Injured worker awarded $69,000 in compensation, employer not paying

pic_201301_21

Uzzal Kumar Mondal won his case at the ‘Labour Court’ and was awarded compensation totalling $69,838. A workplace accident left him virtually blind in his right eye. The compensation order was issued on 25 October 2012. His employer has stubbornly not paid despite being given a deadline of 21 days from the date of the court order. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is not lifting a finger to help him get what is due to him.

Quite the contrary. In the second week of January, an MOM officer called him back and interrogated him. For four hours, according to Uzzal, he was talked to constantly. The officer asked him all sorts of questions about the accident all over again, at one point saying something to the effect that if his details today did not coincide with his earlier statements, there would be “problems” for him.

What was meant by that?

Uzzal felt harassed throughout. He felt that the officer was intent on tripping him up, and fishing for ways to reverse the court order; perhaps even looking for a way to prosecute him for lying under oath.

pic_201301_22smallA bit of clarification is necessary here. The ‘Labour Court’ is not really a court. It’s a kind of tribunal, headed by a Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner of Labour. Its decisions are not judicial but part of the executive branch of government. Nonetheless, they can be enforced by law. Defiance can be prosecuted in a District Court.

But instead of enforcing the order, there seems to be an officer within MOM trying to undermine it.

At right is the order issued by the Assistant Commissioner Gabriel Tan made on 25 October 2012, while below is the letter accompanying it telling the employer that they have 21 days to pay up.

pic_201301_23smallThe point is this: What business is a case officer’s to question and undermine a formal tribunal’s order? At the tribunal, the employer had a chance to present his case, as did the worker. There was also a recommendation by doctors on a medical board — appointed as part of the work injury compensation process — that Uzzal should receive compensation. The Assistant Commissioner weighed the facts and arguments and ruled in favour of the worker.

There is no word of the employer appealing. This is possibly because under Section 29(3) of the Work Injury Compensation Act, an employer must first deposit the ordered sum with the Commissioner of Labour before he can appeal.

What Uzzal has heard is that the employer never bought work injury insurance for him, and is thus unwilling to part with his own money.

Well, in that case, the company can be charged for at least two offences:

  1. not paying Uzzal within 21 days of the order — Section 35(2)(a) of the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA)
  2. not buying insurance — Section 23(1) of WICA.

To add teeth to the law, Parliament saw fit to make company officers personally liable under the law even if the employer is a company. Section 36(1) says that “the officer as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly,” if an officer of the company (i.e. director, manager, etc)  is shown to be the one acting or failing to act, and leading to the offence. The penalty is a fine of $10,000 or twelve months’ imprisonment or both for each of the above offences.

* * * * *

Uzzal’s accident occurred on 9 June 2010 — two-and-a-half years ago. The vibration from a hacking machine caused his safety glasses to slip off allowing a chip of tiling to rocket into his right eye. Five or six workers witnessed the accident, and there is little doubt that it occurred during work and therefore comes within the ambit of the Work Injury Compensation Act. The court order is thus right and proper.

Since the accident however, he has had no job, no income and no housing provided. He’s had to borrow from friends and depend on what little charity he can find. Try to put yourself in his place — how would you manage for over two years?

So already, the Ministry of Manpower has been derelict in its duties, failing to put in place any system at all for the care and support of injured workers. It cannot deny responsibility for the suffering it inflicts on people.

Add to this: firstly inaction over enforcing the order and prosecuting the employer; and secondly, what appears to be an attempt to undermine a tribunal’s formal order. Exactly what are the ministry’s true priorities?

* * * * *

Late December 2012, Uzzal’s plight was featured in a Chinese newspaper. Although our mainstream papers are never outspoken in their criticism of the government, just describing Uzzal’s case — how the employer is getting away with not paying up while the ministry does nothing — is enough for people to see where the problem lay.

Might it be possible that the ministry was unhappy with Uzzal going to the media to highlight his situation? Unhappy with the implied criticism of the ministry?

Was the four-hour interrogation a way of punishing him? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that ministry is more concerned about defending itself and cracking down on critics than doing right by workers.

* * * * *

Uzzal’s is hardly an isolated case. There are thousands of work injury cases every year and the typical guy spends 6 months to two years destitute, wandering the back lanes of Singapore.  But at least most eventually get compensation.

However, every year too, I see several like Uzzal, whose employers refuse to pay up despite a formal order. Employers who broke the law not buying insurance, but are not prosecuted.  And the men are left with no help at all. And then at some point, the ministry says the case is closed and the worker is denied permission to stay on in Singapore. He is sent home without a cent.

It is shocking that an entire bureaucracy, paid lavishly with our tax dollars, does not see it as their responsibility to serve, to design solutions or even to enforce the law.

37 Responses to “Injured worker awarded $69,000 in compensation, employer not paying”


  1. 1 JG 14 January 2013 at 15:19

    GCT : “How come we’re ranked #1 in Maths, #1 in Science test scores, but rank very very low in generosity and graciousness?”

    Another good article to forward to his attention.

