MOM confuses tough questions with “false allegations”

pic_201301_32The Ministry of Manpower felt their integrity was impugned by “serious allegations” that are “entirely false” in my recent article “Injured worker awarded $69,000 in compensation, employer not paying”. They issued a media statement Friday, 18 January 2013. You can see the statement in full here.

My article raised three key issues:

  1. Uzzal was interrogated in a way he thought was hostile to him. He was also warned in the session that there would be “problems” for him if any of his answers didn’t completely agree with information he gave MOM soon after he was injured — which was two-and-a-half years ago. In my article, I asked why a worker, who had been awarded an order for compensation, was treated this way? Was the officer trying to undermine the court order? MOM shouldn’t confuse asking questions warranted by someone’s unpleasant first-hand experience with “false allegations”.
  2. In the two months after he was awarded the labour tribunal order, Uzzal saw little help forthcoming from MOM. I argued that if MOM had moved quickly to prosecute the employer, not just as a company, but in terms of personal responsibility liable to imprisonment, he would be more forthcoming in settling Uzzal’s claims. How can an argument like that be a “false allegation”?
  3. I mentioned that I know of workers who had been repatriated without receiving their compensation, and said that it is shocking that the ministry has not designed a better system. MOM in its response does not deny that there have been workers who had been repatriated without receiving their compensation, and yet accuses me of “false allegations”.

If you would bear with me, I will hereunder respond to MOM’s response section by section.

Getting compensation

MOM begins by saying that

Recovery of Mr Uzzal’s work injury compensation and prosecution of his employer for not making this payment are two separate processes.

To an extent, they are, but getting payment of the compensation is made extremely difficult if there is no concurrent threat of prosecution. It is also important to remember that for a worker who has no income, no accommodation, every passing day counts. To treat the prosecution decision as totally separate, taking its own time, is to pile great pain and suffering on the worker.

So here again, in MOM’s own statement, is a glimpse of the failure to understand with compassion the plight of the worker and the importance of timely enforcement.

Then MOM says:

The amount owed to Mr Uzzal is a civil debt. Like all non-payment of civil debts, Mr Uzzal would have to enforce the payment through the Bailiff Section of the Subordinate Courts. As Mr Uzzal has retained the services of a lawyer, this would have been clearly explained to him.

Precisely. If you were in Uzzal’s position, what you’d understand from the above is that getting payment is a matter for him and his lawyer and MOM has little role, because it “is a civil debt”. Which was what he felt (i.e. no real help from MOM) and what I said he felt in my article.

Notwithstanding this, the Ministry referred Mr Uzzal’s case to the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) for assistance. MWC offered to provide all necessary assistance to Mr Uzzal to enforce the payment, including the filing of documents and payment of stamp fees and court expenses. Through his lawyer, Mr Uzzal declined MWC’s offer of assistance.

This was not known to me. In any case, as discussed below, the offer from MWC is moot, because the bailiff route is not seen to be meaningful.

In parallel, MOM also commenced an investigation with a view to prosecuting the employer for failing to pay compensation to Mr Uzzal, which is an offence under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA). To ensure fairness, MOM conducts such independent investigations to ascertain the facts of the case. Only when the investigation is complete can prosecution action be taken i.e. charges filed in court.

These are many, many words that attempt to explain what should be obvious. The labour tribunal’s order was dated 25 October 2012. The employer was given 21 days to make payment. This period lapsed 15 November 2012. What more investigation is needed? Either he has paid or he has not. One has every reason to be skeptical about MOM’s explanation. Is it more for media consumption than a genuine reflection of much hard work in November and December preparing charges?

Moreover, if we are to believe that MOM is always prompt and serious about prosecuting employers for not making payment, then why do I know of examples of workers repatriated without compensation, and without any news about prosecution either? How are we to believe that MOM is serious in Uzzal’s case when the record is so patchy?

As part of the investigation, MOM interviewed both the employer and Mr Uzzal on 26 Dec 2012. Importantly, Mr Uzzal was also briefed on his options for enforcing the compensation payment during this interview. Apart from the avenue of the Subordinate Courts, Mr Uzzal could enforce the compensation payment through application of Section 40 of the WICA. This option has two downsides. First, while this allows the courts to rule that compensation be paid to the worker if the employer is successfully convicted, payment is in fact not guaranteed. If the employer is unable to pay for whatever reason, the employer would be jailed in lieu of payment, and the debt would be extinguished. Second, the prosecution process would typically take longer than enforcement of payment through the Bailiff Section of the Subordinate Courts. Mr Uzzal was briefed on both options, and through his lawyer, Mr Uzzal asked that MOM apply Section 40 of the WICA when prosecuting the employer.

Are you not floored by the statement that the law allows the debt to be extinguished if the employer chooses jail? How is justice served to Uzzal? This is among the bases for me saying MOM should have designed a better system.

