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When Wangsa lost one eye at work, he was asked to lie that the accident happened after working hours. At a compensation hearing, the Commissioner of Labour denied him compensation. Study the case and decide what should be fair judgement in this case.
WANGSA, 27, was a hardworking Chinese from Tianjin. He has been working as a construction worker with Tianjin Construction in Singapore for the past two years. He has been sending S$150 home to support his wife, mother, and two children. As food and lodging was provided, his take-home pay was only S$750 a month.
One afternoon, while he was replacing the metal windows of a Housing and Development Board flat in Chai Chee, the gondola suddenly jerked upwards when a co-worker accidentally pressed the control button. Wangsa happened to be looking upwards and the sharp corner of the window hit his left eye. He cried out in pain. The worker lowered the gondola to the ground level and yelled to the supervisor for help.
The supervisor, Wong Ah Loke, 37, rushed Wangsa to the general practitioner nearby. Ah Loke reported the incident on the phone to his manager, William Lam, 45. William was quick to advise Ah Loke to tell Wangsa to say that the accident happened at the dormitory instead of at work if anyone inquired.
While waiting for the doctor to see him, Ah Loke advised Wangsa: "It’s important to say that your eye was hurt while you were doing some work in your dormitory after work."
"You mean you want me to tell a lie?" asked Wangsa.
"Mr Lam insists that you should say that. He’s afraid the authorities may investigate and order us to stop work on the project. Remember that you’re also at fault as you did not wear goggles," said Ah Loke.
"I was told by my grandfather that if I tell lies I will go to hell," protested Wangsa.
"What if I tell the doctor the truth?"
"The boss won’t like it. If you don’t listen to him, the company will repatriate you back to China," said Ah Loke in a serious tone.
Wangsa nodded his head. He told himself that what he said to the doctor is confidential and Ah Loke and Mr Lam would be none the wiser. When he was questioned by the lady doctor, he admitted that his eye was injured while at work on a project.
As the injury was serious, the doctor referred him to Changi Hospital. There he told the doctor that his eye had been poked by a pen while he was writing in the dormitory. After the surgery, he lost the use of the left eye. Realising that his contract would be discontinued since his eyesight was no longer normal, he decided to tell the surgeon the truth.
The surgeon advised him to make a police report as he was entitled to workman’s compensation. He did this when he was discharged. In the police report, he stated exactly how the gondola jerked and he injured his eye when it hit the corner of the metal window.
Later, after a five-day hearing involving witnesses and a representative from the insurance company, the Assistant Commissioner of Labour denied Wangsa compensation because of the different versions of the incident which lowered his credibility as a witness.
On the advice of his friends, Wangsa hired a lawyer and the case went to the High Court.
Questions to Ponder:
From the facts of the case, discuss the following questions:
(a) Was Wangsa a victim of the ploy by his employer to avoid being fined by the authorities?
(b) Should his employer, William Lam, and his supervisor, Wong Ah Loke be punished by the authorities? If so, what is the recommended punishment?
(c) If you were the judge for this case, would you compensate Wangsa?
Give reasons for your answer. If payment is to be made, what is a fair sum for Wangsa, excluding lawyers’ fees?
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All characters and firms mentioned in the case are fictional and bear no resemblance to any living person or existing firm.
Copyright © 2013 Singapore Institute of Management.