Abused intern: I was treated like cheap labour

Abused intern: I was treated like cheap labour

His internship with the company lasted three years and he earned only $500 a month.

During this time, his former boss frequently hit, humiliated and verbally abused him over perceived mistakes he had made.

Yet, Mr Calvin Chan Meng Hock, now 31, stayed on and endured the torment because he felt his abuser could teach and guide him in his career.

Yesterday, his former employer was sentenced to a 10-day short detention order (SDO) for assaulting him.

In 2013, the manager of IT company Encore E-Services, Lee Yew Nam, was filmed verbally abusing and slapping Mr Chan in a 17-second video clip which went viral in mid-2013.

Lee, now 45, was given the 10-day SDO yesterday after pleading guilty last Aug 18 to four counts of voluntarily causing hurt to Mr Chan between January and May 2013.

Offenders given SDOs have to serve a brief stint behind bars for up to 14 days. They will not have criminal records after serving their sentences.

Lee committed these offences in a third-storey office of what was then the iHub building - now known as Jurong Town Hall - at Jurong Town Hall Road.

An only child, whose parents are both cleaners in their 60s, Mr Chan told The New Paper that his mild nature could have led Lee to take advantage of him.

He said: "Now, I think it's ridiculous that my internship lasted about three years with such a pathetic pay.

"I was exploited, treated like cheap labour."

When asked why he did not resign, he replied: "I thought I could still learn a lot more about IT from him."

Mr Chan said he did not tell anyone about the abuse as he did not want others to worry about him.

He added: "I now realise he was just a bully. I should have just packed up my bags and left."

INTERNSHIPS

Mr Chan, who graduated with a degree in computer science from Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) in 2010, said he had gone through the SIM Student Portal and found out Lee's company was offering internships.

The workplace was close to his four-room flat in Jurong East.

The bachelor started an initial six-month internship in May that year, earning $500 a month.

He found Lee, whom he referred to as "Alan", friendly and approachable.

Mr Chan, who is now working as a 3D artist for a gaming company, said Lee showed his true colours two months later when he berated him for not handling a customer well.

Lee's wife and another intern, a woman in her 20s, were the only other people in the office.

Mr Chan said: "He shouted at me and I was puzzled at this sudden change in demeanour. I didn't expect him to act like that as he was so nice in the beginning."

From then on, Lee started shouting at him at least once a week and no one intervened.

Mr Chan said that later that year, Lee shouted and slapped him across the face over a mistake he had made.

He said: "Even my own parents have never hit me. But I thought what he did was okay as it was my fault.

"It never occurred to me that I could have told my parents or my school about it."

Mr Chan's six-month stint ended in November 2010 and Lee offered to extend his internship. Mr Chan accepted the offer as he felt he had much to learn from Lee.

He recalled that even though official working hours were from 9am to 6pm on weekdays, he worked till 10pm several times a week as he had to deal with overseas customers from places like Africa.

Mr Chan said he was not given any overtime pay and could not remember if he was given any annual leave.

Lee took his abuse a step further in February 2013 and, for the first time, hit Mr Chan when there were others around.

Angry that Mr Chan had failed to correctly answer a customer's request, he punched him on the left side of his face several times. He then pushed Mr Chan, causing him to fall off his chair.

Lee hit him again in the office about three months later.

Another intern, Mr Amos Yeo, then 25, used his mobile phone to film the incident.

Mr Chan said he found out about the clip only after a cousin called his parents on May 19, 2013, asking to meet all three of them at a nearby coffee shop.

The cousin showed Mr Chan and his parents the video.

Mr Chan said: "I felt very angry and embarrassed to see myself being treated that way.

"My parents were furious with Alan and insisted we make a police report that night. I decided that enough was enough and agreed."

Mr Chan is grateful to Mr Yeo for helping him.

He said: "As for Alan, I have already forgiven him but I won't forget.

"I don't want to have anything to do with him any more. Once bitten, twice shy."

Expert: Victim felt zero control

His then-boss Lee Yew Nam, now 45, abused him at their workplace.

So why did Mr Calvin Chan Meng Hock, now 31, tolerate the ordeal and not stand up for himself?

Dr Elizabeth Nair, principal psychologist at Work & Health Psychologists, told The New Paper that Mr Chan might not have friends or colleagues he could talk to about what he was going through.

She said that without these people to compare notes with, he could have assumed that the way Lee treated him was "normal".

Dr Nair added: "Physical and verbal abuse may be thought to be 'this is how it is in the working world and I must accept and learn to do better'."

Mr Benedict Lim, managing director of psychological consultancy firm iGrow, said Mr Chan probably did not feel like he could control the outcome of his situation, perhaps due to learnt helplessness.

PASSIVE

Mr Lim said: "This occurs when a person believes that he has zero control over the situation and therefore does not bother to try to avoid it."

He added that Mr Chan appears to have a passive style of communication.

"Passive people tend to keep to themselves and do not readily reveal their honest thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, they are also known to elicit minimal or no resistance at all to any forms of abuse," said Mr Lim.

Dr Nair said employees should voice out the first time their superiors verbally abuse them. Bosses can then be given a fair warning that such behaviour is not acceptable.

Mr Lim told TNP that employees should immediately speak out at the first instance their bosses physically abuse them. They should also inform the police.

He said: "Avoid retaliation unless there is a need to protect oneself from serious harm and injury."

SIM: There were no issues raised

Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) said it was not aware that its former student Calvin Chan Meng Hock, now 31, continued to work at IT company Encore E-Services after he graduated in 2010.

It added that its records did not show any issues raised by him or the firm during his internship when he was a student.

Responding to queries from The New Paper, the SIM spokesman said: "In 2013, we terminated our internship collaboration with Encore E-Services after our student Amos Yeo, who was also interning at Encore E-Services at that time, reported Calvin's abuse incident to us.

"Our students are also advised to contact our Career Development Office should they encounter any issues or have any feedback during their internship."

Students are asked to submit their evaluation of their internship experience after they complete their internships.

"We were saddened to learn about Calvin's experience with Encore E-Services but we hope that this incident will not hamper him from moving on to have a successful and fulfilling career," said the SIM spokesman.

ashaffiq@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 2, 2016.
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