As for enforcement payment via the bailiff, I believe Uzzal and his lawyer feel that the employer may not have assets to seize. As it is, the company operates out of one room, I am told. Not only will there be additional costs (in the thousands of dollars, money Uzzal does not have) it can be a very lengthy process. For these reasons, it is quite understandable that they didn’t think the bailiff route would be meaningful. These are critical considerations MOM glosses over in their statement.

In the meantime, MOM has forfeited the employer’s security bond for the worker, and barred the employer from hiring foreign workers.

I am glad to hear that. I don’t think Uzzal knew that, and I surely didn’t know that, until MOM was compelled by my article to say something publicly.

Readers might also raise eyebrows when I tell them this: The forfeited $5,000 bond went into general government revenue. Not a cent of it went to Uzzal.

In addition, it is also worth noting that by barring the employer — a construction company — from hiring foreign workers, MOM has effectively made it impossible to carry on business. What assets will it then have for any bailiff to seize? How is seizure an effective route that MOM would advise Uzzal to take to obtain his compensation?

See what I mean by MOM failing to design a  better system? Things work at cross-purposes.

Prosecution for safety lapses

There is a separate and concurrent investigation with a view to prosecuting the employer under the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act, and Mr Uzzal was interviewed in Jan 2013 in connection with this investigation.

This must be the interview in which Uzzal felt himself talked to — a feeling he related to several people including a mainstream media reporter.

Mr Uzzal recorded his statement in Bengali, with an interpreter present throughout the interview with the MOM officer. The interview focused on WSH questions such as whether Mr Uzzal received safety training and whether risk assessments were performed before work. It was not, as Mr Au made it out to be, related to the work injury compensation order. On two occasions, both the MOM officer and the interpreter highlighted to Mr Uzzal that the statement recorded was for the purpose of investigating the accident under the WSH Act.

Put yourself in his shoes. Does an ordinary construction worker understand the difference between this law and that law? All he wants is his money which is due to him, but all he was getting that day was four hours of interrogation that got him no nearer his compensation. Prosecuting the employer for safety violations is of no meaning to him now, so when he came out of the meeting, it was only natural for him to speak of the experience in terms of the compensation, or lack of it.

Clearly, I misunderstood the purpose of the interview — seeing it like Uzzal through the lens of compensation — but it’s not clear that Uzzal understood either.

As there were some inconsistencies in Mr Uzzal’s statement, the MOM officer had reminded him to state the truth, and that he may face prosecution if he provided false information.

There we go! Can you blame him for feeling that the interrogation was aimed at finding fault with him? For putting him and his compensation award in jeopardy?

I will also point out that if MOM was of a mind to prosecute the employer for safety lapses, it didn’t need to wait until December 2012. The accident took place in June 2010, and the employer could have been charged within months of the accident. Why didn’t the ministry do so? Does the delay in any way lead us to question the seriousness of the ministry’s resolve?

Re-interviewing Uzzal two-and-a-half years after the accident and warning him of dire consequences for the slightest inconsistency between the earlier statement and the present one, is terribly unfair. The passage of time clouds memory. If anything, too perfect a match would be more suspicious. It is wrong to thereby put the burden of responsibility for a successful prosecution on Uzzal’s shoulders; MOM shouldn’t have waited so long in the first place.

At no point did the MOM officer try to “harass” Uzzal or worse, “undermine” the work injury compensation order. This was confirmed by the interpreter, who was present throughout the interview.

That’s easy for MOM to say now, but who better to tell us how it felt to Uzzal than Uzzal himself? He repeated his experience in similar terms to several people, including a mainstream media reporter.

Work injury insurance

At this point, I shall point out that nowhere in the statement by MOM was there mention of prosecuting the employer for not having valid work injury insurance. I pointed this out to Amelia Tan of the Straits Times and she went back to MOM for their response. MOM told her, as far as I understand, that yes, they are “investigating” the employer for not having work injury insurance.

I said to Amelia that this answer is worth far less than it seems. Why?

Notably, they didn’t say they were prosecuting the employer, just investigating. But there is very little to investigate. Either the employer has valid work injury insurance or he hasn’t. The law is very clear that he should have a valid policy.

The fact that the employer didn’t pay within 21 days strongly implies that he does not, because insurance companies are typically quite efficient at paying out. It shouldn’t take more than a week after that to determine if the employer has breached the law. A threat of prosecution issued forthwith should help concentrate the employer’s mind and nudge him to pay Uzzal from his own pocket.

Instead, nothing seems to have happened at MOM for two months; not even a mention in MOM’s statement until the reporter asked them. Two months mean little to bureaucrats but it’s a long, long time to suffer when you’re the worker, destitute and anxious.

The key issue: no preemptive monitoring

The lengthy response by MOM clouds the key issue: All these problems for Uzzal, and now all this extra work for MOM, would not have arisen if the employer had valid work injury insurance that paid promptly. But what processes are in place to monitor compliance?  What early-warning system is there to spot employer who fail to take up insurance?

