By TWC2 volunteer Choy Chee Yew, based on an interview in March 2021

In Singapore’s unforgivingly hot weather, many of us would find it impossible to be languishing in a sweltering dormitory without a functioning electric fan at the very least. Yet, this was what Miah Shipon had to endure every day since February 2021. Whenever he tried to switch the fan on, a cleaner would immediately switch it off under the orders of his boss. The justification?

“Use fan, electric money. Who pay?”

As Shipon shares his predicament with us at TWC2, the word “torture” is used several times. He says his employer is punishing him for attempting to right a wrong. Even as we speak, he is visibly distressed by a barrage of text messages sent by his supervisors, demanding to know his location and why he has yet to return to the dormitory.

Why was Shipon in the dormitory in the heat of day? Why was he not at work?

It all began with a workplace accident in September 2020. Shipon, a metal worker, sustained injuries to his back when a heavy metal beam fell on him. Despite surgery in October and then being on medical leave from November to January this year, the pain worsened and he had to see the doctor again in February. His bosses were instructed by the doctor to only assign him light duties. While they agreed to it in the doctor’s office, little did Shipon know that the company had other plans.

Not long after, he was told that a return ticket to Bangladesh had been booked for him.

Sending Shipon home at this early stage would have saved the employer medical costs and liability for disability compensation.

WhatsApp message from the company clerk to Shipon telling him they’re sending him home.

Shipon was outraged. His treatment and recovery was far from complete. Not wanting to take the injustice lying down, he raised the matter with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), and officials there managed to suppress the attempted repatriation.

However, Shipon’s taking the initiative to report the incident to the authorities was deemed by his boss to have crossed the line. And that was when his ordeal began.

We’ll make you suffer!

In great detail, Shipon tells us he is forbidden to leave the dormitory unless necessary and the boss gives explicit approval. Getting more agitated, he describes what seems to be a carefully orchestrated effort to isolate him from his co-workers and room-mates; apparently, they’ve been told not to talk to him.

Meals have also been made into a problem. Despite MOM requiring employers to provide meals free of charge to workers with pending claims, such as Shipon, he was given no such support and had to pay with his fast-dwindling savings. See also footnote.

In sum, Shipon feels targeted.

What is most distressing for him is the fact that he is not even allowed to go out of the dorm room for some light exercise and fresh air, which he sees as necessary for his recovery from the injury. As a father of a 10-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy back in Bangladesh, what matters most is for him to be in good physical condition so that he can continue providing for them. Throughout our conversation, he frequently repeats, “If I die, then they how?”

Having brought the issue to his lawyer, the MOM and TWC2, all Shipon hopes for is his misery to be over as soon as possible. Having once been described as a “good worker”, this case is a clear example of an employer-employee relationship turned sour. The turning point, it appears, was how the boss took offence when an employee refused to submit to repatriation and tried to stand up for his rights.

Shipon’s story is hardly unique. Many workers too report that any attempt to assert their rights would provoke their bosses into anger.

Is this a cultural trait that Singapore can be proud of? Where one man’s sanity is the price of another man’s pride?

TWC2 social workers alerted MOM that Shipon was not getting food from his employer. MOM then told the employer to provide him with $120 a month. We contact Shipon regularly to ensure that this allowance is paid.