Tweak policies to better help injured foreign workers

I recently helped a Bangladeshi worker who was injured by a flying metal rod at his workplace. He had a cracked neck and is nearly unable to move one side of his body.

He should have had surgery as soon as the accident took place, but the employer resisted paying for it and, instead, tried to get the worker repatriated.

The employer apparently also repatriated the other worker who was a witness to the accident. This has hampered the injured worker's claim for compensation.

The case highlights a couple of areas for improvement.

First, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) could introduce a rule such that when a migrant worker is injured, the employer cannot repatriate or cancel the work permit of anyone working in that worksite for seven business days, without its approval.

The same restriction should apply to dormitory managers. Workers are reluctant to complain about their living conditions or the food they get because they fear the consequences.

If MOM could assure workers that they need not fear the consequences of speaking out, it would help them in voicing out their problems.

Second, hospitals should perform medical procedures on severely injured workers as they are medically advised, without waiting for the employer's consent.

The hospital, through MOM, can later pursue a claim against any employer unwilling to pay up.

The workers are human beings, too, and we are talking of men being rendered unfit for employment for the rest of their lives.

We cannot let that be the result of some unsympathetic and irresponsible employers. As a society, we can do better.

Dipa Swaminathan (Ms)