Uzzal’s and several other workers’ cases suggest that there is no system at all. The result is terrible suffering for workers as MOM tries to sort out the mess spilling out from industrial accidents. I said in my previous article that MOM failed to design better solutions. I still see no reason to change my view.

In conclusion

MOM is committed to ensuring that the [Work injury compensation] claim process is fair and expeditious. Our records showed that 80% of all cases are resolved within 3 months. Mr Uzzal’s case was among the exceptions. To accuse MOM of being “derelict in its duties”, as well as to insinuate that MOM was “unhappy with Uzzal going to the media” and using the “interrogation” as a way of “punishing him” is irresponsible of Mr Au. It would have been the responsible thing to come to MOM if Mr Au or TWC2 had any queries, and alert MOM, if he or TWC2 felt there were any issues with Mr Uzzal’s interview. But Mr Au did not do so, and chose to simply publish the inaccuracies without checking the facts of the case. Such inaccurate articles are unhelpful, and addressing these irresponsible allegations detracts from the Ministry’s day-to-day work of ensuring that workers are protected under the law and derelict employers are prosecuted.

I can see that MOM takes exception to my use of the phrase “derelict in its duties”, preferring that the word be reserved for employers (see fourth word from the end of the passage above), but I have shown in all the foregoing that the ministry’s performance is far from winning it prizes. It didn’t prosecute promptly for safety lapses and it didn’t indicate to anyone that it was planning to “investigate” the employer for not having insurance until the reporter asked — a fact that makes one wonder how serious the ministry was about it. Its tardiness prolongs the pain and suffering for an injured worker desperate for compensation money. And it doesn’t seem to have an effective early warning system with respect to insurance which could have prevented the whole mess.

MOM being unhappy with workers going to the media is nothing new. When another worker, named Shahin, spoke to the Straits Times in August 2012 about his salary arrears and how MOM had not made any progress for a year, the morning after the article appeared, he got a call from an MOM officer that took him to task for speaking to the media. This, Shahin told me personally the same afternoon. So when I postulate that MOM might have been unhappy with Uzzal telling his story to a Chinese newspaper, how can it be an “irresponsible” statement given this previous example?

As for Uzzal being justified in feeling that the interview was a rather punitive interrogation, I think MOM’s own words above have said it all.

Then, MOM’s final shot:

In light of the facts presented above, Mr Au should do the right thing and remove the inaccurate post immediately.

Another attempt at censorship?

Take a helicopter view and gauge the overall tone and thrust of MOM’s response and one more thing is unmistakeable: There is an apparent lack of concern for addressing the issue that most concern Uzzal: compensation for his injury. The ministry’s statement is written eloquently about MOM following proper procedures whilst taking much umbrage at “‘false allegations”, but there’s a glaring lack of concern for Uzzal despite this length of time — two and a half years. And still no straightforward procedure for satisfactory redress when the employer fails to abide by the regulations.

Ensuring that MOM escapes blame is different from ensuring that the worker is justly compensated.

67 Responses to “MOM confuses tough questions with “false allegations””


  1. 1 pa tr ick chai 19 January 2013 at 03:59

    MOM behaves like they are CPIB. Threatening
    DOES NOT WORK any longer. It is shameful n those officers ought to be fired. Simple as that.

  2. 2 A. Andres 19 January 2013 at 04:43

    I would like to remind all Singaporeans to be united in the cause of ensuring thorough fairness for one and all. Whether they are Singaporeans, or foreigners or even the Government. Everyone deserves the chance of being evaluated fairly purely on the basis of their actions. We need to analyse all the information presented and come to the right conclusion. This would ensure that justice and fairness is delivered to all. Only in such a way would we as a cohesive society be able to move forward in creating and maintaining a harmonious society. One where people would feel at home and visitors would feel welcome. We can achieve this through active cooperation and collaborative evaluation and examination of the facts and figures. These carefully analyzed facts and figures will thusly be agreed by everyone and factual debates will no longer be necessary.

    What we can then move forward with is a substantial debate about the substance of our policies. And the substance of our policies must always be indicative of our collectives desires as a society, a society that consists of people from multi-racial environments and different socio-political beliefs. To this end, I feel that all the relevant information must be studied by all parties together, not only individually. Factual analysis of the information has to be trusted upon representatives of the various interested parties and non-partial examiners. These microcosmic, though non-democratically elected, representatives will be able to ensure that the facts that are agreed upon are fully explanatory of the current situation, are not merely labeled as true facts. True facts are not enough, but rather would need to be able to sift through the haystack of information and find the real facts that are not in dispute – this is what one calls the collaborative facts.

    • 3 Mildredbonk 22 January 2013 at 23:50

      Copy paste from where, social studies text book?

