4 Twisted Ways Companies are Screwing Their Employees

Ryan Ong



Companies have your best interests at heart. That is, in the same way McDonald’s suppliers have their cattle’s “best interests” at heart. Because let’s face it: To some companies, people are numbers on a spreadsheet, nothing more. Their definition of “workforce development” is “airy fairy nonsense. Like organic food, or homeopathy, or human rights.” And that leads them to ruin their employees lives, in the most twisted ways:


1. Be Ultra-liberal With Job Descriptions

Let’s say you’re hard at work, when a superior comes knocking.

The Boss: “Excuse me Ah Tan, I notice you’ve only had two anxiety attacks from your workload. Since you’re not too busy, can you help with my project?”

You: “My eyes are bleeding, and I haven’t left my desk in 97 hours.”

The Boss: “Thanks. I know you’re not an accountant, but type me a budget report thicker than War & Peace okay? And  turn it in before 4.30am.”

What You’re Thinking: “I will hire bomohs to hex your remains.”

What You Actually Say: “Yes boss.”

From there on two things that can happen: If you work for an okay company, you’ll get a pat on the back. But if you work for a twisted company, then whatever it was you did just got added to your responsibilities. Permanently.


Swiss army knife, giant one
And that’s just for the pantry lady. Our staff need to fill a lot of functions.


Jeannette, a Poly student who recently quit her music-teaching job, explains how this works:

It started when they told me a student hadn’t paid, and could I ask the parents for the cheque. Collecting payment was never in my job details, but I thought okay, just lend a hand this time.

So I chased down the cheque and gave it to the receptionist. After I gave it to her, she told me not to let it happen again. Which pissed me off, because collecting money was never part of my job.

A couple of days later, they asked me to open the spreadsheet and key in the payments. For every class okay! Not just my own. As if I was their bloody accountant.

Hello? I signed up as a music teacher! For $25 an hour, I need to do accounts for the whole school also? I said forget it and left. Later my friend told me that school has a high turnover rate for trainers, because the owners like to push work around.”


2. Undercutting Their Own Salesmen


Man screaming behind woman with a cigar
Ma’am, I think your sales guy would like your attention. Or to snap your neck.


Some twisted companies bait sales staff with commissions. The base pay may be low (say $500 a month), but the commissions, they claim, will run into the thousands.

What they won’t mention is that the commissions are a pipe dream. Because the company itself intends to undercut the sales staff.

Let’s say I’m selling diet pills, made from questionable herbs and whatever’s in my cat’s litter-box. I can make a profit just selling this crap for $30 a bottle. But I’m not going to do the grunt work.

I round up some clueless types (students are a favourite target), and I tell them to sell the pills for me. They get a pathetic base pay of $500 a month, plus 10% commission on every box of pills they sell. And they’re to sell the pills at $60 a bottle.

Then while my “salesmen” bust their asses knocking on doors, cold calling, annoying their relatives, etc., I run “special promotions”. I go around selling the pills at $30 a bottle, maybe on a website with a different name. I can even claim, truthfully, that I’m selling them at “half the usual price”.

This way, I make my intended profit anyway (I only need to sell at $30 a bottle, remember?) And as for those “salesmen”… they’re helping me advertise, find prospects, distribute flyers, etc. for the low price of $500 a month.


3. Describe Short Term Contracts as “Full-Time” Jobs


Napkin drawing
We’re very informal. Here’s your contract, and we put the picture on for you.


Some companies may state “full-time position” in the job ad. And most of us assume this means a regular contract of service. But look at the contract closely: Sometimes, you’ll discover that what you’re signing is actually a contract for service.

Here’s the difference:

Contract of Service:

The employer is obliged to make CPF contributions, provide annual leave, pay on time, etc. This contract shields you under our labour laws (which in Singapore, have as much protective power as Saran Wrap in a volcano. But at least there’s a layer there).

Contract for Service:

That’s a difference of one letter. What’s it mean?

It means you’re basically freelance. You’re being paid to perform a specific service (e.g. I pay you to paint my house).

There will be no employee benefits when you paint my house, because you’re not my employee. If I don’t pay you on time, for example, you can’t run to the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) for help. You’ll have to drag my ass to the small claims court, just like freelancers do with bad clients.

But come on. Companies have to be clear about this stuff right? They can’t veil a contract for service under misleading phrases like “full-time position” can they?

There is no single conclusive test to distinguish a contract of employment from a contract for services.” – MoM website.

This isn’t unique to Singapore, so don’t start blaming MoM. When you’re being hired, it’s up to you to check the contract you’re signing. Just remember that a title like “full time web developer” doesn’t neccessarily mean “full time web developer who is also an employee“.


4. Make Employees Pay for Their Own Training


Training course? Nah, the boss found a bunch of YouTube videos about falling down.


There’s a difference between “training”, and “upgrading”.

Upgrading is something you do to get promoted, to move to a new line of work, etc. You pay for your own upgrading, because it’s a personal choice.

But training is a basic tool you need to do your job. Not paying for essential training is ridiculous; like the Civil Defence telling firemen to buy their own water hoses. But small companies are notorious for demanding just that. I spoke to Anthony (not his real name), who had to fork out over half his month’s pay for essential training:

I work for an education company, we teach languages over Skype. But to be one of the teachers, I needed to get a certain specialized diploma, in distance learning. It’s a requirement for our client, which is an overseas school.

After I signed the contract, I was told that I had to pay for this course myself. And I said in that case, if I knew I would not have signed. But they threatened me and said I already signed, they put my name down as the trainer, there is a penalty, and whatever.

So I was caught between making it a legal issue, and just going with it. In the end I caved and paid for the course myself. But once my contract is up, I’m going to raise hell about it.”

So before you sign a contract, be sure to ask about any training. A proper company may put you on lower pay while the training program is on, but they will inform you of it from the start. For our upcoming article on picking good employers, follow us on Facebook!


Have you ever been screwed by a bad employer? Comment and let us know!

Image Credits
Bhernandez, AskDaveTaylor, Matt Baran, edenpictures, beggs

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.