Alam Nura shows us where he was injured

By TWC2 volunteer Firdaus, based on an interview in September 2020

At first glance, to this writer, the bearded, slightly pot-bellied, dark-skinned man wearing a taqiyah (a short, rounded skullcap worn for religious purposes) seems like any other foreign worker one may expect to encounter in Singapore.

But any foreign worker dropping by TWC2’s Cuff Road Project will most likely have a sad, sometimes outrageous story to share, in hope of a listening ear and a helping hand.

As does Alam Nura.

When Alam’s former employer abandoned his entire workforce last year (see footnotes) he worried at the prospect of losing his job and having to return to Bangladesh. As his family’s breadwinner, returning would not be viable.

Desperate, he asked around to see if any company was looking for workers and willing to hire him. A “friend” whom he got to know told him that he could get him a job doing plumbing work — in return for a $2,000 fee to the “friend”.

Most of us might assume that Alam should not fall for such an obvious trick. However, most of us would not be in the predicament that Alam was. Desperate, and digging into his life savings, Alam paid his friend $2,000 in the hope that the job offer would materialise.

It did. Alam got the job that the “friend” promised. But lo and behold – the job was in the same company that the “friend” was working in. Make of that what you may.

However, the “plumbing” job turned out to be one wherre Alam had to be on his knees for hours on end every day cleaning enclosed water tanks on the rooftops of buildings. Each water tank measured about 10 metres long and 1.5 metres high, making it impossible for Alam to clean the water tank standing up. Listening to him describe how he had to kneel for hours to scrub tank walls made me grasp and rub my knee caps to soothe the soreness that Alam must have felt.

But he got on with the job stoically. That’s what breadwinners do.

Unfortunately, in May 2019, just a month after joining the company, Alam got into an accident while cleaning a tank. As he was scrubbing the floor, his left hand hit against a metal beam, causing a laceration to form and the hand to bleed profusely. “I had to wait 15 minutes for the company driver to come and fetch me,” says Alam as he shows me pictures of his bleeding hand.

Today, Alam is unable to fully bend the index finger on his left hand as a result of the injury. He has since stopped working for the company, and remains in Singapore on a Special Pass pending his work injury compensation claim. A worker on a Special Pass is not allowed to work, leaving Alam without an income currently. Which explains why he has to depend on TWC2 for free meals.

While the story seems pretty mild in terms of drama, it’s still a disaster for him and his family’s finances. He paid $2,000 to get the job; he worked just one month before he got injured, and he’s been jobless for 17 months since.

But perhaps I am thinking too much. For men like Alam, very little is within their control. They just have to take each day as it comes.

“I can go now?” ask Alam.

“Of course you can. I’m sorry for holding you back.” I reply.

With a twinkle in his eye and a smile behind his mask, Alam bids his goodbye and I sit there for a while more, wondering if I’ll ever see him again.

TWC2 first saw Alam Nura in early 2019. He had worked for about five months with this former employer (after paying $4,500 in recruitment fees), but in all five months, he did not receive any salary. Nor did the other employees, about 23 of them. We tried to assist him with his salary claim that was filed at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), but eventually we learned from him that MOM could not really help him get his wages. “MOM tell me [employer] run away,” he said. The possibility of some help from the insurer behind the Security Bond was discussed, but the only advice we could give him was to focus on getting a transfer job.

This transfer job was the plumbing job, as told in the story above.