Things were looking well for Mr Alam Shah, who had found a job as a construction supervisor at an interior design firm, after working here for four years as a manual labourer.
The 31-year-old was two months into his new job, earning S$1,200 a month, with a bride waiting for him in Bangladesh, until one word shattered his dreams: Cancer. Doctors gave him less than a year to live, if the disease was left untreated.
Other employers might have sent Mr Alam, a work-permit holder, home once he was deemed medically fit to travel, but his employer, Archetype, decided otherwise. It is now trying to raise funds for his medical treatment, estimated to cost about S$60,000.
The firm will dig into its profits to help Mr Alam, but has also roped in the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME). It is raising funds through HOME’s account on charity portal SG Gives — something the non-governmental organisation said was a first for an employer.
Mr Alam underwent surgery immediately after he was diagnosed with Stage 3 brain cancer early last month. However, doctors managed to remove only 40 per cent of the tumour. Mr Alam would have to undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy to try to stop the rest of the cancer from spreading, which might prolong his life by up to 10 years.
Mr Alam is covered under medical insurance that employers are required to buy for their work-pass holders, but the S$15,000 policy was only enough to cover his three-day stay at the Singapore General Hospital’s intensive care unit. Chemotherapy alone would cost up to S$30,000.
Archetype operations manager Melissa Tan said the firm hopes to raise about S$100,000, which would pay for the treatments, follow-up care in Bangladesh and to help his ageing parents financially.
The company had approached various non-governmental organisations and Government channels to enlist help for Mr Alam. However, they turned the firm down and advised it to send him back to Bangladesh.
“Even if we sent him home, he would still have no money to pay for treatment,” said Ms Tan.
So far, Archetype, which Ms Tan said could not afford to cover all of the costs, has raised about S$2,200.
A check with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed that employers are required to buy mandatory medical insurance of at least S$15,000 per foreign worker, which provides basic cover for hospitalisation expenses.
An MOM spokesperson said under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, employers are responsible for the costs of providing medical treatment for their work-permit holders, regardless of whether the conditions are work-related.
“The Government does not provide healthcare subsidies to foreigners. If the work-permit holder requires long-term medical care arising from a non-work-related ailment, the employer may send the foreign worker home to continue treatment at the worker’s own expense, once the worker’s condition has stabilised and the worker is deemed medically fit to travel,” the spokesperson added.
HOME executive director Jolovan Wham said Mr Alam’s case raises the question of whether the medical coverage provided to work-permit holders is comprehensive enough. “This is definitely something we need to look into again as these workers play an important role in this country,” he said.
As of June, there are 980,800 work-permit holders in Singapore, making up 17.9 per cent of the total population.