A Bangladeshi national is taking his former employer and dorm operator to court for allegedly locking him inside a room alongside 19 other workers as they were a close contact with a COVID-19 positive patient.
Rahman Mohammad Hasibur is suing his former employer, V. Spec Engineering & Supplies Ptd Ltd, and the dormitory operator, Joylicious Management, for damages relating to the incident, said migrant workers’ rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) on Tuesday (5 January).
TWC2 first revealed this story in a Facebook post in April last year, where it highlighted that 20 migrant workers were locked inside their room in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 after a fellow colleague was tested positive for the coronavirus.
Mr Rahman said that he filed and served a civil claim against both parties on 29 December last year, noting that he hopes his case will serve as a deterrent to other employers and dormitory operators from acting the same way.
“I have been advised by my legal counsel that the facts disclose several private causes of action, including the tort of false imprisonment, and I am seeking damages for the distress suffered,” the worker said.
He added: “Should I succeed in my action, I hope that it will deter other employers and dormitory operators from similar actions towards their employees and residents in their care”.
It all started on 21 April last year when TWC2 highlighted that a group of migrant workers were forcefully locked inside their room after a fellow colleague was tested positive for COVID-19.
The migrant labour’s rights non-profit organisation reported that a Chinese worker was “taken away on 17 April with COVID-19” and ever since then, the remaining 20 workers have been forced to stay inside their room as the door is locked from the outside.
It also added that if any one of the migrant workers wanted to use the toilet or needed to shower, they were required to ask the security guard to open the door for them. Unfortunately, the guards could sometimes take up to 30 minutes to respond.
The Joylicious Dormitory, located at Tuas Avenue 10, defended its decision by stating that it had “no choice” as it needed to safeguard the safety of 800 workers living in the premise.
“We have no choice but to play it safe. I have 800 workers to take care of here, and they have 800 plus families to answer to. (We can’t allow) one black sheep to cause this whole thing (to spin out of control),” said dorm manager, who only wants to be known as Mr Thng.
The employer of the workers, V Spec Engineering & Supplies, said in a report that logically these men should not move freely in the dormitory, given that they were in close contact with the worker who was infected with COVID-19.
Reena Wong, design director of V Spec told TODAY: “Don’t tell me your colleague got virus, you still go and walk around? Cannot be what! For the sake of every man at the dorm, we as an employer told them not to go around. For goodness’ sake, it is only temporary.”
“Why don’t you behave properly? What are you trying to do? You are trying to spread (the coronavirus) to others, is it?… They are adults behaving like children,” she said in response to two men in the group who were purportedly causing problems by requesting to use the bathroom every half hour.
Upon investigating the matter, MOM later gave Joylicious Dormitory a “stern warning” for its action of confining the workers in their room.
“The dormitory operator was advised that it is unacceptable to forcibly confine the workers to their room,” said the Ministry.
MOM added that V Spec will not be permitted to hire new migrant workers, pending a police investigation.
Edit (12 January): BR Law Corporation, the firm representing Joylicious Management Pte Ltd, said that the dormitory operator denies claims made by Mr Rahman.
“We are further instructed that our clients intend to defend against the Plaintiff’s claims to the hilt,” the law firm told TOC in a letter sent via email today.