The ultimate purpose for me to post this article is to inform freelancers in Singapore that you do not always have to be at the losing end. At its minimum, the Singapore legal system provides a safety net and will help you to restore justice if you are bullied.
I filed a lawsuit against Peck San Theng (PST) in the Small Claims Tribunals in June 2021. It drew the attention of some PST people and media friends. From the onset, they knew that PST was guilty of wrong doing by evading from contractual payment of completed services. They only worried that PST as a 50 million dollar organisation, has exceptional wealth to engage lawyers to back them. On the contrary, I was acting as a lonely temporary “lawyer” representing myself. It is like smashing eggs against rocks.
The lawsuit is over now. All the perjured evidence and false accusations submitted by PST to the Tribunals are completely crushed by the honourable judge. The court ruled that PST is 100% in the wrong. The public can access the case (Claim No. SCT/13777/2021) from the state court website.
Looking back, I embarked on the freelancer journey with PST in 2016. I helped PST researched into its history and set up the PST heritage gallery with a grand opening two years later. On PST’s requests, I helped them edited the book PST’s heritage and artefacts, provided docent training, conducted many seminars, academic exchanges and guided tours. Our relationship was stable. As time goes by, there were a few persons felt eyesore about those achievements credited to their predecessors who had worked with me. They tried to take advantage on me by thinking that I was just a freelancer and did not have strong backing. They only learnt that I am a streetfighter after they lost the court case miserably.
The ultimate purpose for me to post this article is to inform freelancers in Singapore that you do not always have to be at the losing end. At its minimum, the Singapore legal system provides a safety net and will help you to restore justice.
I am at peace with the outcome from the tribunals
I am at peace with clear conscience from the court’s ruling. Having said that, I also feel sad that PST is moving into dark ages.
Generally speaking, the management system of PST is extremely backward. The 16 clan associations which formed PST assume the respective constitutional roles once every two years on rotation basis and not based on merit. It was unfortunate that the rotation landed on someone who were short-sighted and narrow minded two years ago.
The management committee as a whole is dominated by old folks in their 70s of whom many of them are absentminded, illogical and non-professional. Although there is a youth group formed by constitution, it is inactive because the youths can not accept the ways PST management behaved.
The management committee does not have any accountability. A person with thick skin will get away easily from all the wrong saying and wrong doing. Although there are some righteous people in PST, their voices are too soft and overwhelmed by the opposition. Eventually a handful of cockroaches spoiled the whole pot of porridge.
Background of the lawsuit
Due to the coronavirus pandemic which crashed with the two peak worshipping seasons during Lunar New Year and Qing Ming Festival, PST asked me to provide online booking software and services to control the crowds. PST agreed to the terms and conditions of the contract in black and white.
My temporary technical staff thought that the service fee charging at 6 to 8 times less than the market rate was far too low. It is as if doing charity for a profit-making body. I had to ask them to treat it as a service for my father. My father, who is 91 years old, had served PST more than 60 years ago when many of its current committee members were still running around naked. He has deep sentiment for the local community. Please sacrifice a little of yourselves for the sake of the old man.
And the outcome? My staff handled over 90% of the crowds for PST during this period. According to PST, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and Ministry of Law (MINLAW) praised PST as the best organisation of its kind during the Qing Ming season. Instead of being grateful to my team, PST turned the bowl upside down and did not pay my staff. I tried to contact PST several times but they just beating around the bush and eventually simply ignored.
To respond to such arrogant and rogue behaviour, I had no choice but to let the court deal with it. I am faithful that the Singapore’s court system will uphold those essential values such as justice and righteousness, among others.
Going to court
The Court Registrar of the Tribunals was particularly kind to PST and held three pre-trial conferences in June and July 2021 at the request of Mr Cheang, the PST representative. However, from the first pre-trial conference, the Registrar had already clearly told Cheang that the contract was a valid one and PST should settle it out of court in order not to waste everyone’s time. For those happenings within PST as cited by Cheang, they were irrelevant to the case. PST maintained its position at all the three conferences.
The case was officially trial on 5 August 2021. Only during that two-hour trial, Cheang began to realise that the situation was unfavourable to him. He kept putting forward "new evidences" that were not presented as court documents beforehand. The judge refuted one by one and only sought my clarification in one or two occasions. Before conclusion, Cheang attacked me with strong but baseless words as a last resort to salvage his pride. The judge warned him sternly that such groundless behaviour was not tolerable in court. Cheang requested to reschedule the trial so that he could gather fresh evidence but the judge decided otherwise.
PST listed Mr Loo, the just rotated-out chairman of the management committee, as a witness. As Loo’s written statement was only stating his executive power but not presenting any actual testimony relevant to the case, Loo was not call in but only sat outside the courtroom throughout.
It is also “interesting” to note that the day before the trial, PST violated another court procedures by hastily uploaded an Irish case to “strengthen” its argument. As a person with sensible mind, you could imagine the outcome of such unrelated submission.
Highlights of the judgment
The key points of the oral judgment are as follows:
1. The contract between PST and I is valid and there is no doubt that PST was using the software and services provided by me. Moreover, Cheang who was responsible for publishing the Qing Ming Festival notices in the local Chinese and English newspapers on 24 March, had been asking the public to make reservations online right at the beginning of the notices.
2. It is reasonable for the General Secretary, a member of PST management committee of whom Cheang also targeted with, to make the decision to provide online reservation. It is deemed in line with the government's pandemic control policy to manage the worshipping crowd during peak periods.
3. The so-called "evidences" presented by Cheang have nothing to do with the contract.
The court ruled that PST had to pay 100% of all the outstanding amount within the specific deadline. I can apply for court enforcement equivalent to an order of a District Court if PST failed to pay up.
Eventually, PST made the payment by courier on the last day’s evening.
Small Claims Tribunals provide decent protection for freelancers
Freelance workers are on a growing trend in recent years especially during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the current Singapore statutory policies are not adequate enough to provide effective protection for freelancers. Some unprincipled "employers" would take advantage of the legal loopholes to bully freelancers and default payments.
I believe that even if the pandemic turns into epidemic, the number of freelancers will likely increase. They may not know who to turn to when face with irrational opponents.
After going through the PST case personally, I have speedily mastered the small claim tribunals proceedings and I can testify that the tribunals are objective, reasonable and impartial. The tribunals are here to provide a quick and inexpensive platform for the resolution of small claims and are of great help to freelancers.
If you are bullied and do not get pay for your services, you can deal with them quickly through the Small Claims Tribunals without spending too much on legal fee. You will self-learn how to provide objective evidence within legal framework.
If you need further help, I will be happy to provide you with free consultancy, and to share with you the processes and key considerations based on my recent experience.