      In the highly dignified tone, A. Andres has once again, achieved Empty Talk!

      Empty Talk- the art of saying something and meaning nothing; used by politicians and self-ennobling hacks alike. (Although it does, at times, make one seem like a fking moron.)

      With the belief that True facts are not true enough, Andres, an apparent master of the english language, seeks to qualify different degrees of facts by terming the REALLY REALLY true facts “real facts”, and the REALLY REALLY REALLY true facts “collaborative facts”. A milestone in the history of semantics, it seems.

  3. 4 oute 19 January 2013 at 04:48

    Stand for election for a Parliament Seat lah. No point of wasting your time to talk to the civil servants. With the 16,000 a month, you can them better

  4. 5 Simon 19 January 2013 at 05:56

    Alex,
    You brave soul. Singapore is such a superficial Nation. We clamor so much to be amongst the ranks of a First World Nation. Yet we are Third World in appearance when it comes to the treatment of workers, both local and foreign where wages and fair working conditions are concerned. Our Leaders and Government institutions should take issues and criticism positively. Why are our Leaders and their office bearers so sensitive when they are supposed to be accountable for the jobs they are doing? I hope Uzzal’s case will be expeditiously resolved to avoid further embarrassment to our Nation’s already poor standing when it comes to workers welfare.

    • 6 liberalist 20 January 2013 at 11:41

      in some ways, singapore is still behind from the western countries. singaporeans are not discouraged from expressing their feelings. but if we just live day to day without following the govt affairs, actually singapore is quite a good place to live in. wait till u come to australia where even though the country is first world, but the prices here are the third world prices. australia is also a third world.

  5. 7 Lye Khuen Way 19 January 2013 at 06:28

    To my mind, MOM is trying to wriggle it’s way out by whatever excuses .
    Thanks, Alex for your effort.
    The Minister in Charge may want to take a look into the way things are handled.

  6. 8 Sashaqueenie 19 January 2013 at 07:05

    Don’t back down.
    We support you.

  7. 9 wendy 19 January 2013 at 08:25

    ow come they didn’t just send a letter of demand? seems to be the easiest way to the more powerful and the one with deeper pockets to get what they want nowadays

    • 10 Mildredbonk 22 January 2013 at 23:59

      Obvious because the ministry doesn’t want to use the tax payers’ hard earned money for something frivolous like saving a poor, partially blind man who probably would never be able to work in the same way again because of this incident.

  8. 11 Onenightstd 19 January 2013 at 08:25

    Good work, Mr Au.

  9. 12 Anon BDsW 19 January 2013 at 08:28

    “All hands on deck,
    And step ever so carefully;
    For we have sailed into
    Kraken country.

    But those that’ll be safe, are
    Aboard the Censor’s ship?
    Let’s hope the XO has slapped
    The Captain awake, already.”

  10. 14 Anon 4cVf 19 January 2013 at 08:39

    Singapore needs to be on the right side of history in re-structuring our labour markets away from what is quickly considered repugnant practices.

    An awesome opportunity has presented itself for coordinating the re-design and restructuring of our labour markets with a re-worked market design for our COE system.

    There is today a power opportunity to be got for re-balancing our costs of production.

    The words “dereliction of duty” keeps popping into my mind.

    The time for putting paint on the system is passing…

  11. 15 Thanks. 19 January 2013 at 08:48

    I have passed my concerns to Minister FB wall. Thank you for watching out for the helpless and “giving a hand to those left behind.”

  12. 16 kampong boy 19 January 2013 at 09:17

    it’s sad that after all this time, mom still miss the point. what’s going on here?

  13. 17 reddotsg 19 January 2013 at 09:58

    Can someone csi who was the employer n any connections?

  14. 18 Joe 19 January 2013 at 09:59

    U had my utmost respect for standing against the “Tank” fearlessly .

  15. 19 AL 19 January 2013 at 10:02

    Thank you for helping the foreign worker. Its heartwarming to know that we have compassionate Singaporeans like you who help others because it is the right thing to do.

  16. 20 Chazza 19 January 2013 at 10:25

    this happens very often. i can’t understand why when MOM has the ability to revoke/refuse work permits if there is no work injury insurance coverage. the ministry is capable of surveilling such things, but they don’t. one problem is that work injury insurance coverage works on the basis of group and not individual coverage. nonetheless, MOM should still constantly keep track that every single worker with a valid WP should be covered by their employer.

    Uzzal’s case is not unique. you should ask MOM what steps they have taken to ensure that all WP-holders are covered by work injury insurance and in such cases, why don’t these measures work?

    and the 5000 bond thing, its a fucking shame that it goes to govt revenue even though the worker is owed compensation/wages. evidence of how fucking shameless our government is.

