Islam Mohammad Monzurul speaks English well, which was not the case when he first arrived in Singapore. On his first job in a shipyard, his supervisor pointed at something and told him to clean it. Having no idea what to do, he turned to his foreman for help. The foreman wordlessly gesticulated the work that needed to be done.

He has been learning English this way ever since; listening to instructions and interpreting the accompanying gestures.

That was over five years ago and Monzurul, now 27, has picked up more than enough English to be talking continuously like a running tap.

What he’s not been successful at is job secruity. He lost his third job late last year after a work accident. After filing an injury claim, he’s been put on a Special Pass which does not allow him to work.

Financially better off after five years of working here?

We review his years in Singapore from a financial perspective, and it becomes clear that he has not benefitted from his stay in Singapore.

Let go from his last (i.e. third) job after just three months, he has not been able to earn enough to break even on the recruitment fees of “three lakh” (almost $5,000 ) leaving him in debt with a local Bangladeshi bank. He has stopped repaying the bank; without any income he needs to take care of himself first.

Monzurul does not know if someone at home, like his father, is still repaying the bank, but he thinks nobody is. “How can? No work, no money lah, then how?”

Monzurul’s story is not an uncommon one, although not many workers are left with debts as big as his. Recruitment fees (also known as or agent fees or agent money) are the first levy any worker will have to pay up before being able to get a job in Singapore.

The agent Monzurul used for his first job in Singapore charged him five lakh (about $8,100). Monzurul was hired as a welder, earning a base salary of $15 a day, totalling roughly to 420 dollars a month, when overtime wages are included. But even before he could commence on this job, he needed to complete his welders training. The course took two months and fifteen days, and cost him another $800.

In other words, before he could earn his first day’s wage of $15, Monzurul had to pay almost $9,000, non-refundable.

Not just in Bangladesh, but anywhere that is a lot of money to pay for a job. He couldn’t even borrow the whole amount from a bank. He says government-owned banks in Bangladesh would not lend the full amount he needed. As a result, his father sold his land to get the funds together.

That first job lasted one year and nine months. Then his employer told him there was no more work for him. One year and nine months was not nearly enough time nor income to pay back the loan to the bank.

Second job

The second time around, the economics were only a bit better. After having to pay an agent fee of four lakh (about $6,500) and having to take on another loan from the bank to fund this, Monzurul’s new job made him $19 per day.

But it lasted even shorter than the first job, After one year, the employer informed him the work was done. He was not needed anymore.

And now, after several months of unemployment, Monzurul has no outlook at a new job at all. Although in between his previous jobs in Singapore he could go back home to see his family, the current Covid-19 situation does not permit an easy return, flights being restricted. In any case, his injury compensation claim is not yet concluded and medical and bureaucratic processes have all slowed down.

He doesn’t seem to mind though. Speaking to us at one of the restaurants participating in the Cuff Road Project of TWC2, he seems relaxed and content despite the delays.

Eid al-Adha celebrations are about to start, one of the most widely observed holidays in Islam and coinciding with the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. As for Muslims all over the world, these celebrations are close to Bangladeshis’ hearts. Monzurul however thinks it’s better to be here. In his confident Singapore-acquired English, “Here, free food, medication. In Bangladesh no have, what to celebrate?”