Twelve Cupcakes is recently in the limelight again. If you have not heard, The Real Singapore (‘TRS’) has published a series of entries claiming that Twelve Cupcakes is exploiting foreign labour – which TRS says is based on conversations with a Filipino supervisor, and subsequently an entry (I presume from the same supervisor) which reads like a letter to TRS.
The entires claim, among other things, that Twelve Cupcakes pays their foreign workers $3 per hour, a baker from China earns only $800 per month, and foreign workers get less off-days than local staff.
My first reaction to reading this article is – SURE or not?
After all, the staff at Twelve Cupcakes usually look quite happy, and I recall always seeing young local females fronting the shop. Besides, I am skeptical that anyone would work for $3 per hour in F&B, or anywhere in Singapore for that matter!
I personally find it alarming, very alarming, that some take what is written on the website as the whole truth. Don’t we need to verify some facts and figures, or at least get the other side of the story before we exclaim “I am so going to boycott that cupcake shop forever”?
I felt there was definitely more to this, and decided to write to Daniel Ong CEO of Twelve Cupcakes and The Real Singapore. I also checked with NTUC and MOM with regards to foreign employment issues.
The Real Singapore Side Of The Story
This is from an email interview with ZhiXin from TRS Editorial Team: “We were first contacted by a local part time worker complaining about Twelve Cupcakes changing their shifts from 2 people to 1 and they are not allowed to visit the toilet.
After publishing her story, another outlet manager who is a foreign worker contacted us through email to tell us about her story. You can find her story on our site her name is Estrada. We talked to her on the phone and she was crying and seems very depressed which is why we decided to publish her full story.
We also talked to 2 other former employees of Twelve Cupcakes and both of them have very negative experience at twelve cupcakes. One of the girl is a part-timer called Gina saying they are paid only $3/hr with no overtime pay. Basically all the workers said Daniel Ong’s rebuttal to the original TRS article about working 8 hours a day only and with heaps of overtime pay is false.”
Daniel Ong’s Side Of The Story
In a phone interview with Daniel, he revealed that the news was likely to be created by a disgruntled former employee .
Daniel openly shared he had 13 foreign staff out of the 120 plus workers he employed, of which 8 are from the Philippines – and all reflected they were happy to be working with Twelve Cupcakes. A local outlet supervisor would earn about $1,800 to $2,200, while a supervisor from a foreign country would get about $1,400 – that is excluding additional allowance, lodging and the extra MOM levy.
All his workers from China are part-time cleaners and assistant bakers, who get at least $1100 in take-home pay, not including bonus and incentives.
According to Daniel Ong, Twelve Cupcakes pays about $600 in levy per foreign worker, so money-wise; employing a foreign worker can be more expensive than a local staff.
I have spoken to many F&B owners. Many have said the same thing. After factoring in the levy, it can be more costly to employ a foreign worker than a local one. Some business owners may still choose to do so because they perceive, whether rightly or wrongly, that foreigners are generally more proactive, trustworthy and willing to work hard. Others do so because they simply cannot find enough local workers to fill the positions.
Many times, the truth speaks for itself. If workers are indeed exploited, it would be reflected in the services, high turnover, and even products. You know a service staff is smiling genuinely or not.
Some have said Twelve Cupcakes is doing this for publicity. Seriously and logically, I do not think any F&B business owners would choose such a seemingly insane way of marketing. Daniel Ong revealed that sales of their cupcakes did drop by about 10%, and some ex-customers feedback that they won’t buy from a shop which exploits foreign labour.
In addition, I did a check on MOM guidelines. Based on the service industry rate, if a company hires 10-25% foreigners out of the total workforce, the levy is $400 or $500. A $600 levy is applied when foreign workers constitute more than 25% of the company’s workforce.
Accordingly to TRS’s first article written by the contributor Vettel (presumably a fan of their cupcakes), he/she went around different Twelve Cupcake shops to speak to supervisors and baking staff. This is entirely different from their email reply to say they were “first contacted by a local part time worker complaining about Twelve Cupcakes”.
From this experience, I have come to realise how important it is to practice information literacy skills, a simple check with three sources had already unveiled inconsistencies and led me to question how credible some online pieces really were.
We get so much information every day, some of them are rumours and half-truths that are spread around especially on social media. Yet some of us are treating as though they are true, and getting angry over nothing.
Why are we so fast to slam and judge?
Why are we looking at one photo or video, most likely taken out of context, and criticizing what we perceive has happened. Personally, I really feel this is becoming quite frightening. (I don’t even know when someone will say something out of nothing about me.)
A simple way to avoid all this misinformation is to apply the 4 ways of S.U.R.E to content that you come across. S.U.R.E stands for Source, Understand, Research and Evaluate, a simple acronym that the National Library Board has recently come up with as part of their National Information Literacy Programme to make Information Literacy skills easy and accessible for everyone. (* To find out more about S.U.R.E – Source, Understand, Research and Evaluate. )
As news consumers, we also should be responsible enough to get information from various sources, ascertain there is backed by certain evidence and research before evaluation. Before we click Likes or Share and say “This person is so terrible. Perhaps ask why we are judging others without seeing both sides of the story.”
As I am typing this, there is another social media furore against main stream media. While publishers definitely have to execute journalistic responsibility, we news consumers also has to be responsible in reading and sharing.