  17. 21 tan 19 January 2013 at 10:31

    If you doubt the very intuition setup to control all the worker matters, than it just shows you do not follow the rights of everybody including the worker. So let’s says MOM gets done what you want MOM to do, than other side, employer will say MOM did not follow procedure and so complication just go on and on. But I respect you eagerness to solve this poor workers plight. Just for example if somebody makes matters worst for you than what will you do? Will you go and confront him direct or approach relevant authorities.

  18. 22 Paul Peters 19 January 2013 at 10:38

    One thing I know about civil service in Singapore: everything done according to the law. So this is a case of following to the law. If the law has no provisions for enforcing something, just too bad. Dats bcos you got a PAP Govt which does not work and only pretends to work during Elections. How’s dat? Just pray that u ar enot one of those in the minority who kena bad luck. If u kena, sorry this is the law which is a lousy law made by lazy PAP MPs.

  19. 23 sean 19 January 2013 at 10:59

    Disappointing to note that MOM’s press release was not only defensive of their bureaucratic action, but also offensive to accuse Alex’s of being “irresponsible”! Typical high handed officialdom from the Ministries in Singapore…
    Is it really that difficult and image-destroying to simply eat humble pie and thank Alex for his critical input and suggestions, acknowledge their shortcomings, reveal their difficulties and then work together to devise a solution for all?

  20. 24 Allen 19 January 2013 at 11:32

    Having read what was written on ST and your response, I think our mainstream media has failed us miserably by obfuscating the truth. We should read more first hand accounts on blogs such as yours. Thanks for revealing the real truth.

  21. 25 teo soh lung 19 January 2013 at 11:46

    I am shocked that MOM allows companies to employ foreign workers without ensuring that they have the minimum workmen’s compensation insurance in place. For individuals who employ domestic workers, there is an insurance policy requirement. Why didn’t they ensure that companies have an insurance policy in place? In the case of limited companies the workers will get nothing if they have no insurance coverage.

    In motor accidents, there is a scheme (to which all insurance companies have to contribute) to ensure that those injured who cannot be compensated for any reason, will receive some compensation from the scheme. It is urgent that MOM which collects millions from workmen’s levies do something for the workers. May I suggest that for a start, MOM uses part of the levies collected to pay Uzzal and the 20% who were repatriated without compensation.

    Forfeited bond monies can also be used to compensate penniless workers.

    Singapore can afford to pay to protect our image as a first world nation.

  22. 26 Wiki Temasek 19 January 2013 at 11:59

    Your 3 points do not amount to falseful allegations, you can comfortably ignore their request.

    For point 1, Uzzal felt intimidated by MOM’s investigation method. This is factual.

    Point 2, Uzzal did not receive immediate help from MOM which the latter acknowledged by saying its an exceptional case out of the 20%.

    Point 3, MOM could not dispute the fact that there are cases repatriated workers were not compensated. This is factual.

    Rest easy.

  23. 27 civilservant@yahoo.com 19 January 2013 at 12:45

    Would be good if MOM spends less time/efforts playing PR and more on prosecuting the errant employers. They should at least have the decency to acknowledge that things should not have been allowed to drag for so long.

    Would be good if a MOM whistleblower can share what really transpired for such cases, and why MOM has dropped the ball for so long. Such incidents don’t speak well for the senior civil servants, nor political leaders in charge. (To be fair to Tan Chuan Jin, the former Minister in charge (Tharman) probably didn’t think that foreign worker welfare was a priority issue. Tan could put things right now that he is in charge.)

  24. 29 Chanel 19 January 2013 at 12:48

    The result of having former career soldier heading a ministry is top down commanding style. It is: I give orders you just accept without questioning. No argument or u would be punished.

    Why do ministries get worked up and act only when cases are higlighted in the media??? This demonstrates why we need press freedom as a check and balances on the govt

  25. 30 Andrew 19 January 2013 at 13:10

    Thanks for what you have done. You are great.

  26. 31 Freddy 19 January 2013 at 16:46

    You are lucky. If MOM were to just issue you with a lawyer’s letter instead of posting a lengthy rebuttal, we would by now be reading your retraction and apology.

  27. 32 Bifer 19 January 2013 at 16:49

    Well done Alex, you are a credit to your nation, and your courage proves that there is hope for the future. Do not be cowed by bullies, and keep up your valuable work :-)

  28. 33 phillip ang 19 January 2013 at 16:59

    There has all the while been very little accountability from government agencies. we do indeed have a very flawed system because highly paid civil servants do not seem to be aware/indifferent to the reality on the ground.
    in my ‘engagement’ with government agencies, i have always suggested the need to see things first hand, not based on wishful thinking that reality is
    similar to classroom conditions.
    it is a shame that MOM continues to procrastinate and shirk its responsibility.

  29. 34 descended 19 January 2013 at 17:00

    MOM…. please improve for human beings sake. Foreign workers need pity…not their employers.

