Shoriful (left) is grateful for the help he received from Debbie (right) and TWC2, and sees them as family here.

“We come here as foreign workers, didn’t bring our families here. We always think employers are our families, they will pay my salary, they also happy, I also happy, I send money back to my family. When we get a problem, nobody can support. But when I get someone to support, like TWC2, that is when I feel like the family is here,” Shoriful said.

He added tearfully, “When I’m with Debbie (president of TWC2), I feel like I’m living with my family.” Like many other migrant workers, Shoriful came to Singapore in 2009 to provide a better life for his family. Being new to a foreign land can be intimidating and cause one to feel helpless as they are far from family and friends.

Shoriful received assistance from TWC2 in 2010 and even after his case was resolved, he visits whenever he is available, even dropping by for occasions such as our anniversary celebrations of our Cuff Road Project in March 2024. While things are going well for Shoriful now, with him enjoying his current job in electrical work and receiving a certification in electrical maintenance from Singapore’s Building Construction Authority, the journey was rocky and challenging at the start.

In 2010, Shoriful experienced appendicitis and was taken to a private clinic where he was given medication. It later worsened and his former employer sent him to another clinic in Little India, where the doctor wrote a note instructing his boss to take him to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) immediately for surgery.

Instead, the former boss sent Shoriful back to Bangladesh that same night as it would be cheaper to undergo an operation there. As he was new to Singapore then and clueless about the country’s labour laws, Shoriful obeyed and sat in pain during the five-hour flight.

“How was it possible to send me like that? I’m an emergency patient but I don’t know any rule, I’m a new worker in Singapore,” he explained.

Back home, Shoriful went under the knife twice after experiencing an infection following the first surgery. For one and a half months, he was jobless and recovering from the painful procedure. Concurrently, Shoriful’s former boss constantly called to ask when he would be back as the company required manpower. Eventually, his former employer urged him to return to Singapore on the promise of providing him a new work permit that was fully paid for.

Having sold off land in Bangladesh and taken a loan to work in Singapore, Shoriful was eager to pay off his debt and provide for his parents and two younger sisters. Upon his return, however, Shoriful discovered he had to pay SG$3,500 in agent fees and was forced to sign a contract agreeing to the terms. When Shoriful refused, his former boss attempted to beat him and even filed a police report accusing Shoriful of turning violent and cheating his money.

What was said: “I feel very bad because it’s the man, it’s human being not the animal. He tell me to come back Shoriful, I give you work permit Singapore. But when I come back to him, he ask me to sign the paper. I said what kind of paper? You didn’t tell me before I come to Singapore you had to pay the agent fee. Now you ask me to pay the agent fee and $3,500. I’m not allowed to sign this paper then he angry to me.”

What he meant: “I felt very bad because I’m a human being, not an animal. He told me to come back to Singapore and said he would give me a work permit. But when I came back, he told me to sign the piece of paper and agree to pay $3,500 in agent fees. I said I’m not allowed to sign the paper and he got angry with me.”

Through his friends, Shoriful was directed to someone who went by the name of Sabir and who was said to be a lawyer (though he might only have been a legal assistant). Sabir then put him in touch with TWC2 volunteer Debbie Fordyce. She helped him seek treatment at Singapore General Hospital and worked on his salary claim case against his former employer.

What was said: “That time I think when I get to Debbie and TWC2 help me, that time I get back my families here really. I don’t know how to…that time already I feel my Mum, everybody’s in Singapore.”

What he meant: “When I received help from Debbie and TWC2 last time, I felt like I had my family here. At that time, I felt like my Mum and everyone were in Singapore.”

Knowing how lonely and helpless his peers can feel when faced with injuries or salary disputes, Shoriful pays it forward by finding out more about their situation and urging them to contact TWC2. Should he meet any migrant workers new to Singapore, Shoriful said he would tell them to focus on work safety and try to forge a good relationship with their employers. He added that he would advise them to seek help from MOM or TWC2 if they are injured or if their employers do not pay them.

Meanwhile, Shoriful is clear on what his future plans are. His father worked as a rickshaw puller years ago when Shoriful was in high school but that did not generate sufficient income to send his two younger sisters to primary school. Therefore, Shoriful sacrificed his college education and came to Singapore in hopes of earning a better living.

However, now that he is a father to a nine-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter, Shoriful does not want them to endure the same experience and is working hard to ensure they can go to school.

“I feel that if my father have more money then I can study more and get the good job. But I didn’t get this so I hope now I work so my son and daughter can study. Last time, I don’t have the money so I never study,” he explained.

We have featured Shoriful before – eleven years ago. See the 2013 story Shoriful and Afroza marry by phone.

What was said: “Singapore very hard job, every workers comes to here they know how the situation is here. So I hope my son don’t come to this position. I like to they come to a bit higher position, office work or engineer or mechanical.”

What he meant: “Working in Singapore is hard and every worker who comes here knows that. I hope my son won’t be in the same position. I’d like for my children to work in a higher position when they are in Singapore, like office work, an engineer or even a mechanic.”

White colour footnote: Not in camans. See email of 13 May 2024 titled Shoriful’s success story