TOC’s special focus on foreign workers. Starting next Monday, TOC will devote the entire week to the plight of foreign workers in Singapore. We will bring you stories of the Chinese and Bangladeshi workers and how they are being denied their salaries, their living conditions and what some aid workers are doing to help them.
Deborah Choo (Additional reporting by Andrew Loh. Pictures by Damien Chng.)
TOC visited the 400 workers at 468 Tagore Lane on Thursday (8 Jan, 2009) for the second time since last Saturday. 36 of the workers who made complaints to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) are to return to their country, Bangladesh. Five have already been sent back last month. The remaining 31 will be sent back next week.
The 31 workers have been in Singapore for a period of between five to seven months, and have not been provided with a job since they came here. The workers told TOC they met with MOM Deputy Director “Jenny” and another assistant on Wednesday.
Previously when they approached MOM, the same MOM Deputy Director told them that MOM “will try and find a job” for them, the workers told TOC.
Mr. Delowar Hossen (right), 30, used to be a teacher in Tangail, Bangladesh, and had earned a decent pay before he resigned to come to Singapore. He sold his family’s land and borrowed from the banks in order to raise the S$9,000 agency fees required to come over here. He is the sole bread winner of the family.
Besides the S$9,000 of debt that he has to bear, he has other debts that his family incurred during his stay in Singapore. His family now relies on loans from relatives to get by. He has not informed them that he will be returning to Bangladesh.
As promised by MOM, his employer, Gates Offshore Pte Ltd, would pay him four months of basic salary at S$16 a day, excluding Sundays.
According to what he told TOC, he would be paid about S$1,664 for the four months. However, an amount of S$200 will be deducted from this. This is a loan which PA Services had given him during his stay here when he had had no work.
Also an approximate S$130 per month for the food provided during the duration of his stay here would also have to be re-paid to his employer. This comes to S$520.
He will essentially be left with S$944 or less to bring home to Bangladesh.
MOM has, according to the workers, pledged that half of their salaries will be paid today (Friday), and the remaining half next week when they are at the airport. “They are afraid we run away [if we’re paid in full before we leave],” Delowar revealed.
*TOC has just learnt that Mr Delowar was paid S$300 this morning (Friday, 9 Jan) by his employer and will be paid another S$300 at the airport on Monday, when he leaves for home.
According to a letter to the High Commission of Bangladesh in Singapore by Gates Offshore Pte Ltd (See below), the company which officially took over responsibility of the foreign workers at 468 Tagore Industrial Avenue with effect from 11 November 2008 from one Mr Rajendra Kurusamy, the workers are to be paid a “(B) Basic wage of $17.00 per working day” and that the “(C) Workers will be paid even when they are not working on the official working day”. However, as mentioned earlier, they will only be paid $16.00 per day now.
Clause (f) also stated that, “Pay day will be on the 20th of each month”, which has also not been fulfilled since the workers have had no work given to them.
The letter made assurances on ensuring all workers will be given “good jobs within one month”, “all workers will be treated properly from now on”, and “their remaining stay in Singapore would be a happy experience”. The fact is that the workers have not been provided with any jobs for months.
In handwriting, the letter gave assurance that, “No workers will be repatriated against their free will”, and signed in acknowledgment by Mr. Paul Lee of Gates Offshore Pte Ltd.
Mr. Aulad, 35, said of the situation, “Now time is lost. I’m still not paid... All sides, no help - Singapore government, Singapore Law!”
Many of his compatriots yelled comments such as “MOM no good!” and “MOM no understand!”
Mr. Delowar said that he has only seen his original employer, Mr. Rajendra Kurusamy, once at Woodlands on the day he arrived in Singapore on 26 August, 2008. He has also not seen his new employer, Mr Paul Lee, amidst these squabbles over pay and the death of one worker who died of chicken pox two weeks ago. Mr Delowar does not have his employer’s contact number either.
The months of delayed payment has left workers resorting to drinking tap water, enduring food which is given to them twice a day (7am in the morning and 7pm in the evening) that turned bad on some occasions, and being confined to their dormitories.
Mr Delowar added that though they had seeked the Bangladeshi embassy for help, they told him that “it’s MOM’s decision.”
When asked about their future prospects, many revealed that they would most likely look for jobs in their previous professions, but added that this would not be easy. Even after having found jobs, most would spend at least two years just paying off their debts.
Mr. Aulad said, “Journalists come every day. We try to tell them. But they no help! Every day the same – no change. We still don’t get our pay. No work!”
Below is an excerpt from an earlier letter from Ms Yasmin Sultana, Counsellor with the Bangladeshi High Commission.
EXCERPT OF LETTER FROM MDM YASMIN SULTANA TO P.A. SERVICES PTE LTD:
As per their written statements, after joining the company the workers are not being provided with regular work although they were promised regular jobs and salaries. It is to be noted that if they ask for work they are threatened to be sent back home. The employer and his people usually beat them up and bully them if they ask for work. The employer took signatures on blank papers to deceive the workers and as a rule to send them back to Bangladesh. Now they are in dire straits as they have invested a lot of money to come to Singapore for employment (ranging from S$8,000 to $9,000). It is to be noted that if the workers are sent back home they would face multifarious problems there and therefore they intend to continue to work here in Singapore.
Letter by Gates Offshore Pte Ltd to the Bangladeshi High Commission in Singapore: (Click on picture to enlarge)