MOM says migrant worker Zakir Hossain ‘overstayed’, cites ‘fake’ public post in decision not to renew work permit

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SINGAPORE — A migrant worker who had worked in Singapore for 19 years and had often written about the plight of fellow foreign workers had “overstayed his welcome”, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday (June 22).

Responding to questions from the media, MOM said Mr Zakir Hossain’s work permit had been renewed several times “despite his activism”. He added that “we draw the line, however, when public messages are misleading, false or deliberately provocative.”

He was referring to a post posted by the worker on October 16, 2021, in which he referred to migrant workers here as “slave labourers” and alleged that soldiers and armored vehicles had surrounded a dormitory called Westlite Tukang. MOM said this was a “false characterization” of what happened.

The ministry said this after the Bangladeshi took to Facebook to talk about how he was abruptly sent home. According to him, his work permit had expired and had been deemed “ineligible” for renewal, without a clear explanation from the authorities.

On the migrant worker issues he had raised, Mr Zakir said they were “not new; the pandemic has been a catalyst that has prompted many people to talk about social issues, be it migrants or local”.

“I only brought these issues up because I saw them happening around me and it was unbearable,” added the 42 years old.

Mr. Zakir had become known for speaking out about the problems faced by the migrant community here through his poetry and writings.

In 2015, his poem about life as a migrant and how he misses his wife and children won first prize in the Migrant Workers Poetry Competition. It was his second victory in the competition, having also won the inaugural edition in 2014.

On Wednesday, Mr Zakir wrote that he had been informed by his company that his work permit could not be renewed, after it expired on May 24 this year.

“The system said, ‘This worker has an unfavorable record with a government agency,'” Zakir wrote, without specifying which system he was referring to.

He cited a parliamentary response in August 2018 from the then Minister of Manpower, Josephine Teo, who said that a migrant worker may have an adverse record if he “committed an offense against the laws of Singapore or if he is found to have breached MOM regulations.”

Zakir said on Wednesday that after follow-ups at the police cantonment complex and with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), he had been informed that no such records had been filed. had been found.

He said MOM’s most recent response was that the status was due to an “administrative error” and should simply have been deemed “ineligible”. According to Zakir, this followed a closed-door discussion between Labor Minister Tan See Leng and an unnamed person helping him resolve the situation.

No further explanation was given to him, Mr Zakir told TODAY. He left for Bangladesh on June 8.

SINGAPORE IS “MY HOME AWAY FROM HOME”

Without a clear explanation, Mr Zakir said his lobbying for equal treatment and raising social issues were the only possibilities he could think of for the “adverse case”.

He also wrote about how he organized the distribution of food and essential items to dormitory workers during the pandemic, including while he was hospitalized with symptoms of Covid-19.

“Singapore is my home away from home, and I want it to do better as a country,” he said.

“I spoke because I believe conditions for migrant workers can improve in Singapore. I love the country and wanted Singapore to be an example for other countries to follow.”

In its statement, MOM said that Mr. Zakir’s appeal had been considered and his unsuccessful outcome had been communicated to him.

Referring to Bangladesh’s message on the Westlite Tukang incident in October 2021, MOM said there were no soldiers or armored vehicles around the dormitory.

“Due to the situation at that time in the dormitory, police officers were on standby nearby as a precaution. They never surrounded the dormitory or hired workers there,” MOM said.

The post, which was written in poetry form and is still viewable online, listed the grievances of migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The post was undersigned as “Westlite Jalan Tukang workers”, but MOM pointed out that Mr Zakir himself did not reside there.

“Mr. Zakir’s false statements could have incited migrant workers at Westlite Tukang and elsewhere, inflamed their emotions and possibly caused public disorder,” the ministry said.

“Fortunately, the real residents of Westlite Tukang saw that MOM, the employer and the dormitory operation were serious about solving their problems and calmed down.”

The ministry added that authorities had “made considerable efforts” to safeguard the welfare of migrant workers during the pandemic.

He added that a foreigner’s ability to work in Singapore is not a right.

“Mr. Zakir was allowed to work in Singapore for a long time, although he was a lifelong activist. His work pass has since expired,” MOM said.

“He cannot extend his stay when he no longer has a job in Singapore. He has overstayed his welcome.


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