  2. 2 Sgcynic 14 January 2013 at 15:26

    What does Tan Chuan Jin got to say for this case? Is he going to roll up his sleeves and get something done or is he going to do some PR by admitting simply that more could have Ben done yadda yadda? Is impossible to lodge an official complaint against the deadwood MOM officer?

  3. 3 oute 14 January 2013 at 15:30

    That is why social worker, or volunteer like you should stand for election as a Member of Parliament…There is nothing you can do if you can get elected…And with the $16,000 a month, you can help those in need. Why waste your time doing this volunteer work, when MCYS/MOM is not doing their jobs. Dont volunteer and refer everything to them.

    As they say “This is the government, I am the government.”

    • 4 henry 15 January 2013 at 13:19

      It is not a waste of time.
      People volunteer for reasons best known to themselves and its not
      because of money either.
      It is far more effective through this means than through parliament
      which requires lots of talking and bureaucracy.

      And being an MP may be more restrictive.

      This blog has brought about more awareness about politics and social issues than any parliamentary debate over the last 50 years.

  4. 5 Just asking 14 January 2013 at 15:36

    Just asking only. Could there be corruption within MOM such that some officers are bribed by employers to close the case? It defies logic that Uzzal is being harassed by MOM. Who is this officer? What is his duty? Do you have his name? I think we should lodge a complaint to CPIB.

  5. 8 Chanel 14 January 2013 at 16:09

    Men in white modus operandi has ALWAYS been form over substance, i.e. projecting a “good” public image is far more important than doing the right thing.

    The myopic policy of relying on cheap foreign labour is very much in place, so don’t expect any real action from to the govt to help aggrieved migrant workers.

  6. 9 Roku Fukui 14 January 2013 at 17:09

    In one of the most uncorrupted and bureaucratically efficient countries in the world, it is a travesty that the Ministry of Manpower does not reflect this.

  7. 10 Pau ta ker 14 January 2013 at 18:01

    Looks like our world class country status is going to be in jeopardy… do it your way is chargeable under some form of law, done by the proper channels… there is still an loophole or blockage for basic , common sense justice ? Our neighbouring boleh concept is somewhat not to to laugh at.

  8. 11 kampong boy 14 January 2013 at 19:13

    So sad, MOM is there to protect the employer. The Minister ought to be fired.

  9. 12 CRICKET 14 January 2013 at 19:20

    Mr Au,

    I think you should reveal the name of the MOM officer who interrogated the worker and also the questions he asked him.
    Is a staff member from TWC2 allowed to accompany a worker during his interview/interrogation by a MOM officer?

    • 13 yawningbread 14 January 2013 at 22:20

      No member of TWC2 or any other NGO is allowed to assist/accompany a worker in his meetings with MOM. Unfortunately, Uzzal does not remember this officer’s name. It is not his normal case officer — which makes this highly suspicious again.

      • 14 teo soh lung 14 January 2013 at 22:31

        Is there a law that disallows worker from being accompanied?

      • 15 yawningbread 14 January 2013 at 23:26

        Not a law, but internal MOM policy. This can be problem because foreign workers have then to rely on MOM’s translators. Some workers whose English is fairly good have reported that MOM’s translators mis-translate! As least these ones spotted the translators’ mistakes and were able to object to the translation immediately. Others with poorer English might be none the wiser when the case officers record the translators’ wrong interpretation.

    • 16 J 16 January 2013 at 13:24

      So how do we know the officer is from MOM? Perhaps the simple molehill explanation is that the employer is seeking to dispute the facts?

  10. 18 Dy 14 January 2013 at 19:59

    Disgusting. Wonder what the Minister has to say about this.

  11. 19 mike 14 January 2013 at 20:25

    Can the worker by pass the tribunal and go to the courts to sue for his injury?
    Seems like the govt. is only giving the companys an other way out of being responsable.If this man was a singapoean, I am sure it would have taken a diffrent route.

    • 20 yawningbread 14 January 2013 at 22:19

      The Ministry of Manpower’s rules state that the tribunal route and civil suit route are separate and mutually incompatible. The option exists for the worker to sue the worker in a normal court, but once he does that, he invalidates the tribunal’s order, and loses any claim to the amount so ordered. Also, unlike the tribunal route where all he needed to show was that the accident/injury took place at work (with no need to show who was at fault), in a civil suit, the worker will have to show that the employer was at fault in some way. That is much harder to do, and so it is always adviseable for workers to take the tribunal route. It should work fine, until the ministry meets with a stubborn employer, and then the ministry just goes to sleep.

      Furthermore, the behaviour of this case officer is quite unusual and raises big questions re his motivations, or the instructions he might have gotten from his superiors. Which is why of the thousands of injury cases, I chose to highlight this one.

      • 21 4Democracy 17 January 2013 at 13:12

        The system is really loaded against those who can only offer labour to feed our GDP growth. Contrariwise for those who can richly offer capital or who are employed to manage or look after that capital.

  12. 22 Civil Serpent 14 January 2013 at 22:05

    Can’t we name & shame the said employer?

