Knowing Your Employment Rights


Hey everyone.

This post is more than a year overdue but I’d still like to publish it anyway because it contains an important account of what happened last year and my life actually had a major turn of events. I’ve been contemplating for awhile whether or not to post this coz firstly, it is rather personal and secondly, I’m afraid writing about it may jeopardise my chances of getting a job if my prospective employer decides to do a social media background check on me lol. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do anything illegal. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. I was being righteously indignant.

(wordy post ahead)

Introduction – The sack

I rarely discuss about my work life on this space for fear that I might reveal information that is not meant to be shared in public by accident. But I am making this an exception because I think it has some educational value haha, especially for students.

To sum things up, I fell out with my previous employer of 3 and a half years and yes, I was fired from the tuition centre I slogged so long for. The sack came after my outburst at my then bosses for their horrible treatment. I spent 3.5 long torturous years working for people who don’t give two hoots about employee welfare and would constantly push you around like a bully. I was young and in need of money back then (as I stopped taking allowance from my parents), so I remained in the company despite its high turnover rate (both admin staff and teachers alike) as it paid enough for my survival and also had quite flexible working hours.

As a job with no prospects, all they could ever hire are students seeking part-time employment to earn some pocket money. But the bosses seem to be very impatient and intolerant of them (most of whom with no relevant working experience) and always going into frenzy of rage, lashing out at them even at the slightest mistake. They believe that by instilling fear in their employees, they would be more efficient in their work. But little do they know that it lowers people’s morale instead and makes everyone afraid to do the more important tasks (and often leaving them to the seniors to do). Even though they do not physically abuse their staff like this crazy man here, they hurl the most hurtful insults capable of making anyone cry. Granted, there were times when the bosses were nice and would plan company retreats for us, but sadly those happy memories were minimal and didn’t last till the next working day.

To be fair, I gained the trust of the bosses after working for a year and was subsequently promoted to supervisor when I informed them about my plan to delay my studies. The promotion came with an undeniably high pay increment (but here’s the catch: I had to return to the centre whenever they needed me), 7-day annual leave (as opposed to the usual 14 days) but without CPF contribution. I requested for the latter but was turned down because my salary already had CPF included. If I wanted contribution to my CPF account, I had to do it myself coz I was a “self-employed” (erm wtf? Who are you trying to bluff?) At this point in time, I felt a little cheated but still went ahead to fulfill my commitment because it paid well and I needed to save up to pay my Uni fees. There wasn’t even a contract to bind me lol so technically I could leave if I wanted to. But I’m not that irresponsible.

Their attitude towards me began to change a little but being in a management position also meant more work and responsibility. My phone never failed to ring during my off days and most conversations began with lady boss chiding me for mistakes I didn’t make. Initially I took it gracefully but by the third year, I had enough. They really needed to stop treating me like a doormat. I started reasoning with them but my self-defence was regarded as being defiant so our relationship became sour again. My school term started and I reverted to part-time status and could only work 4 days per week including weekends. Gradually, my working hours were shortened by them to cut cost, leaving me with only 2 working days shortly before I was out of the company. Despite that, my workload remained heavy because other less experienced staff wouldn’t want to touch them. Working overtime was also prohibited because they were very reluctant to pay more (not sure why the massive cost-cutting exercise when their business was booming and tuition fees were always on the rise). However with just 2 working days with no time for me to do anything else during operating hours (was always wanted at the front desk as staff couldn’t handle customers’ enquiries alone), it was impossible to complete everything required of me. Thus I had to work overtime til midnight on my what-eventually-became-my-last day at work. I told my ex-colleague, who was there with me for awhile, to explain on my behalf if the lady boss questioned her the next day. I didn’t want to text her because it was already quite late at night.

Then came the last straw. I received a confrontational text from the lady boss the next morning, demanding me not to instruct my staff to tell her that I worked overtime (“Fiona do not get your colleague to tell me what you did for the day”). Apparently that colleague of mine texted her when she left the previous night because she was afraid that she would forget how to tell her if questioned (omg what?). That text came across to me as very brusque and suddenly all the agony and displeasure that I had been bottling up burst from me. In response, I typed 5 long angsty messages to tell her how I felt (no personal insults, just my feelings) and yup, you know it. I was fired. And the news wasn’t even conveyed by her, but by her husband who happened to be the other boss. It turned out that she had also taken a dislike to me (lol no surprise right?) and was probably finding the right time to get rid of me as well. Great, I had given them the opportunity.

