Recruitment agency suing organiser of Hello Kitty exhibition

The Robot K figurine for sale at the Robot Kitty Singapore exhibition at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre.
The Robot K figurine for sale at the Robot Kitty Singapore exhibition at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre. PHOTO: MIGHTY EIGHT PTE LTD

SINGAPORE - A recruitment agency that coordinated manpower services for a Hello Kitty exhibition last month is suing the event organiser for more than $10,000 for not honouring a "service fee".

HR Ecology claims that the organiser, toy and events company Mighty Eight, owes it money for the services it provided in hiring about 70 employees who worked during the June 11 to 21 Robot Kitty exhibition at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Mighty Eight also allegedly owes exhibition staff wages amounting to $50,000, said HR Ecology.

HR Ecology manager Jacqueline Neo said her company felt something was amiss when Mighty Eight became uncontactable around their payment deadline in mid-July.

"They were supposed to pay us but they weren't answering calls. They were also supposed to pay the contracted workers on July 22."

Ms Neo, other HR Ecology staff, and more than 20 unpaid exhibition workers went down to a warehouse sale organised by Mighty Eight over the weekend (July 23 and 24) at Tannery Road.

There, its owner Mr Jacky Tan, was selling off Hello Kitty and Sanrio merchandise from the Robot Kitty exhibition and his previous carnival last year - the Hello Kitty Go Around Singapore event held at Resort World Sentosa's Coliseum.

Ms Neo said they confronted him. She said: "He wasn't picking up all our calls. So we headed down to the event to speak with him. He claimed that he is unable to pay us as he owes other creditors money."

Of the 70 unpaid contract staff members, about 20 have lodged police reports while at least one has filed a claim at the Small Claims Tribunals.

The contract signed by staff was a "contract for service" instead of "contract of service". Their contract provided fixed rates for working at the exhibition.

According to the Ministry of Manpower's website, those under a contract for service are not covered by the Employment Act and statutory benefits do not apply as it is a client-contractor type of relationship.

One of the unpaid staff, undergraduate Ms Emily Chong, 21, said she went in with the right work ethic and was disappointed by the company's lack of integrity.

She said: "I definitely didn't expect this to happen. I'm quite disappointed as I held on to my word and completed the entire period I'd committed to but the company didn't honour its word."

Another unpaid staff, an undergraduate who gave her name as W. See, 20, said she was saddened by the turn of events. She plans to go to the Small Claims Tribunals, while others also plan to write to their MPs.

Ms See said: "Who knew that a major Hello Kitty event would end up like this?"

Mr Teo did not respond to queries from The Straits Times.

HR Ecology said that it conducted a background check on Mighty Eight before working with the company. This included checking its business profile on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) database and verifying that it had a license from Japan company Sanrio to conduct the Hello Kitty event.

Mighty Eight's business profile on Acra shows that it was incorporated in 2014 and registered to a Singaporean named Teo Choon Leng. His paid-up capital was $500,000.

The company's 2015 Hello Kitty event got flak from fans after a limited-edition paper figurine of the Sanrio icon was missing from an SG50 exclusive pack. Some had demanded full refunds.