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Hard to work for your money

IT is all about the workplace today in the news although the piece which will garner the most attention isn’t something that anyone could have planned for. It concerns the video that went viral showing an employer slapping around an intern. Now more has emerged on what happened, due mainly to some intrepid reporting by Chinese afternoon daily, Shin Min. It actually carried a photograph of the intern’s parents confronting his abuser.

Now all the different newspapers in MSM had bits and pieces of the story, some deciding to name (and shame?) and others staying away from too much detail. So, here’s the lowdown based on a reading of MSM. (Note that it includes both confirmed facts and material which MSM couldn’t nail down)

The victim is a 29 year old university undergraduate. He works long hours, from 9am to 11pm, according to his parents, who added that his pay is about $500 to $600 a month as an intern. He is their only son.

The workplace is Encore eServices with its office at Jurong East. The company was registered in April last year, and reportedly designs management software for private clinics. The abuser is only identified as a supervisor named Alan.

The person who uploaded the video is another intern, a 23 year old from Singapore Institute of Management, who started work at the company two days before the slapping incident. SIM terminated his internship with the company to “protect his interest’’.

We all know that the slapping took place, the question is why. And why did the intern meekly “turned the cheek’’, so to speak.
None of the papers managed to ferret out a reason. The videographer was quoted saying that Alan thought the intern had “an inferiority complex” and wanted to “nurture’’ him out of it. Sheesh. Unbelievable!

The intern didn’t want to report the incident to the police (he wouldn’t even admit that he was the victim to his parents initially) because he was concerned about his supervisor’s family and didn’t want the matter blown up. And he wouldn’t give a reason for the slapping either.
Alan wasn’t quoted at all, but he was reported to have apologised profusely to the intern’s parents who immediately got their son to resign.
Now, isn’t this fine drama?

A police report has been lodged. Which is a pity because it means that people can use the excuse of “we can’t comment as the matter is being investigated by police’’! (Unless Alan wants to go public and clear his name since his face is everywhere online.)

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In any case, all manner of HR practitioners are giving their two cents worth on the incident, like how to stop office bullying etc. Of course, one quick way is to quit the job and go to the police. Then again, you’ll have to reckon with whether you can find employment elsewhere or, if you are an intern, whether you really, really need a good report to help your grades.

The G probably never reckoned that a case of workplace abuse would crop up the same time when it is campaigning for workplace safety! Last year, 56 people died on the job, a rate of 2.1 for every 100,000 workers. The rate has been coming down, but it’s still high compared to that in the United Kingdom (0.6) and Germany (0.7), according to PM Lee Hsien Loong . (Or maybe the comparison isn’t quite fair since it is likely that construction and shipping work is probably more intensive and extensive over here than over there.)

Still, 56 lives lost are 56 lives too many. PM Lee wants the rate brought down to 1.8 – before the target date of 2018. Going to be tough given that construction work isn’t about to scale down with Singapore’s plans to house more people and extend the infrastructure.

More interesting is the other workplace issue – discrimination in the workplace. So far, attention is on bosses who favour foreigners over Singaporeans. That forms half of the 303 complaints handled by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep). MOM Minister Tan Chuan Jin appears to have moved from an outright rejection of anti-discriminatory laws to a more conciliatory “not ruling it out’’, but it’s clear that he prefers moral suasion than wielding the stick.

The Sunday Times had a useful report on workplace discrimination which also listed how developed countries protect workers. Not all countries have labour laws that include anti-discrimination of all sorts – against sexual orientation, marital status and sexual harassment, for example. Some choose to give more power to government agencies such as Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission. It investigates cases, mediate disputes and helps complainants go to court if mediation fails. Others combat it through laws aimed at promoting human rights and equality, something which is sought by some NGOs here.

So what about Tafep? So far, it seems to be an advisory panel only, talking to employers if the panel has a complaint to resolve matters. Mr Tan said that errant employers have had to make public apologies and “had their work pass privileges curtailed’’. Now, the second bit has a bit more bite…Perhaps, a way out would be to vest Tafep with more powers to, well, hurt employers who keep on infringing guidelines.
That would be a compromise.

This article first appeared in

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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