A typical evening at the Cuff Road Project
It’s my first time at TWC2’s Cuff Road Project, where migrant workers get an opportunity to speak with friendly volunteers about whatever concerns they have, and get a free dinner as well. It’s a busy place with workers coming by all the time and several standing around waiting for a chance to speak to a volunteer. I have a simple question for them: How did you learn about TWC2?
Ripon, who is at TWC2 for the second time regarding a salary claim case, had been following the TWC2 Bangla Facebook page for some time. He recalls casually browsing the internet when he came across a YouTube video where people discussed how TWC2 assists migrant workers in Singapore.
“I saw someone talking about TWC2 on YouTube, discussing the rights and regulations of migrant workers in Singapore”, he says.
Ripon impresses me with his great command of English and ability to articulate his thoughts effectively. He also highlights another significant challenge faced by migrant workers, namely, receiving a wage of only $18 per day.
“The salary ten years ago was $18 a day, now also $18 a day. How to survive in Singapore when all the prices go up?”, he questions, expressing hope that these words will bring about increased awareness and lead to improved conditions for migrant workers in the near future.
Unlike Ripon, Khan says he’s unaware that TWC2 has a Bengali-language page on Facebook. Also at TWC2 for the second time, Khan was introduced to TWC2 by a friend from the same dormitory after he suffered an industrial accident and needed help.
It’s the same for Naim; he too was introduced to TWC2 by a friend. Word-of-mouth appears to be a popular way of raising awareness about TWC2, I thought.
Although I had only asked him about how he came to know about TWC2, Naim openly shared his thoughts about the organisation with me, saying, “These are very good people; they provide food and MRT money”.
Curious about where he stays and how he got here, I learn that he stays in a dormitory at Pioneer. Casually responding with “Wow, that’s far” prompts him to elaborate.
“Yes, but I have to come here although it’s far because I need food and MRT money”, he explains.
Regarding his ongoing injury claim following an accident at the shipyard where he worked, Naim says he has been given approximately two months’ medical leave, but his monthly payouts from the company have been inconsistent. Last month, he received only $200 as a food allowance. TWC2’s caseworker is following his case closely, having calculated that Naim is owed salary, medical leave wages and possibly unauthorised deductions from previous salary payments.
Despite help from TWC2, not all workers get their cases settled to their satisfaction. I also meet Miah Chanchal, who first approached TWC2 in early 2020 over a salary claim with his previous company, and who has come back to TWC2 for help over a new salary claim in relation to his latest period of employment.
Chanchal tells me what happened back in 2020 just when Covid-19 was beginning and lockdowns were not yet the order of the day. He says it was his friend who introduced him to TWC2. At that time, his friend had an injury case and was staying at TWC2’s shelter.
Unfortunately, that salary claim was not successful due to the winding up of the company.
“In the previous case, I went TWC2’s office at Beach Road to do salary calculation and take photos for evidence. But MOM said company no money that’s why no salary pay,” he says. “TWC2 supplied me meals for two weeks, and then I went back to Bangladesh in March 2020 before the lockdown.”
The Cuff Road Project operates on the five-foot-way abutting the street. We’re not only visible to people who walk by, but because the passage is quite narrow, they may have to squeeze past if there are a lot of workers around – as is the case this evening.
A passer-by stops to watch the scene, trying to figure out what’s going on. He catches the attention of a senior volunteer, Alex, who then engages him in a brief conversation, explaining what TWC2 is about and how we help workers facing probelms in their employment.
I am surprised at how casual Alex’s conversation with Bijoy (the passer-by) is. Personally, I believe this reflects the values and image of TWC2 quite well – volunteers positioned near a simple restaurant, sitting at tables, creating an environment where migrant workers feel comfortable initiating conversations and seeking support, and even attracting the attention of passers-by who can casually discover what we do in an open and informal setting.
What Alex explains to Bijoy is useful information for him. I learn that he’s a Bangladeshi worker who has been in Singapore for eight years, currently doing electrical maintenance at a hotel. In all this while, Bijoy has not heard of TWC2 and is unaware of our services. He’s one of the luckier ones, not having faced problems with his job.
“Let’s hope it stays that way, and he has no reason to come back to this spot to talk to us in future,” says Alex.