Some runaway workers fake their injuries, say bosses

(From left) Kiat Seng Shipbuilding & Engineering managing director Wu See Kiat, 60, Sin Norm Engineering managing director Wong Chan Ching, 63, and SPG Marine director Lim Tek Seng, 53, outside Jurong Penjuru Dormitory 1. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
(From left) Kiat Seng Shipbuilding & Engineering managing director Wu See Kiat, 60, Sin Norm Engineering managing director Wong Chan Ching, 63, and SPG Marine director Lim Tek Seng, 53, outside Jurong Penjuru Dormitory 1. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

They claim some do so to try to get compensation, others to moonlight

Bosses with runaway injured foreign workers feel they have been wrongly accused of ill-treating the men and want their voices heard.

More have been going to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in recent months claiming that the workers have faked accidents or injuries. Foreign workers who are assessed to be injured are issued special passes and not allowed to work.

Some employers also contacted The Straits Times to share their side of the story after it published a report late last month on injured workers running away from dormitories. ST interviewed bosses of more than 30 firms in the marine and construction sectors, who altogether have about 200 runaway workers, last week.

They say their reputations have been sullied by the workers who claimed to have resorted to running away after incurring injuries, to escape alleged threats by their employers to send them home.

Mr Wong Chan Ching, managing director of Sin Norm Engineering, said: "I have never owed any of my workers any salary and never threatened to send them home. Yet, they insist on running away."

They say the problem of runaway workers is worsening. The firms used to have one or two workers running away each year. But since the start of this year, each has an average of six workers who refuse to stay in company housing after getting injured.

Some employers suspect that the workers were inflicting injuries on themselves or faking accidents with no eye-witnesses at the scene.

SPG Marine director Lim Tek Seng says some lawyers have encouraged workers to fake the accidents by promising them big sums in work injury compensation.

The bosses also say the workers ran away because they wanted to moonlight and earn more money. A number of them have caught these workers doing odd jobs in markets and home renovation projects. Workers can earn about $60 to $80 a day doing these jobs compared with about $30 a day working for their employers.

The bosses say the ministry can help by prosecuting workers who make false claims or moonlight. They also want such errant workers to be banned from entering Singapore again.

Mr James Lee, director of Kiat Seng Shipbuilding & Engineering, said: "A strong warning needs to be sent to stop this problem."

When contacted, MOM said it has noted the employers' complaints but added they need to produce strong evidence to back up their claims.

"There should be evidence beyond reasonable doubt that an injured worker had the intention to cheat in his work injury compensation claim before the worker can be prosecuted," said an MOM spokesman.

The ministry had previously punished foreign workers for such an offence. Just earlier this month, a Bangladeshi was jailed for six weeks for making up an accident and working illegally.

Ms Debbie Fordyce, a volunteer at migrants' organisation Transient Workers Count Too, who has helped injured workers, said the staff of law firms help runaway workers rent bedspaces in Little India shophouses and workers earn a commission when they refer injured counterparts to law firms. She says more must be done to educate injured workers to go to MOM instead of lawyers.

"Doctors should be familiar with the work injury compensation process so they can educate workers. Fliers with information on help channels should also be placed in hospitals and clinics," said Ms Fordyce.

ameltan@sph.com.sg