No Hari Raya joy for two workers

Mr Alam Ataur Rahman (left) and Mr Islam Mohd Rubayet with their respective Labour Court awards. Pro-bono lawyers arranged by non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too are trying to recover the debts for the two men. Their former empl
Mr Alam Ataur Rahman (left) and Mr Islam Mohd Rubayet with their respective Labour Court awards. Pro-bono lawyers arranged by non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too are trying to recover the debts for the two men. Their former employer appears to be uncontactable.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A dark cloud was hanging over the Hari Raya Puasa celebration of Bangladeshi construction workers Alam Ataur Rahman, 40, and Islam Mohd Rubayet, 30, this year.

They are owed $19,152 in salaries by their former employer, Zach Engineering Services, which had been ordered by the Labour Court to pay them on Oct 7, 2016.

But until now, they have yet to receive a cent from the company, which is owned by two Singapore permanent residents.

The duo's nightmare began in 2015. Mr Alam had joined the company in March and Mr Islam, a month later.

On paper, their employer was supposed to pay each $1,700 a month as they were skilled, experienced metal workers. Mr Alam had been working in Singapore since 1999 and Mr Islam, since 2008.

Mr Alam said he was paid only "about $300 a month for makan (food)". Said the father of three: "I cannot (bear to) call home. Every time I call home, my wife cry, I cry."

In December 2015, the duo and three fellow workers complained to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

After almost 10 months of mediation sessions and a hearing, the Labour Court ordered their employer to pay Mr Alam $10,669.71 and Mr Islam, $8,482.08. The award for the remaining three was a total of about $31,200.

Both Mr Alam and Mr Islam said they were owed more than the award amount but had no proof because the company did not give them proper payslips.

MOM said the case took "over nine months" to resolve because "the parties disputed the claims".

The company appealed against the Labour Court order and the workers chose to return home instead of waiting for the appeal's outcome, MOM added.

Responding, Mr Alam and Mr Islam said they felt compelled to leave Singapore. They subsequently returned and found new employers here earlier this year.

Pro-bono lawyers arranged by non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too are trying to recover the debt for the two men, by taking action to seize the company's assets. Their former employer appears to be uncontactable.

Official records show Zach Engineering Services, set up in 2012, is owned by Mr Anthony Wong Yoon Fatt and Ms Natalie Lim Siew Ling, who are in their 40s.

Calls to Mr Wong's cellphone went unanswered. Nobody answered the door when The Straits Times visited their HDB flat in Chai Chee Street on Wednesday.

The MOM said the duo are barred from hiring foreign workers.

Toh Yong Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'No Hari Raya joy for two workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe