Like most foreign workers who left behind their family to work in Singapore, 49-year old Madam Ni was determined to break the poverty cycle for her family. Despite her family’s protest against her decision, she went ahead with taking on the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner for her family back in Jiangsu province in China. The family took up a loan of nearly S$6,000 to pay off the hefty agent fees of more than S$6,000, in hope of improving her family’s living conditions back home by coming to work in Singapore. Little did she know that she would develop repetitive stress injury in the form of bilateral trigger thumb, merely two months after starting work.
Madam Ni worked as a food processing worker shucking 4 big buckets of cockles daily at a seafood factory in Singapore. She starts work as early as 4am and ends her day only at 8:30pm, clocking more than 16 hours a day and 74 hours a week, every day without fail. With the huge amount of cockles to shuck every day, she began experiencing pain in her thumbs due to the repetitive daily task. Soon, the pain in both thumbs made it increasingly difficult for her to bend them. Despite so, she continued working and constantly took painkillers to ease her pain, for close to two months. Despite her constant intake of painkillers, the pain did not subside and instead affected her ability to fulfil her job responsibilities. Madam Ni decided to seek treatment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and was given five days of medical leave. However, her employer ignored her pleas and did not allow her to report her injury to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Instead, they told her to take painkillers and to continue working. Madam Ni continued working despite the excruciating pain, for fear of the unreasonable pay deduction by her employer. The lack of workplace safety measures as well as long the working hours soon began to take a negative toll on her health, when she was finally diagnosed with Sesamoiditis on her right thumb with swollen tendons, as well as abnormal bone growth.
For the three months that she was working, Madam Ni was paid a meagre pay of S$600, with no overtime wages for the additional hours that she clocked in order to complete her tasks within the day. This was also subjected to the unreasonable pay deductions of S$8.00 for every bucket left uncompleted for the day. Her salary was barely sufficient to cover her medical expenses here in order for her to receive medical treatment, let alone to support her family back in China, who are also struggling financially. Her entire family was heavily reliant on Madam Ni’s husband, who was left disabled since his back surgery in 2010. Despite his disability and abnormal bone growth at his lower spine, he continues doing light cleaning jobs in order to support the family. Her son, who was divorced is unable to work since he is the main caregiver of his child, who is merely a few months old, and is diagnosed with Testosterone and Congenital Adrenal Disease at birth. As a result of his illnesses, he is required to take steroid jabs daily. On top of that, he needs to travel to Shanghai every three months to seek treatment, and each trip estimates to cost them S$400. With the medical expenses that they know they are unable to afford, they are only able to send him for treatments whenever they manage to raise sufficient funds, by asking for loans from their friends and relatives.
For fear of burdening her family, Madam Ni kept her illnesses to herself. This, unfortunately, sparked off further misunderstandings between Madam Ni and her family, as her family had labelled her as heartless for not contributing financially to the family. Despite the tears while struggling to make ends meet, the strong grandmother never once harboured the thought of giving up, as she recognised her grandson and family back home are her only pillars of strength although work was wearing her out both physically and emotionally. She finally reported her injury to MOM on 30 March 2017 after the pain became too much for her to bear. She initially thought that she would be able to seek immediate help after her injury has been reported, but MOM is still looking into the validity of her case and it is now more than 7 months after the reported injury date. This has caused substantial stress upon her while she is also struggling with the loss of income, surviving on mere donations from fellow migrant workers.
Despite running the risk of being kicked out of the company dormitory where she is currently still residing in, Madam Ni continues to care for the new workers coming in with injuries, as she understands the pain that they have to undergo in order to earn their keep so that they can support their families back home.
With all that she is going through, Madam Ni is struggling with depression and worries deeply about her own medical condition. Despite being misunderstood, she has always prioritized her grandson’s health way over hers, and it pains her greatly that he is deprived of the chance to receive regular treatment due to the family’s financial constraints.
*Her meals and transport are currently provided for by a migrant worker advocacy organisation.
Madam Ni is currently residing in her employer’s dormitory despite her employer’s hostile treatment towards her. ROHI would like to raise S$800 (S$200 x 4 months) for Madam Ni’s living expenses while she continues to seek recourse from MOM.
18 May 2018
Repatriated next week
We recently met Madam Ni for her cheque disbursement. She informed us that she will be repatriated next week. She has received S$6,000 for her MOM compensation. Although the sum is insufficient for her to seek treatment for the permanent injury on her right hand, she is relieved that the money can be used to pay for the grandson's medical expenses and some of the family's debts. After she returns home, she would be starting to look for employment to help with the family's finances. We understand that her husband who is disabled has stopped working since September 2017 due to the harsh summer weather. The daily jabs for her grandson's medical condition will also be reduced to once every six months. This will hopefully reduce the expenses on the family. Despite the physical and emotional fatigue that she has to go through, Madam Ni has never given up on her family and constantly misses them. She is happy to be reunited with her family too. We wish Madam Ni all the best!
To donate to similar case
26 Mar 2018
We met Mdm Ni for her cheque disbursement earlier today. We understand from her case worker that she will be going for a second assessment for her injury on 13 April 2018. We will get further updates from Mdm Ni after her appointment and keep the donors posted.
To donate to similar case
19 Feb 2018
Met Mdm Ni for first disbursement
ROHI managed to raise S$200 for Mdm Ni's first disbursement. The case managers met Mdm Ni to pass her the cheque, as well as to catch up with her on how she is doing. Mdm Ni shared with us that she is currently still staying in her ex employer's dormitory even though it is infested with rats, for fear of further straining their relationship. Furthermore, she is unable to afford the additional cost if she were to move out from her current accommodation. Mdm Ni is currently attending physiotherapy thrice a week for her injury, fully paid for by her previous employer as mandated by MOM. This relieves part of Mdm Ni's stress when she was unable to go for the physiotherapy sessions as she could not afford the fees. However, the doctor has also informed that her injury has resulted in a permanent disability for her right thumb due to the damage to the tendons.