Worker accused of making false claim: MOM drops charges

Bangladeshi charged with lying that supervisor injured him in 2014, but new witness backs his version of events

Bangladeshi safety supervisor Shahidulla Md Anser Ali (right) and lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan, who took on the case pro bono, leaving the court last Friday.
Bangladeshi safety supervisor Shahidulla Md Anser Ali (right) and lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan, who took on the case pro bono, leaving the court last Friday.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

In a rare turn of events, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) last Friday withdrew charges against a foreign worker who it had accused of lying about his work injuries.

The withdrawal of the charges was a long-awaited relief for Bangladeshi safety supervisor Shahidulla Md Anser Ali. The 32-year-old has been stuck in Singapore, unable to work, for more than two years while his case was pending.

He told The Straits Times: "I am very happy. If I had done wrong, I would have gone to jail as this is the right thing to do, but I know I did no wrong."

He had gone to MOM in 2014 to make a report about being beaten by his boss, but ended up being charged with making a fraudulent claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica). He was also charged with two counts of lying to an investigating officer.

Wica is a low-cost alternative to common law for workers to settle compensation claims for injuries suffered during work.

Court documents said Mr Shahidulla was charged with lying that his supervisor physically assaulted him and injured his back at 10am on March 1, 2014.

Had he been found guilty of making a fraudulent claim, he could have been fined up to $15,000, jailed up to a year, or both. Each offence of making false statements could have led to a fine of up to $5,000, or a jail term of up to six months, or both.

An MOM spokesman said: "The charges were withdrawn as a new witness, who could not be located during investigations, has come forth to support Shahidulla's version of events.

"Making a fraudulent workplace injury compensation claim or providing false information is a serious act of deceit. MOM will not hesitate to take action against claimants who try to abuse the system."

Mr Shahidulla's pro bono lawyer, Mr Kalidass Murugaiyan, said: "I am glad the system panned out well for him in the end."

Wica violation cases are not common, but the number of workers MOM has taken to court for such offences has edged up over the years.

Last year, MOM prosecuted and convicted five workers for Wica offences, up from four in 2014 and two in both 2013 and 2012.

Nine workers have been prosecuted this year, with three convicted so far. In February, a Bangladeshi marine worker was jailed eight weeks for making a false claim that his left little finger was severed while he was using a saw at work.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) executive committee member Debbie Fordyce said that in the past eight years, she has dealt with about a hundred new foreign worker injury cases a month, but only seen six - including Mr Shahidulla - in which MOM prosecuted the worker for a Wica violation.

Of these, only one other worker had his charges withdrawn by MOM in 2013.

Mr Shahidulla, an only child, said he is looking forward to returning to Bangladesh to see his parents. "My mother and I will kiss each other and cry, and I don't know who will cry more."

Unable to work in the past two years, he could not send back money and has had to borrow $4,000 from friends and relatives for living expenses, while depending on TWC2 for food.

However, he hopes to return to Singapore to work, as his safety qualifications would earn him more here than back home.

"I want to keep other workers safe," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Worker accused of making false claim: MOM drops charges'. Subscribe