Yarif (middle) waits as TWC2 caseworker David (left) helps write a letter for him.

Based on an interview in February 2020.

Hossain Mohammad Yarif is between a rock and a hard place. “MOM officer say I must get assessment before my Special Pass expire on 25 February, but hospital not give me assessment date,” he says.

Having filed a work injury compensation claim, Yarif needs to be assessed by a doctor for the degree of permanent disability so that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) can determine the amount of compensation the insurer should pay him. It is not surprising that the authorities may be trying to push for the completion of the process as it has been 14 months since the accident on 8 December 2018. It’s also in Yarif’s interest since he’s been out of work for the whole period.

Yarif says he went to Changi General Hospital to get an assessment date, but the clerk there told him that she could only arrange doctor appointments. It is up to the doctor what he wants to do within that appointment time. So, Yarif came away without any assurance that the hospital date he got (24 February) would result in a disability assessment. Naturally, he fears that if he doesn’t get an assessment and his Special Pass expires, he’ll be repatriated without receiving any compensation.

He has now come to TWC2 to ask social worker David what to do.

Still checking validity?

With Yarif’s permission, David first checks what the status of his claim currently is. Immediately, a new question arises. From MOM’s server, David discovers that the status of the claim is “We are currently looking into the validity of the work injury claim.” This suggests that even now, MOM has yet to establish that it really was a workplace injury and thus that the claim is valid. This seems more fundamental an issue than merely waiting for a doctor’s assessment of the injury.

Often, the reason why validity remains in dispute so long after the incident is because the employer is arguing that no accident occurred at the workplace, but Yarif says that in his case, “Company accept [validity] already.”

“Hospital bill, all everything, company pay,” he adds, “and hospital never ask me to pay.” This is usually a good sign that validity is not in dispute.

David’s guess is that the status on MOM’s computer system has not been updated.

Was it safe work?

Your reporter asks Yarif how the accident happened.

“I standing on platform ladder doing hacking of ceiling,” he says of that day. Another worker named Shohag was supposed to hold and steady the ladder. But as large pieces of concrete fell all around him from the ceiling, Shohag stepped back. With no one holding the ladder, Yarif lost his footing the moment he shifted his balance to hack at another part of the ceiling. It was a rough fall onto many broken pieces of masonry.

Yarif hurt his right shoulder, neck and back. An ambulance was called and he was taken to Farrer Park Hospital; he would later be transferred to Changi General Hospital. Fortunately, no bones were broken, but doctors might have been concerned about soft tissue damage, so they ordered an MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging). Yarif was also given physiotherapy appointments.

Not entitled to medical leave wages anymore

Fourteen months is a long, long time to be out of work, especially when an entire family in Bangladesh is depending on this young man as the breadwinner. He is newly married too. A natural question would be whether the doctors have been giving him medical leave, so that he can at least claim medical leave wages to support his family and himself.

“Total have 60 days MC,” says Yarif. 60 days is only the equivalent of two months out of the fourteen since his injury.

“But has the employer paid you for the MC days?” your reporter asks.

“Yes,” says Yarif, though the exact answer turns out to be more complicated than that. 48 days have been paid. Two days are missing from his recounting, but the most recent ten days are not payable, Yarif says. He understood from MOM that since these ten days of medical leave are past the anniversary of the accident, he is not entitled to medical leave wages for them. Indeed, that is the law, which makes it all the more important not to drag out the process any further.

Net loss

Yarif’s financial situation is in a bad way. He paid $3,000 in Bangladesh to a recruiter to get this job, coming to Singapore to start work in September 2018.

“My IP letter say one day salary $18,” Yarif tells me, “but boss pay $20.” For an explanation of ‘IP letter’, see “In-Principle Approval” in the Glossary.

Paying him more than promised sounds like a good boss even if the salary is still very low at $20 a day. But the key thing is that Yarif worked less than three months before the accident. Everything that he earned in those three months wouldn’t even begin to cover the $3,000 he paid for the job.

David comes by and hands Yarif a letter that he has prepared. David is concerned that Yarif’s request for an assessment date at the hospital is lost in translation, especially as Yarif’s English is not too good. So, the letter spells out the request clearly. Yarif is advised to go back to the hospital and show a counter clerk the letter, making one more try to get an assessment date. Yarif can also show the letter to the doctor so that the doctor knows what exactly MOM is asking for.

Yarif is happy he is getting some help. However, one cannot help but wonder why the officer at MOM couldn’t have done the same? Why put Yarif in a bind between one bureaucracy (MOM) and another (the hospital), and expect him to sort it out? Why couldn’t MOM have communicated directly with the hospital, or at least given him a similar letter to take there?