According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU), over 60% of low-skilled migrant workers in Singapore are “likely to be suffering from serious psychological distress” as they wait for their salary or injury claims to be resolved. Facing great financial stress, some of them may lapse back into behaviours like spitting or smoking, which results in a fine when caught.
One recent case is that of Mr Hossen’s* (not his real name); he was fined $300 for spitting the betel leaf (that he had finished chewing) into a drain. This compounded his current financial troubles brought about by a workplace incident. In January 2016, he was using a power tool at work when a part of it dislodged and hit him above the eye through a gap in his safety goggles. His left eye vision has since deteriorated and become very blurry. He persisted working until November last year when his employer decided that he was unfit for work and wanted to send him home. Hence, he has not been working and receiving any income for about 5 months. Presently, he is still undergoing treatment, and the treatment costs impose a greater financial burden on him. Back at home, his parents, wife and young child are relying on him for financial support and he worries about how he is to provide for them. Like Mr Hossen, many other injured workers face similar financial predicaments. Due to the norms that they are accustomed to back in their homeland, and the enormous pressure they face, some of them may unthinkingly commit an offence like littering or spitting.
As a casework intern with HealthServe, I never thought I’d have to fill up an NEA appeal form for a fine waiver, much less do it for a migrant worker. Prior to this, I wasn’t even aware that one could appeal against a fine! Initially, I was rather sceptical of my ability to assist him, as I was new to writing appeals. I was therefore thrilled to receive an email from NEA a week later, informing me that they had withdrawn the notice to attend court (NTAC) issued for Mr Hossen’s spitting offence and waived the fine. It was really heartening to see the look of elation and relief that crossed Mr Hossen’s face when I told him that his appeal was successful. Witnessing how I could, in my own small way, make a tangible difference to Mr Hossen’s financial circumstances reaffirmed my decision to intern with HealthServe. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had thus far to interact with the migrant workers and be engaged in such important and meaningful work.