By TWC2 volunteer Pang Sheng Min, based on an interview in August 2020

As our interview concludes, Ferdous admits, “I don’t want (to stay), I want to go back. Go MOM, go hospital — a lot of problems.”

Ferdous is no stranger to work in Singapore. A jack of many trades, his career spanned almost a decade across roles in manufacturing, electrical installation, plumbing and, most recently, in construction. Even if it took two years to recover the $6,000 initial cost of securing his first contract, Ferdous remained determined to provide a better life for his family in Bangladesh…. until now.

He now seems to have realised that no amount of hard work and good relations with bosses can compensate for the inherent disadvantages faced by migrant workers in inescapably vulnerable positions. They cannot mitigate the calamities of life.

It happened three months into his latest work contract, in October 2019. Ferdous slipped off a 3m platform, hurting his right arm and back. He’s been unable to work since. Coupled with the untimely lockdown, he has been put out of an income for almost a year.

His problems have been compounded by the fact that he had not been paid for the first three months of work. He thinks he would have been paid the agreed $22 per day if not for the accident. Putting himself in his boss’ mind, he muses, “If I working okay, but after injury… if I cannot working why pay?”

Ferdous frowns with frustration. Securing this construction contract ate away at $2,500 of his savings. His total medical expenses to date have amounted to $1,000 which he borrowed from a friend. Perhaps the only silver lining for Ferdous is the provision of accommodation by his company.

Ferdous says he is considering filing for a salary claim under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Despite having never met his employer in person, Ferdous recounts a phone conversation with the office Human Resource lady, who promised payment by next week. Hopefully, the money materialises because, little to his knowledge, salary claims must be filed within a year from the supposed payment date. Since Ferdous is owed money from the third quarter of 2019 — and it is already August 2020 now — his window for filing a claim is rapidly closing. If the company doesn’t pay within a couple of weeks, Ferdous may have no right to file a claim.

What will come of one year of waiting? Ferdous says he is only at 50% of physical capacity since his injury. Battling prolonged uncertainty and misplaced trust will inflict a further toil on any man. For now, he just wants this case over and done with so that he can go home.

Singapore risks damaging our reputation as a good place for migrants to come to work. Repeated reports of exploitation and unjust case handling has consequences. The recent severe restrictions on movement that effectively make migrant workers virtual prisoners locked up in dorms — on the excuse of Covid-19 — will add to our bad rep. We may (foolishly) think we need care little about the opinions formed by foreign workers of Singapore, but ultimately, people can still vote with their feet. As it is, TWC2 is hearing many reports of Chinese workers getting sick and tired of Singapore (see Four little stories). To many of them, it’s not worth seeking work here.