The lottery of my life

by Kellynn Wee

When a worker is injured, he is cast into limbo, where he must tread water for months, or even years, waiting. Not allowed to work, Mostafa waits for the compensation payout: what he calls the lottery of his life. This article is part 4 of a 5-part series on the journey of Bangladeshi construction workers to Singapore. Read part 1part 2 and part 3.

Mizan, the man who broke both arms falling from the flyover, is still waiting for his work injury compensation claim to go through. His parents miss him and are anxious for him to be home. He intends to begin his own construction business in Bangladesh with the money he receives. He does not want to return to Singapore.

Kalam—the worker who often found himself completing 24-hour shifts—has been in Singapore for two and a half years but has only worked for six months. He dislocated his shoulder at least twice, is now unable to manage the physical exertion of construction work, and spends his days waiting for compensation payout. There is nowhere to go, and no cash to do anything with.

When construction workers are injured, they are placed on a Special Pass. The Special Pass legalises their stay in Singapore as they undergo treatment and wait for the amount of compensation they are entitled to. One of the terms of a Special Pass is that a migrant man may not take on employment in Singapore while waiting for their claims to be processed. This process may take 3-4 months, or up to two years. During this period of time, workers struggle: they have no stream of income, and many have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

Unable to earn money, Kalam has sometimes found himself homeless on days when he cannot fork out rent. He sleeps by the roadside or at a 24-hour café at Mustafa Centre. Affording food is a struggle, and calls home have dwindled due to his pain and frustration. “Sometimes I talk to my son,” Kalam says, “and my heart is crying. My eyes water cannot come, but heart is crying.”

Some men rest all their hopes of their future on the strength of a compensation payout. Mostafa is a young man who withdrew from an Honours programme in accounting to find a job in Singapore. He struggled while working here, and misses home profoundly. “In my life I will never forget this work. At first all I did was cry. I went to my dormitory and cried in my room,” Mostafa recalls. “If I ever get the chance to leave Singapore, forgive me, I will be willing to do anything in Bangladesh instead of coming back here.”

After taking two years to repay his debt, Mostafa continued working until he fell and was injured. He, like Kalam and Mizan, are all caught in what feels like an endless prison cell of waiting. Mostafa plans on building the rest of his life on the money that he receives. “A huge damage has been done to my physical body… I will not be able to do heavy work. I cannot work with the cattle or start the machine. Now, I am fully depending on the insurance money. How much I will get is the lottery of my life.”

Want to know when the next and final part of this series, focusing on the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers in Singapore, will be out? Click here to join our mailing list.

This blog post is based on this Working Paper, written by Grace Baey and Brenda Yeoh. To cite this blog post in APA format, use the following citation. 

Wee, K. (2016, October 12). The lottery of my life [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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