TWC2 volunteers Jill (left) and Pat (middle) updating a worker’s record at The Cuff Road Project.

TWC2’s The Cuff Road Project (TCRP) began 15 years ago when we came across hundreds of migrant workers who had lost their jobs, been thrown out of their company accommodation and were sleeping rough on the streets of Little India. We didn’t have the budget to provide housing, but we could help with another of their critical needs – meals. Having been laid off, they didn’t have money for that either.

Whilst providing free meals to unemployed migrant workers remains the centrepiece of TCRP, the programme has evolved into something much bigger. Our staff and volunteers on station now help with all sorts of questions and other needs if we can.

Moreover, not only laid-off workers come to us. Even those in jobs come, e.g. when they need to ask someone how to write a resignation letter, or what their rights are in the event that the boss terminates their employment prematurely (not a whole lot, unfortunately), or what to do if they’ve been short-paid their salaries.

In this series of three posts, we profile three men who sought help from us recently at TCRP.

Has my boss filed an injury claim for me?

Asan (not his real name) was a relatively older worker. He appeared to be in his forties and had worked in Singapore for about twenty years. Yet, he seemed to lack self-confidence, perhaps because his generation did not have much schooling. At first he spoke through another worker who helped translate, but after a while, we realised that his English was fine. He understood us and he could express himself pretty clearly.

Asan approached TWC2 volunteer Zong to say he only had a question. He didn’t need to take a free meal from us.

Zong had been volunteering at TCRP about ten times over the past three months. By this point, he could work relatively independently, He knew how to register a client, how to answer simple queries and, if the issue was more complex, who the more senior TWC2 persons were who could help the worker with his question.

Asan explained that he was injured as a result of a fall from height (about 3 metres) three months ago. He was hospitalised for some days and was (on the date of his visit to TCRP) still on medical leave. Some ribs had been broken and he continued to have pain. However, his Work Permit was still valid, and he had not lost his job.

What he wanted help with was to find out whether a workplace injury claim had been filed. It was important because without it, he would not get compensation for any permanent disability that followed.

He could have asked his employer, but either he didn’t trust his employer or he didn’t have the confidence to ask. He also alluded to his fear that if the employer had not filed a claim for him and he were to ask, the every act of asking would enrage the employer and cost him his job. Asan was at an age when getting another job would be difficult.

Asan recalled that in the days immediately following the accident and while he was warded, some police officers interviewed him by his bedside about the incident. Then, he said, other police officers came back to ask him to sign some papers, but he couldn’t tell us what those papers were about.

Zong asked Asan whether those men with the papers were in uniform. Asan said they were not, and Zong began to doubt whether they were even from the police. Might they be company officials? And if so, what were those papers?

At TWC2, we’ve seen cases where employers take advantage of workers while they were drowsy on medication or too intimidated by power, demanding that they (the worker-patient) sign pre-drafted statements that minimised the employer’s responsibility surrounding the accident, or agreeing to be repatriated to “recover at home”. So, every time a worker tells us he signed statements of whose contents he knew nothing, it is concerning.

With respect to Asan’s request to find out if a claim had been filed, Zong knew what to do. If an injury claim had been filed, there would be a record in the Ministry of Manpower’s online system which we could access on Asan’s behalf. But this evening when Zong tried to log in, he found it under “Maintenance” mode. The pop-up message said the system would come back on at 8:30pm.

In the meantime, we discussed with Asan what he would want to do if we discovered that no claim had been filed. He could file himself – and TWC2 would help him make the submission if he was not digitally savvy enough – but it would then be contrary to whatever the employer was planning (e.g. to avoid filing), and would likely mean job termination.

Asan seemed clear in his mind. If a claim had not yet been filed, he would want to file one.

Although TCRP runs from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, Zong waited past 8:30 to attempt another log-in. This time, he was successful and found that a claim had been filed for Asan back in November 2022. Hearing that, Number One was relieved, and his long trip from his dormitory to TCRP this evening was worthwhile.

For good measure, we gave him a card with TWC2’s WhatsApp number. It’s our helpline and might save him from having to make another trip should he have a future question. That said, all humans see value in face-to-face contact and migrant workers are no different. If they can make the time, they still prefer to come downtown to TCRP in the evenings, interact with a real person and get a nice hot meal too.