  30. 35 Hoo Humm 19 January 2013 at 17:22

    What is the name of the million dollar cabinet minister in charge of this ministry?

  31. 39 CRICKET 19 January 2013 at 17:22

    I think there is a column in the work permit application form for the applicant to fill in the insurance policy number of the security bond. If this column is not filled the application would be rejected.
    Similarly, shouldn’t there also be a column in the form for filling in the number and expiry date of the work injury insurance policy and when this column is not filled the application would not be approved.

  32. 41 Roy Chui 19 January 2013 at 18:21

    “Are you not floored by the statement that the law allows the debt to be extinguished if the employer chooses jail? How is justice served to Uzzal? This is among the bases for me saying MOM should have designed a better system.”

    I feel the question is not about getting justice for Uzzal. Punishing the employer may “justify”, so to speak, the fact that he did not pay back to Uzzal what he had owed, but it doesn’t alleviate Uzzal’s financial situation.

    The obvious solution is to ensure that Uzzal gets paid, and promptly, to alleviate his financial situation as well as his current plight (blind in one eye).

  33. 42 walkie talkie 19 January 2013 at 18:45

    I hope and I believe MOM officers are reading this blog and the comments here. So I hope they read this comment.

    MOM statement mentioned “Our records showed that 80% of all cases are resolved within 3 months. Mr Uzzal’s case was among the exceptions.”

    This exception of 2.5 years is too way long and MOM should have explained reasons for the great lapse in this case. What are the reasons?

    If there is no good reason, then MOM should have just admit the mistake, apologies for the lapse, and show some statements of empathy for the worker in the press statement.

    The PR work is very lousy. Before the press statement I was still giving a little benefit of doubt to MOM as their side of the story has not been heard. Now having heard them, I am utterly disappointed with MOM.

    MOM, you better take care of your image in your next PR effort. You would create more damages to your ministry if you follow up with a lawyer’s letter to threaten Alex to remove his post. The way to redeem yourself is to issue a statement that shows empathy, compassion and a promise to really tighten up your working process, and also to quickly take proper action to solve this long overdue problem for Uzzal.

  34. 43 Patrick Lee 19 January 2013 at 21:38

    After reading both your blog and the attached letter, I have these to say.

    It seems to me that migrant workers are suffering because they do not have a workers’ union that can represent them in times of need. To expect MOM to be a one-stop for migrant workers and not local workers might be too much to ask, in terms of resources.

    Alex, you are not directly helping Uzzal with your inaccurate allegations but could have found out much more by directly talking to MOM. Your blog is read by many people and has a great deal of influence so you have a moral obligation to ensure its accuracy.

    • 44 yawningbread 19 January 2013 at 23:56

      But I have not been inaccurate.

    • 46 Charima 20 January 2013 at 00:28

      If MOM cannot help foreign workers, then what for they collect foreign worker levies? Shouldn’t they just control the quota to whatever level they can manage instead of flooding our island with these workers and throwing their problems to VWO? Given the amount of levy they collected, why couldn’t they afford an air ticket for the worker and need VWO help? Ridiculous!

    • 47 Don 20 January 2013 at 09:18

      Patrick Lee,

      There is no such thing as a “workers’ union” in S’pore. Head of NTUC is Lim Swee Say, who is a PAP minister. Uzzal had spoken to MOM, but the outcome has been zero

  35. 48 Duh 19 January 2013 at 23:41

    MoM was certainly quite efficient with the ‘strike’ by PRC drivers – so clearly they can be quite efficient if they desired to. Tsk tsk tsk… spare us the bullsh*tting, MoM.

  36. 49 MS 20 January 2013 at 00:17

    Excellent stuff Alex. Really wish you could turn your analytical mind to the Ministry of Health next. Lots of anecdotal evidence of serious issues there as well. Heard of at least two elderly ill people who jumped to their deaths at Punggol when they decided that they no longer wanted to burden their families with hefty medical bills.

    And these issues are affecting poorer and hence more vulnerable Singaporeans. In any case, more power to you.

  37. 50 Alan 20 January 2013 at 03:02

    In the midst of our National Conversation, the authorities should take note of such feedback as constructive criticism for better governance. No need to be so defensive and instead accuse the blogger to be irresponsible when the facts speak for themselves ?

    Does the MOM mean to say they don’t give really give a damn whether the injured worker gets his rightful compensation or have the Employer prosecuted within a reasonable time in contrast to the demanding nature that we all may have to appear before the courts if we fail to pay for the summons ticket for a couple of dollars car parking offence?

    Come on, don’t try to be the big bully just to silence people off. Of course unless the Government is indirectly admitting that the purpose of the National Conversation are not real in listening to the people for constructive feedback?

  38. 52 US president 20 January 2013 at 09:20

    dear Tan Chuan-Jin,

    You can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time!!

