Bad bosses in Singapore
Some of us are lucky. We have encouraging bosses who take the time to mentor us and ensure that we’re on the right track when assigned new tasks. But not everyone’s this lucky – we’ve heard the stories from our friends – some employers out there just cannot make it. These bad bosses pretend to care for you but in reality, they just make full use of you before chucking you aside.
Some of my friends have had horror stories: being forced to buy coffee for their boss every morning, chicken rice for lunch, and muah chee for tea. And once employers make questionable decisions, but we need to know when these decisions are questionable, and when they’re downright illegal.
Some employers are bullying you illegally without you even realizing. Here are 10 ways they are doing it – and what you can do about it.
1.Work OT everyday but no OT pay
I’ve worked till 1 am before and couldn’t claim my cab fare. To top it all off, I couldn’t claim any overtime (OT) pay or ask for off in lieu. If this sounds familiar to you, you need to know that under MOM’s Employment act, it’s illegal for employers to make you work OT for free if your monthly salary is up to $2,600 (or up to $4,500 if you’re a workman*) This is not the President’s Star Charity. We don’t jump through hoops for free – our hard work should be appreciated and compensated fairly.
If you’re not getting paid for your OT, you’re being cheated. That’s money that could be put towards your rent, expenses or even a brand new LCD TV. There is no reason for companies to make you slave away for zero benefit – even if you’re told that it’s “good for exposure”.
“I love my job, I love my job, I love my job.” Oh the things that we tell ourselves every day.
If you’re working more than 8 hours a day or 44 hours a week and earning less than $2,500 per month, you’re entitled to 1.5 times the hourly basic pay for every hour of OT you do. On top of that, you should not work for more than 12 hours a day, or have more than 72 hours of overtime in a month.
Make sure you have tangible proof of your OT hours before taking further action: time in/time out cards or printouts from HR systems are recommended, and you can get written testimonials or voice recordings from witnesses who can vouch for you. Do not tender your resignation as a threat to your boss. If you’re no longer an employee, it may be much harder to get back what you’re owed.
TL;DR: If you’re one of those affected, the first course of action is to talk to your boss about it. If nothing changes after the conversation, check out this this FAQ posted by the Ministry of Manpower.
*A workman is someone employed for mainly manual labour.
2. Salary + CPF always paid late, or not paid at all
How we feel about late payments. Image credit
There’s only one thing worse than not paying someone for working OT, and that’s not paying them at all. It’s irresponsible for employers to drag the payment of salaries – when I sign a contract with a company, I’m exchanging my skills and time for a salary. I should expect to have my salary paid on time.
On a related note, non-payment of CPF is especially a problem for employees in small organisations. If you’re working in a small organisation and haven’t checked your CPF account in some time, you can do it via Singpass. The money in your CPF account is yours and can be used for so many essentials like medical expenses, housing loans, and to cushion your retirement.
TL;DR: If your employer has been delaying the payment of your salary or been missing CPF payments, speak to them first. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, you can get help from NTUC’s PME Unit or lodge a claim/seek advice on MOM.
3. Being made to do menial tasks all the time
No but seriously, this applies to everyone under official employment, interns included.
Everybody likes to be given meaningful work. Being asked to run to Starbucks to fetch your boss a Cappuccino, extra shot, venti, doesn’t count as meaningful work. You could be spending the time doing actual work like meeting important clients, developing an amazing app or planning a groundbreaking presentation. Instead, it’s wasted scribbling orders for flat whites and mochas and sorting out change at your desk afterwards.
Did you sign up for this job to be a professional orderer at Starbucks? We think not. Image credit: Eatbook
Being constantly given menial tasks might not feel like a legit reason to feel aggrieved, but it is. These tasks take time away from your primary responsibilities, and could cause a drop in your performance level.
TL;DR: Make sure the tasks you do at work are covered within the job scope as stated in your contract. If it’s not, and it’s taking a substantial amount of attention from your actual work, initiate a discussion with your superior to redefine your area of work. It is in the best interest of all parties involved if your tasks are accomplished well.
4. Never officially confirming your position after probation
Do you remember the time where the boss told you the company would trial you for three months before converting you to a permanent position? Fast forward to six months later and you’re still on probation, getting half of what you should be earning.
When it comes to contracts and issues about conversion, it requires two hands to clap. Yes, your employer might be making use of your vulnerability and gullible nature, but there’s also the possibility that it slipped his mind. The onus is on you to ask for a letter confirming your status after the probation period. Do not sit by and wait for handouts to drop from the sky, fortune favours the bold!
TL;DR: Ensure that your probation period has a clear end date, and talk to your boss when the day comes. You may refer to this handbook for executives’ rights if you feel their employer has been taking advantage of your probation.
5. Enforcing unfair non-compete clauses
You might have seen it in your contract: a non-compete or restraint of trade clause that states you cannot work in the same industry for 2 years after leaving the company. 2 years?! That means your experience from your current job won’t be of any use when applying for your next job.
Thankfully, unless there’s a very good reason for a restraint of trade clause, the Ministry of Manpower might be inclined to agree with you that the clause is unreasonable. Of course, if you’ve worked in a high level position with access to highly confidential information, then the non-compete will be far more likely to be enforced.
