“A hammer smashed it,” the construction worker said. His skilled trade was what he called in Chinese mo2 ban3 — a term I didn’t understand. The accident occurred in March 2011, and he’s had three months’ medical leave since. The boss has paid all his medical expenses, though he’s not had a salary this while.
The work injury assessment process has been completed and he was awarded 6.5 points, which translates to a compensation of about S$10,000 from the insurer.
“Are you satisfied with that assessment?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, looking forward to going back to Henan and seeing his family again.
But I wondered: “Why do you have to go back? One finger is a small matter, you can continue working. Why won’t your boss keep you?”
“I want to go back,” he said. “In four years working here, I’ve only been back a short while once a year. I want a longer break this time, to see my baby child.”
“How old is he?”
“One,” he said, showing me the picture of the infant on his mobile phone.
The baby boy is his second child. His older one, a daughter, is now 18 years old, and has just graduated from a technical college and found her first job — something to do with computers. He sounds like a proud father.
“And your wife? Is she happy that you’ve been away?”
“She’s happy for the money,” he replied with a big smile.
He wants to stay home until Spring Festival next year — none of his home leave since coming here to work has spanned the Spring Festival — and return to Singapore after that. He’s confident that his boss will take him back.
“He’s a good boss,” he said.
And Hu seems a happy worker. His salary (about S$1,800 a month including overtime) has been paid on time all this while, his medical costs covered, and his accommodation is fully paid by the employer (with no deductions) even through these three months that he has not been working. And that’s how it should be. For once, I was glad to hear a migrant worker’s tale.
* * * * *
I was introduced to Hu by Jackie, a volunteer with Healthserve. Here she is standing in front of Healthserve’s clinic.
Non-profit Healthserve was set up by Dr Goh Wei Leong and Tang Shin Yong, roping in a few more doctor friends, to provide basic medical attention to the poor at nominal cost. They soon discovered that most of the patients were migrant workers — not that there aren’t destitute locals, but migrants outnumber them by multiples. The set-up is similar to a general practitioner’s clinic in a housing neighbourhood, except that they open only three times a week. They dispense medicines, provide counselling and follow up cases that are referred to the Ministry of Manpower.
Besides serving the poor, the clinic also offers travel immunisation packages to school groups and religious groups going on overseas expeditions. This helps them generate some income. A few church groups, the Soka Buddhist Association and NUS’ Hindu Students Association have in the past arranged to get their jabs there. If any reader has a group going anywhere, consider getting your jabs at Healthserve; the money you pay goes to a good cause.
Since February this year, Healthserve has also run a free meals program in association with a food stall at the corner of Geylang Road and Lorong 27. As the stall serves northern Chinese food, it attracts Chinese migrant workers. To be eligible, the worker has to be out of work, either because he’s had an injury or is in dispute with his employer (typically over unpaid salaries).
The free meals are served quite early in the evening, starting at about six. At first, I wondered why. By 7 p.m. it became apparent, with customers (mostly Chinese, some locals) streaming in and queuing up. It seems like the stall has a reputation for good food or value for money. They would not have any time to handle Healthserve’s clients at peak hour.
My friend Russell, the current President of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), and I decided to eat there. For $4.60 (for the both of us) , we had two vegetables, scrambled egg, seaweed, meatballs, soup and a surfeit of bread. It was quite palatable.
* * * * *
Alas, you cannot sit among migrant workers without someone telling a sad tale. This time, it came from Yan Jingchun, also from Henan, and who came to Singapore in 2009.
Yan’s skill is to lay floor tiles, but one day, while carrying some chemical (needed as part of his tiling job) he dropped the container and some of the chemical splashed into his left eye.
“My eye swelled up immediately,” he said. “I was taken to the work site’s First Aid Station, but they had nothing there that was an antidote to the chemical.”
The safety officer and a fellow worker then took him to National University Hospital by taxi, “but the safety officer just left us there and went away.” He didn’t get treated until about 1 p.m., almost four hours after the accident.
As for the costs incurred at the Emergency Department, the company had made no immediate arrangements to cover them, so the hospital asked him and his co-worker to pay. “We told the hospital we had no money. Finally, the hospital took down the details of my Work Permit.” The employer could be traced through that, eventually providing a Letter of Guarantee to indemnify medical costs.
In the eleven months since the accident in August 2010, Yan has made about twenty trips for medical consultation. The later ones were not so much for treatment but for assessment of the injury. He says vision in his left eye is permanently blurred, but the medical assessment that just come through — he showed us the document — says “zero points”, which seems to mean no permanent injury for Workman’s Compensation purposes, and thus, no compensation.
He’s not happy, and wants a second opinion, which Healthserve is trying to set up for him.
Although he was given six days’ medical leave right after the accident, his employer appears to have cancelled his Work Permit soon after. The Manpower Ministry put him on a Special Pass while waiting for the injury to be assessed, a process that eventually took eleven months. However, a condition of the Special Pass is that he is not allowed to find alternative work in Singapore.
In short, our bureaucratic system has kept a man here for eleven months, forbidden to work, running out of money, and at the end of the drawn-out process, he is told that whatever injury he has suffered does not qualify for any compensation.