A landscaping company and two key officers have been hauled to court after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) found that the firm and its personnel contravened the Workplace Safety and Health Act in its preliminary investigations in a 2016 workplace incident, in which a worker suffered severe burns.
The victim, then-21-year-old Bangladeshi Rahman Mohammad Ataur, had allegedly been pressured to enter a water tank in Sungei Tengah via a manhole and clean the tank even after he detected a smell from the tank. Rahman was told not to make excuses and to take a halogen lamp with him into the tank.
As soon as the young worker who had just arrived in Singapore a year ago flicked the lamp switch on, an explosion broke out and engulfed Rahman, leaving him with third-degree burns on 73 per cent of his body and face, and in a coma for three months.
Local publication TODAY Online covered Rahman’s story but social worker Jolovan Wham claims that TODAY did not report that the company fired Rahman’s friends who tried to expose the truth. Wham shared on Facebook that Rahman had mentioned this to TODAY:
“What’s missing in this story is the worker’s revelation to the journalist that when he was discharged from the hospital, his colleagues wanted to tell the truth about the accident but his boss sent them back. This is a common tactic and whistleblowers have little protection. When MOM questioned him about the accident, he was made to feel like a liar, that he did something wrong even though he’s been through the trauma of an explosion, was in a coma for weeks, and is scarred forever. MOM actually wanted to do a polygraph test on him.
“The assumption here is that the poor are out to cheat the system. We need to ask demeaning questions to guard against manipulative behaviour. I’ve heard about workers being made to feel this way on countless occasions. This attitude informs all of our policies and practices across ministries and help agencies all over the country, and we see this in the recent debate about income inequality. Those who defend it say it is about “pragmatism” and that it’s important not to ‘waste’ resources and uphold the integrity of the system. Never mind that the evidence for “welfare cheats” in Singapore is not compelling enough to justify such austerity, and definitely not enough to warrant such widespread arrogance towards those who file claims and seek help. Being pragmatic is just another word for class discrimination. In Singapore, the poor are always undeserving.”
Rahman, who has undergone several reconstructive surgeries, revealed that he needs repay the S$16,000 fee he incurred to come here to work and that his family back home are being harassed in his absence.
On what he feels about his former employer being charged, the worker who used to earn S$540 monthly, said: “I don’t get any benefit from them being charged in court and I cannot recover better if they are punished, but I hope something can be done so that everyone can remember that such a situation can happen, and this is not fair to me and to other workers.”
While Rahman’s work injury claim process was ongoing, the young migrant volunteered at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and helped translate and explain cases to other migrant workers.
Rahman is due to return to Bangladesh soon but his departure from Singapore is not at all what he once dreamed it would be. The 23-year-old told reporters: “It is difficult to continue with surgeries in my own country because they don’t have the facility…What I used to be able to do last time, I cannot do now. I cannot work in normal jobs. I want to be normal again.”
Environmental Landscape faces a maximum S$500,000 fine while company director Wong Shang Ling might be jailed for up to 2 years and/or fined a maximum S$200,000 if convicted. Rahman’s supervisor, Hossan Billal, could be imprisoned for up to 2 years and/or fined a maximum S$30,000 endangering Rahman’s safety by negligence.