Twelve Cupcakes wages case: Jaime Teo to be sentenced in March for role in underpaying staff

Jaime Teo had pleaded guilty to 10 counts of the offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act on Feb 4, 2021. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Entertainment artiste Jaime Teo Chai-lin will be sentenced next month for failing to prevent Twelve Cupcakes, a home-grown confectionery chain she co-founded, from underpaying its foreign staff.

District Judge Adam Nakhoda on Thursday (Feb 25) adjourned the case to March 9 after hearing arguments from both the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) prosecutor and Teo's legal team.

The former model had pleaded guilty on Feb 4 to 10 counts of the offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Another 14 charges will be considered during sentencing.

On Thursday, MOM prosecutor Maximilian Chew urged the court to sentence Teo to a fine of $80,000, stressing that such offences were difficult to detect and that she had made no restitution.

Teo, 43, had founded the firm in 2011 with her then husband - former radio DJ Daniel Ong Ming Yu, 45. The pair jointly decided to employ foreign workers in 2012.

Between 2013 and 2016, the company underpaid the wages of seven staffers - four customer service executives, two sales executives and a pastry chef.

For instance, the pastry chef, who was supposed to receive a monthly salary of $2,300 in mid-2014, received $1,600 instead.

The chef continued collecting lower monthly salaries from then to mid-2016.

The other six foreigners also received less money than they were supposed to during the time the pair owned the company.

Arrears in salary totalling $98,900, from the years that the company was under their ownership, remain outstanding to date.

Teo and Ong later sold the firm to Kolkata-based company Dhunseri Group for $2.5 million in 2016.

Teo's lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam on Thursday pleaded for Teo to be fined $20,000.

They said that their client never played a decision-making role in the human resource (HR) aspect of the business when she was a director of Twelve Cupcakes.

"As one of the two co-signatories of the company, our client would be given a folder of documents from the different departments with tabs at which she had to affix her signature... our client was told that the documents were for administrative purposes," they added.

According to the lawyers, Teo did not know at the time that there were differences between the declared salary amounts in the employment contracts and the actual sums the workers received.

"Hence, our client affixed her signature on these documents without perusing the same. Our client accepts that she should have been more fastidious in this regard.

"Our client's lack of knowledge in the HR aspects of the company meant that (she) regrettably did not detect and intervene to correct the improprieties," said the lawyers.

Ong, who is facing 24 charges under the Act, had his case adjourned to March 2.

Twelve Cupcakes, under its current owner Dhunseri Group, was convicted on Dec 10 last year of 15 counts of underpaying seven foreign employees in 2017 and 2018.

The confectionery was fined $119,500 on Jan 12.

For each charge under the Act, an offender can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $10,000.

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