Monday, April 15, 2013

The Art of Bond Breaking

Earlier today, an anonymous person wrote a comment asking the following in my other blog post "Equal pay for equal work in Singapore?" Let's call Anonymous "CBF" (short for "concerned boyfriend").
Comment from CBF on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 8:50:00 AM:
I have a girlfriend whos also bonded to one of these sponsorships at ngee ann polytechnic. As a malaysian, she is bonded for 6 years instead of the standard singaporean 3 years which is kinda unfair. Do u have any idea what should be covered or paid altogether to break the bond after she graduates? Does the bond breaking cost lessens if she works longer in the bond ? I just want to get her out of that hellhole asap.

My reply to CBF is below:
Reply from Winking Doll on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 3:49:00 PM:
Hi Anonymous at Monday, April 15, 2013 8:50:00 AM, 
> Do u have any idea what should be covered or paid altogether to break the bond after she graduates? Does the bond breaking cost lessens if she works longer in the bond ? 
You have to read your girlfriend's specific contract very carefully to determine the answer to your questions. I honestly cannot know because even amongst my classmates, each of us had different bond contracts with different terms-and-conditions. Be very careful of the difference between the "norms" and the "actual signed-contract". 
That said, whatever the contract says, IMHO, chances are that the paper-pushers will try to make things difficult for your girlfriend to leave. Your girlfriend has to be cunning and emotionally strong to withstand the pressure given. 
Just to share with you my experience. My HR manager informed me that a WDA staff told my HR manager (an out-right lie) that I had signed a contract with WDA which stated that I have to repay the full 100% regardless of the time-served (which also contradicted what they "advertised" during their recruitment talks and my HR's understanding based on past practice). I pointed out to my HR manager that I never signed any contract with WDA, the only contract that I signed was with my hospital which clearly stated that the amount was to be pro-rated based on the time-served per the schedule of bond depreciation given to me earlier by my HR. Thereafter, my HR manager alleged that the WDA staff "blackmailed" my HR to "persuade/pressurize" me to write-and-sign a letter "asking for understanding for my special case" (i.e. covering their ass by implying that they WDA had the right to determine the T&C's of my bond termination) and also demanding a slightly higher repayment than what my hospital's schedule of bond-depreciation indicated contractually. After discussing with my HR manager, I wrote and signed such a letter as I just wanted to tie-up the loose-ends as soon as possible. According to my HR manager, instead of following through with the agreement, the WDA staff refused to reply to confirm or refuse acceptance of my resignation. Long story short, from what I understand, in the end my *HR manager* pressurized WDA to accept the slightly higher payment because I threatened to abscond. Note: I already had Confirmation Of Canadian PR and was preparing to leave Singapore. 
[Extract of the original COPR sticker on my passport]
That was how bad things were for me. So in your case, please tell your girlfriend to tread carefully and be strong mentally. You don't want her to end-it-all in an unfortunate manner. 
> As a malaysian, she is bonded for 6 years instead of the standard singaporean 3 years which is kinda unfair. 
I disagree with you on that. If you want to argue, we the *CITIZENS* of Singapore can even say that the government of Singapore should not even offer to sponsor non-citizens, such as your girlfriend, for the nursing course. Instead the sponsorship/academic-opportunity should only be given to Singapore-citizens interested in pursuing nursing. Fair? If you're not a citizen, you have *no right* to any *entitlement mentality*.
That said, I think it is unfair if your girlfriend was paid more/less than her colleagues with the same education, training, skills, experience and job performance on the basis of her Malaysian passport alone. Meritocracy requires that workers be paid equitably, something which Singapore claims to be but really isn't
> I just want to get her out of that hellhole asap. 
I agree with you that it can be a hellhole. I suggest the following so that your girlfriend will retain her licence to pursue nursing overseas if she is interested. Go apply overseas for nursing licence first before quitting Singapore nursing. E.g. Australia recognizes Singapore-educated/trained nurses. Please google the internet for details, since I did not take the Australian route. 
Cheers, WD.

Just some additional notes:

[Extract from the Official Receipt for my bond re-payment]

Firstly, I doubt that CBF's girlfriend is on the same scholarship/bond scheme as me.
  • I was from the WDA Professional Conversion Programme for Registered Nurses (PCP-RN) Programme. [Albeit it was known as the Strategic Manpower Conversion Programme (SMCP) during my time.] For that WDA sponsorship, the bond period is 3 years regardless whether the applicant is a Singapore Citizen or a Singapore Permanent Resident. [Those who are neither citizens nor PRs are not eligible for the scheme.] In my case, WDA mis-represented their bond depreciation scheme in the recruitment talk (i.e. their staff said that it would be depreciated for each full-month of employment completed) and thereafter (according to my HR manager) outright lied to my HR manager about my bond "contract agreement" with them. In other words, WDA had no legal case against me (personally) for pro-rating the bond instead of paying up 100% of the (full, un-depreciated) bond amount. To quote my HR manager, "They (the WDA staff) are giving us shit, let's give them shit back!"
  • I believe CBF's girlfriend's scholarship was for nursing as her first tertiary education, e.g. Nursing Sponsorship for Diploma in Nursing for which the bond is 3 years for Singapore Citizens and up to 6 years for non-citizens. This discrepancy in bond period between Singapore citizens and non-citizens under that scheme is an open and well-known fact -- something that CBF's girlfriend would probably have known before she signed on the dotted lines of her contractual bond. Please don't turn around and say "unfair" if one willingly signed up and took advantage of a scholarship which may otherwise have gone to someone else.
Secondly, don't believe that all Singapore civil servants are "just follow law" type (see movie trailer below). IMHO, my experience (as above) clearly shows that some civil servants would play dirty to pressurize (those whom they consider) "minions" to toe-the-lie. Thus, please be careful if one is planning something that may upset these paper-pushers, e.g. by breaking one's bond. IMHO, you can afford to retaliate with equally dirty-play only if you have your escape hatch planned out. [E.g. my Canadian PR status.]

