First story by TWC2 volunteer Adib; seocnd story by Jasper

Alam Jahangir, 22, paid $4,000 in agent fees to come to Singapore to work. His boss paid him his basic salary of $1,200, but did not pay him any overtime wages even though Alam worked at least two to five hours overtime almost every day.

He complained about this to his manager, a fellow Bangladeshi, but was always told that it would be paid soon. Approaching the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) over this matter was not an attractive option. He explains that he was worried about his Work Permit getting cancelled once his boss learned that he had lodged a complaint at the ministry. Perhaps it was also a matter of cultural trust as his manager was from the same country as him.

“MOM always says that workers should approach them early if they have salary problems,” says Alex Au, a senior volunteer with TWC2. “But what Alam’s story reveals is that MOM is actually asking workers to jump from the frying pan into the fire.”

“By staying on the job and complaining regularly to the manager, Alam at least got $1,200 basic every month. If he had knocked on MOM’s door after the first month when he didn’t get his overtime pay — for that is what “complain early” means — he would have lost the job altogether and not even get his basic salary for the subsequent months. Then his claim would have been for just one month’s overtime wages.”

As it turned out, the matter was soon taken out of Alam’s hands.

Six months into the job, he was told that he would be sent back to Bangladesh together with three other workers who had also not received their overtime pay.

According to Alam, two of these three men were apparently taken to the airport by “gangsters” in an attempt at forced repatriation. Somehow, they managed to avoid being put onto a flight back home, and went straight to MOM to lodge a complaint. They only went back to Bangladesh two months later, after they had received their overtime pay.

As for Alam and his other colleague, Alam tells me that although they approached MOM at the same time as the other two guys, their cases are still not resolved. It’s been almost four months, he says. There has been multiple meetings with their boss and MOM officers, but the hurdle was something about overtime calculations not matching.

Tonight though, Alam is more upbeat. Thankfully, in the latest meeting Alam and his boss came to an agreement, and he is expecting to receive his outstanding overtime wages soon. He is hoping that no more problems crop up so that he can go back to Bangladesh as soon as the case is closed.

Even so, it’s worth bearing in mind, the wait has not been without a cost. It’s almost four months without work or income, nearly as long as he was on the job.

Famished

Aowlad (not his real name) has also experienced delays in his salary claim. Unlike Alam, he is not upbeat. In fact, he is famished.

“I eat first, then I talk to you,” he tells me.

Twenty minutes later, it becomes clear why. Wiping the last of the curry gravy from his mouth, he explains that he had a scheduled meeting at MOM this morning, and the boss was supposed to come. Further details later indicated that this was actually a TADM meeting though the venue was at the MOM building at Potong Pasir. TADM stands for Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management and conducts mediation between employers and employees.

“I waiting whole morning, but boss not come,” he says.

“Then Madam say go eat lunch and come back at 2 o’clock.” The ‘Madam’ he refers to must have been an MOM or TADM officer. “But I no money, so how to makan [eat]? I just walk round, walk round.” Aowlad is probably down to his last few dollars, not having received his salary for months. He had little choice but to pass on lunch.

He resumed waiting in the lobby from 2pm onwards. It was fruitless until around 4pm when Madam told him “Today no meeting, boss not coming.” Aowlad was given a tentative date for another meeting but apparently this is subject to further confirmation.

In the next few minutes in our conversation, he struggles to tell me something about “hungry” and “no thinking”. It takes me a while, but finally, I get it. Aowlad is trying to say that even if the boss had showed up at 4 pm, it might have been worse for him. He was so hungry by then, he couldn’t concentrate and might not have been able to make his case coherently in a meeting.

“But why MOM like my boss so much? No coming also, ‘no problem’?” — his parting shot.

The operating policy at TWC2 is that whenever workers’ casework appointments at our office span the lunch break, we always give them $5 each so that they can go out for lunch. It’s the decent thing to do. Perhaps MOM should do the same.