Last Thursday, I rushed down after booking out to the Isthana Restaurant at 1C Rowell Road where Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) regularly holds their Cuff Road Project. For the uninitiated, TWC2 has this program a few nights a week to provide free meals for low-skilled foreign workers on Special Passes. Special Pass holders are workers who are either in the midst of recovery from a workplace injury or are in the midst of an employer-employee arbitration case; they are prohibited from seeking employment and thus cannot feed themselves and usually are without dormitories to stay in.
Under the tutelage of Alex Au, one of the oldest and famous (or infamous if you’re into the beware-of-the-gay-agenda, silence-the-anti-establishment-intellectuals spectrum of things) bloggers in Singapore, I got to talk to two Bengali workers on a very personal basis for almost an hour each.
I’ll just call them A and B for now.
A is a victim of the typical abusive employer who withholds his work permit for a $4800 kickback. Almost with a measure of pride, he told how he studied the IPA thoroughly and understood kickbacks above 1.5 times his monthly were illegal and then audaciously refused his boss. We’re now in the process of preparing his case and making a report to MOM, and yeah the rest will be history. (Alex said MOM officials belonged to the homo obstinatus species)
His audacity is rare. Alex was ranting about how Chinese workers earn so much more than Banglas because they fight over everything, and the only time the Bengalis seemed to fight was in 1971 war of independence.
I recalled how in a previous research meeting with Nic where in his response to my question about enforcement and legislation, he brought in an added dimension of empowerment – mainly how some do not bother with fighting for their case due to a mentality that they will not receive redress no matter what. Indeedy, empowerment and institutionalised disempowerment.
It’s infuriating that A actually studied for Bachelor for Business Administration back in Bangladesh and here he is in Singapore erecting scaffolds, pouring concrete for 17 hours a day and sleeping in a crammed shophouse for the other 7.
B like A was a veteran worker in Singapore. He earns $1.19 per hour. I earned more than that by just languishing around in BMT. It’s preposterous that his employer pays the government even more for the levy that he actually pays him. It’s ridiculous in all sense of the word.
When he rushed off the catch the bus back to his dorm in Tuas, he gave me the gesture of his neck being cut and requested that we do not help him file a complain for fear of losing even a one-dollar job.
This is my first experience with groundwork as a writer.
It’s humbling, enlightening and exhilarating.
I’ve previously just been working intensely on the public policy cum lobbying side of things, particularly a research paper for TWC2 on placement fees. And now with my commitment to this side of TWC2, I feel balances things out nicely. Grassroot empathy and political action. Oh well, at least I’m doing something with my free time outside the army.