TL;DR: Restraint of trade and non-compete clauses are likely to be enforced at upper management level, but can be overturned if judged to be unfair by the Ministry of Manpower.
6. Discriminating based on race/age/sex/nationality
I’m talking about the ones who only hire Chinese people, or maybe they only promote the fresh NTU graduate instead of you. You didn’t work so hard to be shoved aside by employers who don’t recognize your worth because of your age or race.
This is one of those times when it’s far more tempting to do the easy thing instead of the right thing. But if you or your colleagues are getting unfair treatment because of something you can’t change, then someone has to have a talk with your boss.
When this happened to me, instead of approaching my direct superior, I talked to another superior and clarified my situation. At least this way I didn’t have to deal with the awfully awkward experience of confronting my boss. You can also approach your union leader or NTUC if things are getting out of hand.
TL;DR: It’s unethical and illegal to make decisions regarding hiring or promotions based on race, gender, or age. If this gets out of hand, talk to a union representative or readmore about Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) to see if your claim has weight. If so, you can report on the TAFEP site.
7. Having unsafe workplaces
Employers have to ensure that their employees are provided conducive and safe workplaces. And this doesn’t just mean that the office should be free of explosions and rats – simple things like bad lighting can also affect employees negatively. For example, if my office was poorly lit and my employer refused to change any of the lights, this could lead to long-term eyesight problems.
These are just some of the things that employers should have in place to look after their employees’ well-being in the office. Safety and wellness are two simple things which should be at the top of any employer’s list of things to do.
TL;DR: Employers should ensure that the workplace environment is conducive and safe for employees. If you believe that your office workplace is unsafe, you can raise the issue with your employer or contact NTUC here.
8. Unfair dismissals
I had a friend who was fired when she told her boss she was pregnant. Her boss told her that he was unwilling to give her the maternity leave that she was promised because her responsibilities at the company were too huge. The next thing I learnt was that she slowly slipped into depression and remained jobless for far too long.
A working mother should get up to 16 weeks of maternity leave – and never get fired because they are pregnant! Know your rights.
Most people assume that just because you’re terminated, you don’t get any say in the matter. However, if you’re unfairly terminated, you can do so much more than just keep quiet. There are unions which look out for unfair treatment of employees, depending on your industry. Drop them an email and they’ll look into your case and seek compensation for you.
TL;DR: If you believe you were unfairly terminated, go through the appropriate channels to seek compensation such as your union or NTUC for members, or approach MOM to file a wrongful dismissal claim with TADM.
9. Getting suddenly transferred to another department
You’ve been in your department for ages, and your boss just called you in to inform you that you’ll be transferred to another department. Effective today. For some people, it’s a good challenge, to be moved to “foreign soil”. But to others, it’s stifling. You don’t know how to react or how to even begin comprehending why they are doing this. You just know you have an hour to pack up your things and move them to your new cubicle in another corner of the office building.
Honestly, getting transferred isn’t the worst thing in the world, but doing it on such short notice is. In such cases, the employer has to inform their employee in advance and ensure that training is provided for all new duties.
TL;DR: Employers have to inform their employees in advance if they plan to transfer them to another department. If you feel like your transfer was rushed and not handled as well as it should be, you should speak to your HR or your union. In worst cases, you are allowed to terminate your employment with notice.
10. Not allowed to join trade unions
Most of us don’t know what unions really do. Sure, we know NTUC FairPrice is where we can get cheap groceries, but few people know what NTUC – the trade union – actually does. Trade unions improve the economic and working conditions of Singaporean workers by collective bargaining with employers, having Labour MPs in Parliament to lobby the government for better workers’ rights, and by providing an avenue to assist its members with legal advice, for example in case you get fired unfairly.
As unions are focused on workers’ rights, there are some employers who aren’t comfortable with their employees joining or forming a union. Thankfully, under Singapore law, any attempt by an employer to prevent an employee from joining or leaving a trade union is considered illegal and is a criminal offence. It’s like joining a CCA in secondary school – you should never be punished for joining the choir club or leaving the soccer team.
TL;DR: Trade unions are completely legal and free for anyone to join, your employer cannot punish you for joining one. Read more about your trade union rights.
Get help and protect yourself from bad bosses
If you can identify with one of the above points, or know someone who can, it’s time to make some changes. It is important that employees are as well informed as employers in respect to their labour rights – this allows for efficient two way communication between both parties.
If your rights are being abused, obtain tangible evidence of this through witness testimonies while still under employment. Tendering your resignation is a bad idea, as once you’re not an existing employee, you may not be entitled to anything, or your ex-employer may delay payment or make it such a hassle to claim in the hopes that you give up. Refuse to quit till you get what’s rightfully yours.
Trade unions can only do so much for us, we have to exercise ownership and make an effort to understand what we are entitled to as well. If you’d like to find out more about your rights and who to contact, check out the following resources:
Also, keep yourself #woke and savvy in the the workplace with these employment and job tips:
- How to identify signs of a toxic workplace
- How to get a promotion
- Employee benefits to ask for
- Basic employee rights to know
This article is part of a series of conversations with the Labour Movement.
Original article was written by Darren Lee on 4 Feb 2016. Last updated on 28 Oct 2021.
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