  39. 53 Francis 20 January 2013 at 09:22

    Thanks Alex for raising the plight of Uzzal. I have a little information about how many foreign workers are treated in Singapore and you are spot on.

    Thanks for the good work you are doing. Please do not be intimidated.

    About removing the post, never do that. You have written and MOM has replied. Let the reader decide which is true.

  40. 54 Carambola 20 January 2013 at 11:16

    They cant see beyond shooting the bearer of bad news.

  41. 55 henry 20 January 2013 at 15:01

    It is the structure that is causing all this.

    A) Employment Act does not cover migrant/transient workers
    B) Work Place Safety rules/laws are not enforced
    C) Policies are created with bias towards “smooth running of economy”

    Once policies and beliefs are built on unsound principles, a series of quirky mismatched rules starts to spring up. All created ad hoc and when required without considering the base philosophy, or changing it to reflect the current situation.

    With each department, with their own initiative creating more sub rules. Eventually. passing the buck or getting tied up in a myriad of sub laws, rules and procedures. Workers are left out in the cold.

    Take for example the setting up of legal help facility for workers by the labour movement. I do not know how workers can be helped at all when the Employment Act and Contract laws are at logger heads. The employer has the terms drafted out within the Act and contract laws. The worker is left with no other recourse except to seek advice and that advice can mean ” you will have to take out a civil suit”

    Creating laws and procedures without appropriate enforcements, and then forgetting that the worker is central to all this becomes pointless. Businesses are well equipped with resources such as money, time and man power to perform their work and be successful at it. It is the worker that is at the disadvantage from the start.

    The trade union here is a docile entity, the regulators have less than a tooth and the government has a profit seeking motive. The worker is left with nothing except to kneel and beg for mercy.

  42. 56 Anon 2D45 20 January 2013 at 16:49

    All these ass hole civil servants seating in their $600 expensive chairs, warming their ass. That’s what they do, just passing the buck and waiting for the salary.

  43. 57 sgcynic 20 January 2013 at 20:40

    Singapore has been on autopilot for too long. With such “servant leaders” running the country aground, Singaporeans and foreigners working here get the short end of the stick, the employers and the GLCs get to call the shots.

  44. 58 Anon gVV2 21 January 2013 at 00:17

    Is 80% within 3 months a good record? I suppose those are the reputable employers who pay up fast. What is the record for uncooperative employers? That is a better gauge of MOM’s performance.

    It’s like saying Town Councils collect 90% S&C charges on time. No big deal. People pay by Giro. Work is done by the banks and not the town councils.

  45. 59 Francis 21 January 2013 at 10:28

    MOM u are making your Minister look bad. Minister better do something or you will be part of the problem for your party. The “shit” is hitting the fan better face up or the shit will fall on your face. The same excusse do not wok any more. MOM looks like you don’t have enought manpower becaues more more employers are defaulting on what they should be doing. U are giving all other civil servants a bad name. It wake up time. Sleeping beauty needs to awake and not with a kiss . You have just been slapped. Hello!!!!

  46. 60 Karl-Heinz 21 January 2013 at 16:08

    A big Thank You to Mr. Au for speaking up for the helpless migrant workers, and a big Shame on You to MOM who acts like a big Bully! I wonder where are those people’s humanity when they strutted their arrogant and bureaucratic stuff before the helpless and destitute worker? Do they have any sympathy? Are they still normal human being?

  47. 61 Din 21 January 2013 at 17:52

    Alex, wonderful blogpost. A blog article is meant to share what you know and feel is worth mentioning. Freedom of expression…nobody can check ALL these so-called FACTS otherwise there’ll be no longer any expressions. This is the way of natural discourse Do politicians and everyone always check ALL the facts before they speak?

  48. 62 Got to Troll 22 January 2013 at 03:13

    Bless you Alex for speaking up for the oppressed. For also showing that asking tough questions can be done in a cogent and intelligent way.

  49. 64 2CentsWorth 22 January 2013 at 11:40

    Interesting points made and I guess MOM does need to review the governing policies and ensure that they also look after the needs of the employees. I am just curious that nobody has mentioned about the irresponsibility of Uzzal’s ex employer. Who are they and can there be a platform for highlighting such employers? Looking deeper, to me, the problem is the mindset of many of the members of our own society. Look at the way many of the managers, supervisors treat their workers. Look at how some of our employers are treating their domestic help! it points to a fundamental problem with our society.

    It’s easy to just point our fingers at the government and say that they are doing a terrible job. For sure they need to take the lead and set the direction but as a society the responsibility lies with us. It’s probably easy to also point the fingers at our education system and say that the schools are not doing their job in developing a gracious society but hey who should be the ones teaching values? Should it not start with the family?

    Electing the people to government, be it PAP or otherwise is not the magic bullet. It is time for us to be involved and take ownership. Unfortunately Uzzal’s case is not the first and will also probably not be the last. I appreciate what people like Alex is doing, contributing their time and efforts. Just wondering how we can broaden the approach to generate more awareness and hopefully, we can see a more gracious Singapore in time to come.

