Andrew Loh

Note: The following report has been edited to reflect more accurately what had transpired in the case of Asmad Kadir. This is because of clarification the writer has obtained with his sources.

Asmad Kadir (not his real name), who is owed some S$2,100 for 5-months’ work as a labourer, asked to meet with his employer at the Ministry of Manpower building on 14 May.  His employer had wanted to meet with him at his (the employer’s) office. However, having been assaulted previously at the office (see story below), Asmad asked for the meeting to be held at MOM instead.

At that designated time on Thursday, 14 May, after having arrived at the MOM’s building at Havelock Road, he called his employer’s brother, who goes by the name of Ganesh.  Asmad was told to come out of the building and meet with Ganesh. Asmad refused. Ganesh tried to coax Asmad into agreeing by promising Asmad that if he came out and met him, he would pay Asmad the entire amount owed to him.

An hour of negotiation ensued which lasted till 6pm, when the MOM building was to be closed. Asmad then had no choice but to go out and meet with Ganesh. There, Ganesh and another man, Biji,  insisted that Asmad signed the receipt for the money first before they paid him. Asmad told them he would not and that he will only sign after he has received the money. They got into a heated argument. The two men then seemed to relent and asked that they proceeded to a side street where Asmad will be issued a receipt.  “I feared for my safety,” Asmad said, “but I still went to the location with them.”

When they arrived at the new location, Ganesh and Biji  tried to force Asmad into a microvan by manhandling him. In the scuffle, Ganesh punched him, causing his lips to bleed. Biji grabbed the right side of his face. In the struggle, Asmad’s shirt was torn and he managed to free himself and fled. “This is not the first time Ganesh has assaulted me,” Asmad said in the police report he lodged against his employer’s brother.

Asmad Kadir, 28, has been working with Ocean Marine Engineering in Singapore since 2007. In February this year, he asked for the five months’ worth of salary owed to him to be paid.

He was called up to his employer’s office to discuss the issue. Asmad explained to his employer that his family back in Bangladesh needed the money urgently. In the course of the discussion, his employer slapped him across his left ear three times. “After I was slapped, I lost consciousness for a few minutes,” Asmad said in a separate police report he has made. His employer then asked him to go back to the dormitory to rest. Later that day, he felt “a lot of pain” in his left ear and called his employer, who promised to bring him to a doctor the next day after work. His employer did not do so.

It was only one week later, on 5 March, that Asmad himself went to see the doctor. He was given two days’ medical leave. When he showed the certificate to his employer, he did not believe the certificate was geuine. Subsequently, his employer gave him some ear drops and told him to go back to the dormitory to rest – but that he would have to report for work the next day.

Asmad’s problems, however, do not end there.

MOM’s dispute settlement

On 13 April, in a salary dispute mediation session overseen by MOM between Asmad and his employer, it was agreed that Asmad’s employer would pay him half of the salary owed and the other half “upon repatriation”, as stated in the agreement. However, till date, Asmad said he has been paid only S$300 out of the S$2,100 he is owed.

Because his work permit has been cancelled, and he is still awaiting full compensation and the outcome of the two police reports, Asmad needed to obtain a Special Pass which would allow him to remain in Singapore until these are resolved. On 15 May, he approached MOM, with all the documents he has, including the two police reports.

However, the MOM officer refused to look at the documents. She told Asmad that he would have to go to Changi airport where an employee of the Insurance Company and his employer were waiting for him to pay his full outstanding salary and to repatriate him. Asmad also said the officer said he had to “go home”.  Asmad can only speak a smattering of very simple English words and did not fully understand what the officer had said. He did not want to go to the airport as he was afraid that his employer would not pay him the full amount and repatriate him.

Without the Special Pass, Asmad is now considered an overstayer and could be forcibly repatriated anytime by the authorities.

As for the police report made  by Asmad on 14 May, the police has notified him that “preliminary inquiries into your police report is completed and it discloses an offence under Section 323 of the Penal Code… which is a non-seizable offence.”

Thus, in order for the police to proceed with further actions, Asmad would need to lodge a Magistrate’s Complaint at the Subordinate Courts. The Magistrate would then order the police to act as she sees fit.

Asmad may not get a chance to do so without a Special Pass.

He too will have to forfeit the salary still owed to him.

Asmad is now being taken care of by aid workers.

Opinion:

There are several serious questions raised in Asmad’s case.

  1. MOM should take a very serious view that physical assault on employees by employers and their henchmen can happen right at its doorsteps.
  2. According to what Asmad told The Online Citizen, it seems that he was a victim of an attempted kidnapping. This is a very serious offence under Singapore law and should be treated as such.
  3. MOM should have staff who are proficient in the native languages of foreign workers who approach them. If the frontline staff is not proficient in these, they should be told to refer such workers to officers who are in a better position to help, instead of dismissing workers’ complaints.

If Asmad is forcibly repatriated on a technicality – because he does not have a Special Pass – it would signal to employers that such ill-treatment and abuse of foreign workers are tolerated by the authorities. And employers will be emboldened to continue to do so.

Asmad wants to return to his family in Bangladesh.

It is not unreasonable for him to expect to be paid for the work he has done before doing so.

Asmad still has hearing problems in his left ear.

——

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