ST Scroll Back: Interns hit back with lawsuits, and viral video of boss’ assault

A screengrab of IT company manager Lee Yew Nam hitting his intern in a 2013 case. The abuse was recorded by another intern, who uploaded the clip on the YouTube website, triggering a public uproar.
A screengrab of IT company manager Lee Yew Nam hitting his intern in a 2013 case. The abuse was recorded by another intern, who uploaded the clip on the YouTube website, triggering a public uproar.PHOTO: STOMP

Some interns make bosses pay dearly, whether it’s in the form of their $11,000 monthly pay, or in the punishment for abuse.

Some companies paid interns as highly as $11,000 a month.

Some companies paid interns nothing.

Some interns are “paid” for their company.

We like to think we’ve come a long way from the time of ancient societies, like in Rome, where some apprentice craftsmen were actual slaves. However, a number of interns today might say sadly: “Did you yell ‘slave’? Yes? Would you like me to do something?”

They should be getting the work experience they need and, hopefully, get the permanent jobs they aspire to have.

But sometimes, things go very wrong.

Like when an intern got beatings in a campaign of abuse.

Like in March 2018, when a director of a tech firm here offered a student twice the usual internship allowance - provided she accompany him on a trip without telling the school. When she told staff from her school, National University of Singapore (NUS), about her self-secured internship interview, they immediately flagged the company before making a police report in April 2018.

Other schools, such as Nanyang Technological University, and Lasalle College of the Arts, have joined NUS in removing the firm from their internship portals.

Read on to find out how other interns made bosses pay dearly.

PAY FOR YEARS BEFORE YOU EARN

In the trade guilds of 11th century England, an apprentice would actually pay to learn alongside a “master”, who would teach him a skill like printmaking, said Time.

Apprenticeships could last years, and start as early as age 16. In many cases, the apprentice was dependent upon the master for food, clothing, and a place to live. 

The word “intern” actually originated in the medical community. Before World War I, the term described a doctor who had a medical degree but lacked a license. After the war, doctors-in-training became known as interns.

Later on, companies appropriated the term. Business Insider said that internships as we know them began to grow in popularity in the late 1960s, as students enrolled in co-op programmes to try out different careers.

A good internship should be a win-win situation for interns and companies alike, HR managers say. 

ManpowerGroup Singapore’s country manager Linda Teo told The Straits Times: “Internships are a time for students to observe, have hands-on experience, ask questions during appropriate times, and learn from their seniors.”

For one intern in Singapore, though, he didn’t know just how literally hands-on and painful the experience would turn out to be.

BOSS PAID DEARLY FOR PHYSICAL ABUSE OF INTERN

Mr Calvin Chan Meng Hock, 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 that Mr Lee Yew Nam’s IT company was offering internships.

He became an intern in May that year, earning $500 a month. 

It lasted three years, with Mr Lee, the company manager, carrying out a campaign of abuse against Mr Chan. He used the intern like "punching bag" - slapping and hitting him during a string of violent outbursts when he felt his work was not up to standard.

Another intern, Mr Amos Yeo, recorded some of the abuse in 2013 on his mobile phone. It was uploaded on YouTube, triggering a public uproar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=16&v=JTZ13fl9PH4

Mr Lee eventually paid for his abuse, and was sentenced in 2016 to a 10-day short detention order.

“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… I now realise he was just a bully. I should have just packed up my bags and left.” - Mr Calvin Chan Meng Hock, who earned $500 a month. He told The New Paper that his mild nature could have led Mr Lee to take advantage of him. He said he did not resign as he thought he could still learn a lot more about IT from Mr Lee. 

COMPANIES THAT PAID NOTHING TO INTERNS


Movie stars-turned-fashion designer twins Ashley (left) and Mary-Kate Olsen arriving at the Met Gala in Manhattan, United States, in 2018. They founded high-end fashion label The Row, and have a combined fortune of US$400 million (S$544 million). PHOTO: REUTERS

In 2015, a group of disgruntled former interns filed a class-action lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court that accused fashion designer twins Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen of failing to pay past and present interns.

They worked at their posh New York fashion brand, The Row, under the umbrella of their Dualstar Entertainment company, spending hours on tedious tasks.

“You’re like an employee, except you’re not getting paid... Other interns have cried. I’d see a lot of kids crying doing coffee runs, photocopying stuff,” said lead plaintiff Shahista Lalani, who was a former design intern, who answered to the head technical designer of the Row, for nearly half a year in 2012. She typically worked 50-hour weeks.

US$500 (S$680)
Amount each intern might have got after the Olsen twins settled the lawsuit, and reportedly paid US$140,000 to a group of 185 interns, and after lawyers fees were accounted for. This is according to a Vogue UK 2017 report. The settlement did not require the company to concede wrongdoing.  Dualstar vehemently denied any claims of mistreatment. 

US$400 million
The combined fortune of the Olsen twins, according to a 2018 AOL report. In 2007, it was already worth over US$100 million.

1.5 million
Number of internships available in the US each year. According to The Guardian, about half of them were unpaid as of 2016. Unpaid internships are also fairly common internationally

Fortune said that even if an unpaid internship is useful for an individual, many see the system as a whole as putting up barriers to the underprivileged: They have less family wealth to draw on in order to work for free.

COMPANIES THAT PAID TOP DOLLAR FOR TOP INTERNS


At social media giant Facebook, the median pay for interns was reported in 2017 to be US$8,000 a month. PHOTO: REUTERS

The family (and “friends” coming out of the woodwork) can draw on your wealth instead if you snag an internship at one of these companies.

In Singapore, interns in investment banking or sales and trading at foreign banks such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citi, and Deutsche Bank get paid between $8,000 and $10,000 a month, The Business Times understands, in a 2017 report.

Between $600 and $1,000
Monthly stipend of most interns in Singapore doing vacation work stints, according to human resource consulting firm Adecco in a 2017 Straits Times report.

 

The 25 best-paying US companies for internships each pay their median summer worker more than US$4,500 a month, according to a 2017 report by jobs site Glassdoor.

That amount, if it was paid over the course of a full year, would be north of US$54,000, exceeding the median annual pay for a US worker (US$51,350), according to Glassdoor’s own local pay reports.

Topping the list then was social media giant Facebook, where the median pay for interns is US$8,000 a month, according to reports.

SUCCESSFUL CELEBS WHO PAID THEIR DUES AS INTERNS


Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi was born in India, and educated at Yale University in the United States. PHOTO: AFP

When Mrs Indra Nooyi went for an interview at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which hired her as a summer intern, she was unable to afford a business suit, so she wore a traditional Indian sari there. She eventually went on to become the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo.


Executive producer Steven Spielberg at the 2018 premiere of movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in Los Angeles. PHOTO: AFP

Top film-maker Steven Spielberg started his career as an unpaid intern for the editing department at Universal Studios, according to Forbes. He eventually went to become one of the most popular directors and producers in film history.


Media boss Oprah Winfrey, seen in a file photo, is famous for being a very successful talk show host. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey was offered an internship at CBS affiliate WLAC-TV in Nashville, Tennessee. After her internship, she was hired full-time. She eventually went on to be a successful talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist.