Hidden Stories of Singapore: Mamun

Singapore is full of interesting, diverse stories of people from all walks of life. However, one group of people consistently remain relegated to the background, quietly working day and night to make Singapore the clean, functional, thriving city that it is: migrant workers. Yet, despite their deeply ingrained and deserving place within Singaporean society, their voices are often drowned out as they are pushed to the margins of society, being banned from public bathrooms, forbidden to use the pools of their own residences, and more. Still, these men and women are not victims — they are here to make an honest, dignified living and to support their families back home — but there are certain systemic problems that must be addressed in order to make for a more equitable, humane life for them. We as individuals can start by taking time to understand them and their situations. Below is the story of one migrant worker I met during my internship at HealthServe, a local NGO that is “dedicated to providing healing and hope to migrant workers” through medical care, case work assistance, advocacy, outreach, and more. I hope that his story will bring a bit more awareness to the circumstances surrounding many migrant workers, in order to create more understanding and compassion.

“Mamun” is a 27 year-old Bangladeshi construction worker who has worked in Singapore for 6 years. He first left home to go overseas to work in construction when he was only 19 years old, and has since worked in South Africa, Ghana, and Singapore. In June of 2015, Mamun was working on one of the MRT lines when he fell backwards onto the tracks and injured his spine, back, and shoulder. The company lorry came to get him, but he was only brought to see a doctor at a private clinic the next morning at 10am. His supervisor refused to bring him to the hospital because then the company would need to give him MC wages and file a report to MOM.

At the clinic, the doctor told Mamun that there was no problem since he didn’t have any broken bones. When the doctor asked the supervisor if he should issue Mamun an MC, the supervisor said no. Thus, the doctor didn’t issue the medical certificate and instead just gave him medicine and suggested that he rest. Because Mamun did not have an MC, the company would not be required to pay him his MC wages. However, the pain continued, and two weeks later Mamun’s agency brought him to another clinic. This time, the doctor gave him medicine and suggested that he get an MRI if the pain didn’t subside. However, when Mamun told his boss that he would need an MRI, his boss refused to pay for the MRI (despite the fact that companies are required to pay for the fees associated with injuries that their workers sustain on the worksite) and said that if he wanted to go the hospital he would need to go one his own first and pay for himself, and the company would reimburse him later. When Mamun went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the doctor took an x-ray and referred him to a specialist, giving him 10 days MC. The specialist then gave Mamun another 2 months of MC and told him that he must do an insurance claim for his injury. However, Mamun’s boss was unhappy when he found out that he had been given MCs behind his back, and as a result cancelled his work permit in late August without informing Mamun .

The next day, Mamun went to meet his older brother, who is also working in Singapore, to borrow some money from him. Mamun’s boss hired gangsters, and together with police, they followed Mamun and apprehended him and put him into headlock. The police said that since his work permit had been cancelled, Mamun needed to leave the country that very day. His boss said that he would ensure Mamun’s departure, and the police left him in the boss and gangsters’ hands. The gangsters brought him to an office where the supervisor locked him in a room and hit, beat, kicked, and slapped him. Finally, they brought him to the airport and made sure that he went through the entrance gates. However, once he was through the glass doors, Mamun was unsure of what to do. Helpless, he approached an ICA officer and explained everything, showing him the injuries that he had sustained. The officer issued him a Special Pass and sent him to MOM, where he filed a WICA (Work Injury Compensation Act) claim and was told to file a police report, and finally sent to Tan Tock Seng hospital to have his injuries taken care of.

Mamun’s boss was surprised when Mamun showed up in front of him again, demanding that he give a letter of guarantee (LOG) for the MRI, as he had thought that Mamun had left the country, and had turned him into a lesson for other workers by threatening them with similar treatment and neglecting to pay their salaries. Finally, the boss agreed to issue an LOG, meaning that Mamun would finally be allowed to get his MRI. In the meantime, Mamun moved out of his dorm because it was unsafe there, with his boss sometimes randomly confiscating his phone, and found housing that he paid for out-of-pocket.

Now, Mamun remains in a state of limbo, waiting for everything — his health, WICA case, and police report — to be sorted out before he can finally go home to his family in Bangladesh. To pass time, he reads books (both in English and Bengali), converses with friends, and walks around. Despite all of these difficulties, Mamun still loves Singapore, and appreciates the security, nice weather, and stable economy. In his words, “all Singapore is equal.” He doesn’t think that accidents that happen on the worksite are necessarily the problem in and of themselves, but rather, the important thing is how companies treat their injured workers. He feels that “accident is accident,” and the most important part is that “after accident, boss must supporting the worker.” He acknowledges that not all companies are like his, and that “some of the companies are good — providing everything, bringing to doctor. Some bosses are like my boss — do not supply anything” and “thinking of [their] own sel[ves] only.”

Mamun’s case is not a majority, but it is also not one-of-a-kind. It is a very real experience that many migrant workers face, and it is a reality that many of us living in Singapore rarely, if ever, come into contact with. Yet, how can we who are living in a country that prides itself in safety and equal opportunity ignore and remain silent about these things that are happening right in front of us?