To be frank, I don’t feel that offended when I read her messages now. I must’d felt really terrible back then to have such an overreaction. Please understand that I DO NOT usually behave like that!!!

The compensation

Having read a bit of employment law in Poly, I somewhat knew that it is wrong to terminate one’s employment without prior notice. So I sought advice from Ministry Of Manpower (MOM) and true enough, my ex-bosses had gone against the law (they never complied to most anyway). I quote the reply I got from MOM dated 4 March 2013:

Under the Employment Act, both the employee and the employer could exercise its contractual right to terminate the contract of service by giving notice in writing or by paying salary in-lieu of notice to the other party. The notice period shall be in accordance with what is stated in the contract of service. If no such period is previously agreed, the following shall apply:

Length of ServiceNotice Period

less than 26 weeks — 1 day
26 weeks to less than 2 years — 1 week
2 years to less than 5 years — 2 weeks
5 years and above — 4 weeks

If an employer wishes to terminate the employee’s contract of service without giving any notice, he may do so by compensating the employee with salary in-lieu of notice. The employer will also be required to issue a termination letter to the employee.

If you are covered by the Employment Act (ie. not employed in a managerial or executive position) and were given a contractual termination without any advance notice as stated in your contract, you could seek the assistance of the Ministry of Manpower to claim for the notice pay.

Based on the bolded part, I had the right to continue working in the company for the next 2 weeks. But of course, since my ex-bosses hated me so much, they’d rather pay me the salary in-lieu of notice so that they didn’t have to see my face ever again.

The compensation was labelled as “long-service bonus” on the payment voucher can you believe that?!? If I didn’t inform them about this rule, would they even bother to “thank” me for my service? NO. Even at this point of writing, I am still their longest serving admin staff (that’s how bad the turnover rate is). And I dare say I was one of their best employees, or probably the best. I practically slaved away for 3.5 years to get everything in the centre in order alright?

Actually they would la. They owed me a salary of $112 at time of termination. They wrote me a cheque of $120. $8 bonus. 🙂

The complaint to CPF Board

I admit I felt really disgruntled after the incident and all I wanted to do was to get back at them. But I hesitated on lodging a complaint against them to CPF because I knew the seriousness of the consequences they’d face. After all, they had NEVER contributed a single cent to anyone’s CPF account since they started operations in 2004. The arrears owed to all the employees from day 1, coupled with the fine for defaulting on CPF payments, were enough to wipe out most of their earnings (click here to read more about the penalties for defaulting on CPF payments). I didn’t want to be so cruel to resort to that but my boyfriend strongly urged me to get back what I deserved. Think about it: how much had they pocketed just by not contributing to my CPF alone for the past 3 years+ especially during the period of time when I was a full-time staff? It’s A LOT of money.

He is right. These exploitative employers ought to be taught a painful lesson. Most of the admin staff they hired were young female students and they were obviously preying on their naivety and timidity. Unfortunately, I am not one of these girls. And I really hope more students can stand up for themselves.

Hence I proceeded to lodge a complaint through my SingPass (procedures here). It took CPF Board only 3 working days to get back to me. I had to make several trips down to the office itself to be interviewed and produce supporting documents (bank statements to show how much I was paid, proof of employment etc.) but other than that, everything else was settled swiftly by CPF Board (staff that well-handled this case was Ms See Swee Ping who had already left the board). I am also very grateful to one of my ex-colleagues (whose identity remains confidential here) for agreeing to be my witness 🙂

The drama unfolded

It turned out that my ex-bosses never registered their business with CPF Board hence they were able to get away with defaulting on so many CPF payments. Apparently CPF Board and ACRA are separate entities so they will not be able to check which companies fail to make CPF contributions if they are not even registered in the first place. Quite a silly system if you ask me…

Anyway, my ex-bosses (and their partner-in-crime accountant) tried several absurd ways to save their sorry ass. I was extremely angered by their actions and they made me feel that they deserved the harsh penalty. Can you believe that they tried to wiggle their way out of trouble by lying that all the admin staff were freelancers!?!?! Freefreakinglancers. Because freelancers do not get paid CPF. And that’s not it. They even dug out contacts of past employees from as long as 3 years ago, instructing them NOT to reveal that they once worked for the company if CPF ever called them. Existing staff, under the influence of the evil bosses, were also told to persuade past employees whom they are friends with not to reveal the truth! How despicable right?

But I’m sorry. 老天有眼. CPF Board has their ways to investigate and we are definitely NOT freelancers. Furthermore, many past employees I got in touch with were more than willing to testify against them (shows how terrible they were as employers to incur so much wrath). Actually, once a person is proven to have worked for a company before, he would still be entitled to CPF contributions regardless of whether he wants it or not.

