor could do since, despite recommending an operation, the employer wouldn’t provide a guarantee letter (to guarantee payment). So no surgery was done.
He feels quite sore about the way he’s been treated despite serving the company loyally for six years out of the ten he’s been in Singapore.
“Tell me how the accident happened,” your writer asks.
“We were installing the panels,” he begins. As was the usual procedure, a forklift brought a panel close to where it was to be installed.
Polash and a colleague then made some final preparations on the ends of the panel — something to do with rebars and a bit of cutting. All that went without incident.
Now the panel had to be moved into an upright position. How this was done was to keep one end of the panel touching the ground while the forklift lifted the other half of the panel.
“Not stable, like that,” Polash adds. “Only balance on one prong of the forklift.”
It sounded like an accident waiting to happen. And on 10 November 2017, it did.
When the panel had been raised to about 60 degrees’ incline, it suddenly slipped at the base. It was too heavy and too sudden for the men to maintain control of it.
It crashed onto the ground. Polash and his colleague were injured. The co-worker got the worst of it. His lower leg was broken.
“Surely, the forklift isn’t the right machine to do this,” your writer remarks. Whilst he is no expert on construction technology, it is pretty evident that what’s needed is a machine that can maintain a secure grip on the panel while it is being rotated on a vertical axis, from the horizontal to an upright position.
At this mention, Polash gets slightly agitated, “Have. Have such a machine. But boss don’t want to buy.” He can’t spell the name, but based on his pronunciation, it’s something called a “Seuss machine”.
For Polash and his colleague, it’s too late now. Bones have been broken and jobs lost.
This reminds us of a point that TWC2 has made before. When labour is too cheap, construction employers do not see the economic sense of investing in mechanisation. Use muscle to manoeuvre panels into place rather than the correct equipment. Make do with whatever there is, such as a forklift.
The ones who bear the risks and pay the price, however, are the workers and their families back home.
And then when an accident happens, and the doctor says surgery should be done, say No again. Save money on that too.
See also: TODAY newspaper, 18 April 2018, Singapore needs to relook foreign labour
Quotes: … the inflow of foreign workers must remain “well-calibrated” to encourage firms to continue improving productivity, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.
“… Because if I can get workers cheaply, why should I invest in machines,” said Mr Heng in an interview with the local media at the Treasury building on Wednesday (April 18).