  13. 24 ricardo 15 January 2013 at 06:24

    posted on Tan Chuan-Jin’s facebook

    “http://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/injured-worker-awarded-69000-in-compensation-employer-not-paying/#more-8953

    Mr. Tan, there are several disturbing issues brought up by this incident. Why was the MoM officer attempting to subvert the tribunal’s ruling? Who is this officer? Why weren’t the company and their representative, who are guilty of breaking the law on 2 counts, not prosecuted? Why aren’t workers meeting with MoM allowed to be accompanied by their own interpreters and friends? Please look into this.”

    You can also email him tanchuanjin@mom.gov.sg

  14. 25 Amir 15 January 2013 at 08:17

    Pls help to contact lighthouse club with the victim details.
    It is a charity organization solely for construction incidents.
    They will be happy to help

  15. 26 Francis 15 January 2013 at 18:05

    Looks like their”proper channels” are not so proper………

  16. 27 Alan 16 January 2013 at 00:06

    If the tribunal already made that kind of compensation award, it would appear that the MOM Officer is trying to fish for new evidence by re-questioning the worker.

    It can only make sense if the Employer is appealing for the award to be overturned. Otherwise it is quite fishy for the MOM Officer to go beyond his normal call of duty to re-question the worker.

    • 28 yawningbread 16 January 2013 at 01:22

      I don’t think re-questioning would be fair even if there’s an appeal. Appeals usually revolve around points of law or the reasoning applied by the Commissioner. You don’t go through the findings of fact again, and anyway it’s for the employer to present his case, not for an MOM officer to do the job for the employer.

  17. 29 ^^SaRaNgHaEyO^^ 16 January 2013 at 10:17

    Will MOM be liable for the compensation (directly or indirectly) if the employer is unable to pay up? And hence such “methods” for the 4 hour gruelling?

  18. 30 reservist_cpl 16 January 2013 at 16:01

    This is not even a lack of generosity. Outright cheating and flagrant disregard of lawful orders.

  19. 31 rxmai 18 January 2013 at 11:45

    Thanks for sharing Uzzal’s story with us. I hope he can work with the lawyer that represented him in court to learn what his rights are. He should have insisted on payment before any further investigation is needed (after an order has been passed). The sum of money is hardly enough to pay for all he has gone through for the past two and a half years. It would probably be good to share the name of the last MOM officer who interrogated him with media friends too.

    • 32 yawningbread 18 January 2013 at 11:57

      Some clarifications:

      1. At the labour tribunal, no lawyers are allowed. No NGO reps either. The worker (despite language handicap) is on his own against his employer or employer’s rep.

      2. “He should have insisted on payment before any further investigation is needed”. How can he insist? He cannot refuse to attend an MOM appt because MOM may then deport him at once.

      • 33 Adam 20 January 2013 at 02:17

        If we want to become a gracious society – leaders in our country must champion the cause. I feel terrible sorry for so many foreign labors/students who has been cheated by our people.

  20. 34 just sayin 18 January 2013 at 22:03

    Idt the behaviour is fishy tbh. I’ve heard of pple having their statements taken a second time bc the authorities are trying to bolster their case for them. Besides, from the pov of MOM, it is unlikely that they would be trying to discredit Uzzal now that sympathetic reports have come out (the comms major in me speaking). If anything, they will be trying their best to get the employer to pay the compensation so that they can look good. They would hardly be renewing his work permit month after month if they truly were attempting to deny his payment.

    Actually, if I’m not wrong, if MOM prosecutes the employer and he decides to go to jail, there’s a thingy that will dissolve his responsibility to pay Uzzal!(pretty shitty tbh) I’m pretty sure most employers would pay if they could, and in this case, I believe the employer just couldn’t fork out the money. The employer could just be desperate enough to go to jail instead of paying Uzzal. Perhaps MOM avoids prosecuting employers bc they’re afraid they would take up that option, leaving Uzzal high and dry. And after all he’d been through!

    Which makes me wonder if MOM has anything in place to aid employers in paying these things. Perhaps consider paying in installments? Or MOM could offer a loan? Or in exceptional circumstances, they could aid the worker first, then the employer would owe MOM money instead. Compared to the worker, MOM is def better equipped to chase for their $$$ back. And in the case of a default, MOM could take the financial hit a lot better than the injured worker.

    I’m not siding with the employer or MOM, I just think that all sides have their issues and prosecuting the employer just doesn’t seem to be the optimum solution.

    • 35 yawningbread 18 January 2013 at 22:36

      See, even you can come up with a creative solution (in your second last para). . . why couldn’t MOM?

    • 36 Mokawk 29 January 2013 at 20:36

      I think that “just saying” has come out with a creative solution for Mom and our Govt to seriously look into. Mom could pay out the compensation first and recover from the employer through due legal process in case of susequent default by the employer..
      The ruling that the aggrieved worker could not be accompanied by how own representative or an NGO rep or counsel baffles me. It is also an unjust ruling. If an a unused criminal can have a legal council present to represent him, in a police interrogation, what is the rational for not allowing an aggrieved person to have proper representation before a MOM investigation ? What is MOm afraid of .?
      Mohawk

  21. 37 rxmai 19 January 2013 at 13:28

    Is it too late to engage the help from MWC, at least for the payment portion?


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