  50. 65 Thor 22 January 2013 at 18:30

    Methinks further threats against yawning bread for this robust and muscular response are being held in abeyance till after the BE lest they exact a political cost. Same applies to defamation suit against VW.

  51. 66 Debbie 23 January 2013 at 17:40

    Hi Alex,

    At the risk of cluttering your comments with information about Uzzal, let me add a bit more detail to his story.

    MOM says that 80% of the work injury cases are resolved within three months. I assume that means within three months of lodging the case rather than within three months of the injury, but the figures from TWC2 offer a different perspective. More than 1,500 injured men who lodged work injury compensation cases have sought TWC2’s help in 2012 through the food project in Little India (which is where we first met Uzzal). At any one time, more than 13% of the men with injuries have been waiting more than one year since the injury for the injury compensation case to be resolved. That’s a snapshot of what you’d find, with about 40 to 60 men at any given month who are still waiting more than a year after their injury. Very few of those who come for help are housed and fed by their employers, so their first priority is food.

    Admittedly we see the more serious cases at TWC2. Not necessarily the injuries, but the men’s cases are complicated and obstructed by many other issues. Here’s what deranged Uzzal’s compensation claim.

    Contesting the Injury

    In Uzzal’s case the employer hoped to cast doubt on the injury based on the medical notes from a small clinic in Little India. The doctor from this clinic noted an injury to the left eye, when in fact the injury was to the right eye. I assume that the doctor made a simple mistake in noting which eye was injured, but the employer used this discrepancy to discredit Uzzal’s claim and support the doctor’s professionalism. In the company’s letter to MOM dated 26 July 2012, the employer wrote:

    “It is shameful and unbelievable that the injured was a grown up adult at the time of injury with great paid, failed to alert and notified the doctor if he had been given wrong treatment. Dr. X has been our regular doctor for our injured workers and has never goofed up in his diagnosis and I urge your high office not to be cowered by the rhetorics (sic) in the submission as I am standing by the side of truth based on facts to the best of my knowledge, of which the evidence had already been submitted earlier to your office.”

    This letter doesn’t make much sense, but you can see what the boss wants to say: Uzzal is lying about the injury. The diagnosis from Tan Tock Seng is that Uzzal was blinded in the right eye, but the company objected because Dr. X noted an injury to the left eye. It’s not likely that Uzzal, bleeding and in pain, was mistaken about which eye was injured: more likely that the doctor made a simple mistake.

    Several co-workers were present when the accident happened, but they were threatened with termination and repatriation if they spoke up, so the support of witnesses was lost to Uzzal.

    Lost Passport

    The company held Uzzal’s passport, as is the common albeit illegal practice for employers of foreign workers. At some point the boss asserted that he had returned the passport to Uzzal, forcing Uzzal to lodge a police report so that the document could be replaced. The police report dated 26 January 2011 states simply and to the point:

    “I wish to report that my employer M/s Zheng Yang Construction Pte Ltd have lost my passport. That is all.”

    Uzzal’s work permit expired in February 2011. In order to have a special pass issued, he needed to show his passport. It’s possible that the boss was thinking that the lack of a passport would put Uzzal in a difficult position, and possibly result in him being detained as an illegal overstayer. Uzzal needed to pay S$800 for the police clearance in Bangladesh (the actual fee may be lower, but palms must be greased), and another S$200 for the new passport to be issued by the Bangladeshi High Commission. His new passport expires in August 2013, which will mean another $200 for the extension if this case isn’t finished by that time.

    No Insurance, No Payment

    Uzzal only found out that the company had no insurance for him when after the labour court meetings started, some time in 2010. It’s not possible that MOM was unaware of this, as it’s one of the requirements. The WIC Guide for Employers states:

    Every employer is required by law to maintain adequate Work Indjury Compensation (WIC) insurance for
    • All employees doing manual work, regardless of salary level and
    • All employees doing non-manual work and earning $1,000 or less a month.

    The lack of an insurer was also evident in the 28 February 2011 Notice of Assessment, which listed Zheng Yang Construction both as employer and as payer. The notice states that payment of $67,950 (this doesn’t include medical leave wages or medical expenses) must be paid within 21 days of the date of service if no objection is received within 14 days, and that the claimant should notify MOM within one month from the payment due date if the amount is not received.

    What does Uzzal want? He emphasizes that in addition to his compensation, he wants to go home.

  52. 67 Anon h90G 1 February 2013 at 19:33

    MOM…money on money
    It seems that collection and counting of hundreds of millions of levies every month … , maid’s levy, EP .SP ….etcetc has kept the mom officers so busy i doubt they have time to attend to complain….MOM just keep mom about complains and injustice.What has the civil service become after all the high pay increases.??


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For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.

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