Aftermath

The entire process lasted for 3 months and I got my 3.5 years worth of CPF contribution in mid May 2013. And because it was the fault of the employers for failing to contribute, the CPF recipients did not have to pay anything at all, not even the 36% of wage contribution.

I understand that as students, you would naturally want more take-home pay. I wouldn’t mind not having CPF contribution if it was a short-term job. But if you intend to stay in a job for a long time like me, it is better to opt for CPF. Seriously only when you reach my age (a.k.a adulthood) will you comprehend the importance of CPF. Think about the prices of HDB flats nowadays… how to pay?!?! You have to start young to get that kinda money. Unless you’re some rich person la then I bo wei gong.

I know I seem like a very spiteful person here but truth is, if my ex-employers were nice and reasonable, this wouldn’t happen at all even though it’s wrong to default on payments. Believe me when I say that I’m compassionate.

So the bottom line is if you’re going to be a nasty employer, you better make sure you leave no trace of your dirty work ethics behind.

Anyway, the termination was a blessing in disguise. After being trapped in the job for more than 3 years, I could finally explore other career (not the right word to use but meh it sounds nicer haha) options. I had since worked at Love, Bonito, a company which I wanted to work for a long time ago but never had the chance to coz I was supposed to commit my free time to that tuition centre. Now I’m very happy providing tuition and designing services. Life’s really great now and I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for that. Unless, yeah, there’s a job opening with really attractive pay package hehe!

Til next time 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Knowing Your Employment Rights

  1. Hi, I am just curious about the name of the tuition centre. Where is it located? Is it still operating now?
    I once worked briefly for a tuition centre which sounds like the one mentioned here …

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  2. Hi Xuan, yes it’s still operating now. It has several branches islandwide but the boss I worked for only has outlets in the west. One if them is at Yew Tee. Does it ring a bell?

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  3. Haha, I only worked 1 day before deciding the job is not for me.
    The husband and wife owner did not even pay me at all.
    I still remember vaguely how the husband make it sound like he’s doing me a favour by hiring me, as the centre was located just opp my house and I don’t have to pay for transport
    He also make it sound like it’s a ‘promotion’ for admin staff to double up as teaching staff
    I guess tution centres are just ridiculous like that

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  4. gosh, he sounds EXACTLY like my ex-boss. egoistic much. but my tuition centre doesn’t allow unqualified people to teach so it’s definitely not them, these absurd employers are begging for an exposé on the newspapers!

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  5. Hi fiona, I’m facing the same issue as you for my part time job.
    I understand that you have worked in Love Bonito as you might have some knowlege on my doubts.
    Previously I’m working in a retail company, ladies apparels. I had been working OT and on PH. In fact, I had worked more than 44 hours a week, exceeding what was stated in employment act.
    At first, we did not take much notice on the amount of hours as we are working on a flexible schedule basis. Recently, the MOM has created a campaign on knowing our rights as a employee.
    From my understanding on the employment act, OT should be paid at least 1.5 times on the basic hourly pay and PH will be 2 times.
    After calculating my pay both OT and PH is paid lower than what was sitpulated in the act.
    I would like if it is compulsory for the company to pay us at least 1.5 times for OT and 2 times during PH as stated in the act or there are some industry practices that is deemed to be acceptable(e.g. paying lower than what the Act stated)

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  6. Hi Kune, acceptable by industry standards doesn’t mean legal. For sure your employer has to comply with MOM regulations but many people turn a blind eye to it for fear that they will lose their job (that’s why people start thinking that it’s acceptable to underpay). If you feel that you have been underpaid, it’s best to raise this issue with your employees. My stint with Love Bonito was paid at an hourly rate and I had stipulated working hours which most of the time I didn’t exceed. Plus I don’t work on weekends so I can’t advise you on whether it’s a common practice. But I really urge you not to subject yourself to unreasonable treatment. Talk to your boss, or leave (and file a complaint with MOM)!

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  7. Thank you sooo much for writing this blog post. It’ll really help naive female students like me to know of how the working world exploits us as part-timers. I know restaurants & cafes often exploit their student “waitors” to do other things like wash dishes and clean the toilet.. but didn’t know tuition jobs do these kinds of unkind acts as well :/ sigh.

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  8. My pleasure! I know right… But I looked at it on the bright side lah.. after working there and washing toilet for them everyday I became a lot more disciplined and even started to wash my own toilet 😁😁

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