By TWC2 volunteer Leong Siao Wearn, based on an interview in June 2020

“I trusted her.”

Babul, 36, had been in Singapore for twelve years. Bright, hardworking, a skilled carpenter, he had worked for four companies in Singapore, and was earning up to $2,400 in monthly base and overtime wages when a meeting at a coffee shop in Joo Chiat in February last year became a turning point in his life. “She seemed like a nice lady. My boss before Singaporean Chinese, all good”.

Miss Lee, as she called herself, convinced Babul that she was on the cusp of opening her own factory, and that she could pay him $2,300 a month just in base pay, without requiring him to work the long overtime hours he was still doing then. All she required was an upfront payment of $2,800 from him to secure this opportunity. He scraped together his savings and, some weeks after that first coffee meeting, gave her the money in cash.

With that, the deal was sealed.  Babul resigned from his previous job and bought his own air ticket back to Bangladesh to wait out the mandatory two weeks.  Upon receiving his In-principle Approval for a Work Permit (IPA – see Glossary) by email in April 2019, he returned to Singapore, ready to take on his new job at Miss Lee’s new factory.

Babul’s In-principle Approval for a Work Permit states a basic monthly salary of $2,300

However, there was no work, no salary, and no factory.

Months passed.  As Babul’s frustration mounted, Miss Lee employed a series of delaying tactics through Whatsapp chats, finally arranging a meeting at City Square Mall in August 2019 with him. At this meeting, Babul was presented with several blank payment vouchers, and asked to sign them. She even told Babul that she wanted him to accompany her on a trip to Japan to purchase equipment for her factory and urged him to sign an “official” letter she had drafted for him to get a visa. In confusion, Babul put his thumbprint on one piece of paper after another. Little did he know that the payment vouchers would later be used as “evidence” of the salary payments he had been promised from April through August but never received, or that the “official” letter he had signed was actually a resignation letter.

Eventually, he filed a salary claim and it went all the way to the Employment Claims Tribunal. Unfortunately, he was not able to overturn the evidence presented by the employer — all those salary vouchers and documents he had trustingly signed without actually getting any money. His entire salary claim was dismissed.

By now, Babul has not worked now for over a year and is anxious to go home to his wife and 3-year old son. Singapore is an expensive and lonely place to be unemployed.

After more than twelve years in Singapore, to be deceived and betrayed just like that by “a nice lady in a coffee shop”, one would expect Babul to be bitter. Angry.  Yet his eyes shine brightly. Referring to TWC2’s Cuff Road Project, he says, “If I can, when I go home I also want to open a canteen in Bangladesh to help men, like you are doing here in Singapore.”