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Employers discriminate against worker because of dialysis sessions. Andrew Loh.

“Why won’t they give me an opportunity?”

13th Death From H1N1:
Singapore's Health Ministry reported on Tuesday the country's 13th flu A/H1N1 related death case - a 80-year old Chinese man. (See MOH website
)

Andrew Loh

The worst is over for the Singapore economy and the labour market has stabilised, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech. (Straits Times)

“Now the eye of the storm has passed…. Our labour situation has stabilised. Unemployment is not too high... Companies – some of them are hiring again, although still not in large numbers. Third quarter should be all right.” (PMO)

The Prime Minister’s reassurance brings little comfort to Nur (not her real name). What she faces is not unemployment through retrenchment but discrimination at the work place. Nur, 28, a single mother with a seven-year old daughter, works as an admin staff in a local company. In the last eight months, she was twice asked to leave her jobs as her employers did not want to extend her contract. Now Nur may again be asked to leave her third job this year.

You see, Nur is a kidney patient. She first discovered she had kidney problems in both her kidneys  in 2005. Since then, she has had to visit the dialysis centre, run by the National Kidney Foundation, three times a week, each time spending four hours in dialysis treatment. She does this in the evenings, after work, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. She starts work at 8.30am and finishes at 6pm. In order to be on time for her treatment, she leaves work half an hour earlier, at 5.30pm. It was this which her employers found disagreeable. “They told me that since I cannot be around all the time they cannot extend my contract,” Nur explained, visibly upset. With a four hour treatment, she sometimes ends up reaching home close to midnight, and has little time to spend with her daughter.

She works on a contract basis and has had to endure her contracts not being renewed several times this year, even though her employers did not find her work performance lacking.

Such experiences with employers have led her to lie during job interviews when she looked for new jobs. “If I tell them the truth, they will not hire me,” she says. And even when she is successful in her job applications, she would continue to make up excuses in order to go for her treatment. “I would tell them I need to fetch my daughter from school,” she says. . “I have to work because I need to give [money] to my mother and I have to take care of my daughter,” she adds.

Once, after she had been on the job for two months, she decided to tell her manager the truth - and she ended up losing her job.

So why doesn’t she make arrangements with the centre to start her dialysis later so that she doesn’t have to leave her workplace half an hour early? The problem is that dialysis sessions do not always start on time, Nur explains. For example, during the recent H1N1 outbreak, sessions at the centre were delayed as precautionary measures had to be adhered to. This meant that Nur would end her dialysis much later, almost around midnight.

“It is very tiring, you know?” she says. She explains that already with the travelling to the centre and then onwards to her home, the entire process would take a total of close to six hours. She goes to bed past midnight but has to wake up at 6.30am to prepare to go to work again.

In the last job which she was asked to leave, her employer recruited another person to replace her. To Nur, this showed that it was not because the company needed to cut staff to save cost or that her performance was unsatisfactory, but that the company was discriminating against her because of her medical condition. In fact, several of her former employers had given this as their reasons for not renewing her contract.

In August, her supervisor informed her that the company may not renew her current contract. When she asked if the company was unhappy with her performance, her supervisor said no, but did not elaborate further.

In desperation, Nur went to see her Member of Parliament during his Meet-The-People session. He promised to get back to her but did not. When she visited him a second time, she was told by the MP’s assistants, “Sorry. MP cannot help you.” She was then advised to look for a job herself.

Nur has tried looking for a 9-to-5 job but she has not been successful so far. With the current economic situation, her search is made harder.

Several weeks ago, she approached the Community Development Council (CDC) for help but was told that they were not able to find her a job. The CDC advised her to wait and that she will be informed if it comes across any available jobs for her.

As she shows me the fremitus or thrill embedded in her left arm, above the elbow, a device which makes it easier to locate small veins in patients, Nur explains that she hardly misses work. This is because as a contract worker, she only gets paid when she shows up at the office. “This is why I’ll force myself to go to work even when I’m sick,” she says.

For now, she is at her wits’ end. Nur yearns for stability in her job so that she can better manage her life, and care for her daughter. All she seeks is a fair opportunity from employers and for understanding. “Why won’t they give me an opportunity?” she asks.

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If you’re an employer or knows anyone who may be able to provide Nur a job, please do drop us an email at: [email protected] .

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An estimated 116,600 residents were jobless in June.

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