Singapore is home to close to 300,000 migrant construction workers last year, according to the Ministry of Manpower.
Many workers paid an exorbitant agent fee to secure a job here. But when they lose the ability to work as a result of illness or injury, they lose their work permits too.
The UrbanWire speaks to 4 such migrant workers, who are issued special passes to stay in Singapore legally as they wait for compensation. Their full names are left out in this story at their request.
Read about their plight below.
Mr Raja (above, left) and Mr Kumar (above, right) are both from India.
Mr Raja came to Singapore in 2012 to make more money to support his wife and 5-year-old son.
One month into the job, the construction worker broke his left wrist (see below) after falling from a height and landing on his hands. Now, his left hand is too weak to carry even just a small bag of groceries.
Mr Raja knows he’s unlikely to find employment in a similar role in the future. But he hopes to be able to find a light duty work so he can continue making a living here.
Mr Kumar came to Singapore 3 years ago.
In September 2017, he was water-proofing a shop by the roadside when there was ongoing road repair work. At one point, he fell off the ladder, and his right hand unfortunately landed in hot tar, resulting in third-degree burns (see below). Now that he can’t use his dominant hand for even basic tasks like eating and writing, he has to learn using his left hand.
Mr Kumar said he calls his family every day. He misses home, but also wishes to stay in Singapore. Providing for his family remains his top priority.
Another worker on special pass is Mr Lee, 31, who left China for Singapore in 2016.
He broke his finger while handling a reinforcing bar. That accident left him unfit for the strenuous construction work.
But he considered the episode a blessing in disguise as it led him to Healthserve, a non-profit organization that provides healthcare and support for migrant workers.
Recalling his first months in Singapore, he spoke with a sad smile that he always felt lonely. After the accident, he actually found a family in the volunteers at Healthserve.
“Because of the people here, I’d rate Singapore 4/5,” he said.
Ms Ai, 51, is a Chinese national who came to Singapore in 2015.
She said her husband is undergoing surgeries for excessive bone growth. Her 6-year-old grandson who has a kidney disease also requires constant medical care.
In February 2016, the factory worker started taking painkillers to ease the pain in her thumb. She told her boss about her concern but was told to continue taking painkillers.
6 months later, she lost movement in her thumb due to suspected Carpal tunnel syndrome.
With tears in her eyes, she said she’s not able to do the same job anymore. She also couldn’t bring herself to break the news to her family.
But she will continue looking for other ways to bring home the bacon.
“Many times in the past, I thought of giving up.
But I didn’t give up. I cannot give up now.”