"Just Follow Law" Movie Trailer

Thirdly, CBF, I am sorry for your girlfriend's situation. As you've stated, you feel that your girlfriend is in a "hellhole" because of her Singapore nursing job. 
  • That said, unless you (CBF) are willing and able to support your girlfriend for the rest of her life, I believe that she has to plan strategically and not act on impulse. Lay out one's long-term career plan and escape hatch carefully before launching into action. [E.g. I tolerated the Singapore nursing crap for 1+ years before leaving.]
  • When they cannot touch one anymore, be sure to spread the message. [Click hereherehereherehere or here for Singapore nursing news outlets.] Tell others about one's experience of the Singapore nursing culture and/or the potential flip-side of being bonded (i.e. being stuck in an unhealthy workplace). I believe that if everyone does his/her part, the truth about nursing in Singapore will emerge and actions will be taken to improve the situation when they hit recruitment issues and/or widespread public pressure.
[Image source: 04-Apr-2013 Singapore Nurses United Facebook page.
Original online article: 04-Apr-2013 ST Premium - Forum Letters.]

Lastly, a cautionary tale for CBF's girlfriend. Unless she is able to pay up the notice-in-lieu and quit on-the-spot, she has to be careful of bitchy attacks/bullying from some colleagues upon making known her intent to resign. My Singapore nursing lecturer warned me about some people who will "react strangely" (perhaps out of jealousy) when one has an opportunity for brighter career prospects (and leaving the crap behind, whereas they remain stuck in it). And indeed, it happened to me.


[Addendum on 19-Apr-2013, extracted from the comments section of my previous blog post.]

Reply from Winking Doll on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 3:38:00 PM:
Hi Concerned Boyfriend,

Below is a comment from someone who completed a similar bond (as the one your girlfriend has) with "the aforesaid hospital". Do excuse her language as she did not have a pleasant work experience there either. [Note: I have edited her message slightly for clarity only.]

Firstly, a DECLARATION AND DISCLAIMER: The following are personal opinions from me and the aforementioned person. Neither of us is a Human Resource personnel, nor are we in any way trained in the matters of handling termination of scholarship bonds. Thus any content from us shall be construed as a sharing of personal opinions, not career nor legal advice. We do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided by us. Under no circumstances will we or anyone related to this content be responsible for any loss or damage resulting from any reliance on the information or other content posted or linked herewith.

Ex-staff wrote: "Wtf, it's pro rated. It's written in the contract -- which year, u pay how much. If that's the case*, just leave without notifying them. My friend did that as she had depression n just left. It costs too much for moh pursue lawsuit, more than the amt she owes (to them). But I'm so sure the breeching (i.e. bond-breaking) contract fee decreases each year."

*Note: By "if that's the case", she was referring to any threat/suggestion that your girlfriend has to pay up the full bond amount.

Please be aware that the above person left "the aforesaid hospital" years ago, so no one knows for sure if the above will apply to your girlfriend as well. Also be prepared that the paper-pushers may suddenly unveil their iron-fists under their gloves as they did in my case.

Good luck.

Cheers, WD.


Read also "The Suay Kuan" -- a real-life story of his/her Singapore nursing and bond-breaking experience as shared by an anonymous reader of this blog.


  1. Lets just say his gf needs to be street smart. Gossips are powerful tools and can act as both for and against you. Tactfulness and assertiveness are useful skills in getting things and avoiding trouble.

    From what I understand from a normal bond is that, if you serve for like 3 out of 6 years, then you'll only need to pay 50% of the bond fee. Or is the nursing/government bond different from a standard 1?

    I heard of people who abscorded to other countries without finishing and paying their bond. It is not widely advertised, but it does happens. Since the person is a malaysian, she already have a place to run to. She probably will not able use her experience working in the hospital in her CV and have to start from scratch again.

    1. Hi Seraphim,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your words of wisdom. :-)

      > Gossips are powerful tools and can act as both for and against you.

      Bingo! As far as WDA and many of my hospital ex-colleagues "hear from the grapevine", I had resigned from Singapore nursing in order to marry my "ang-moh fiance" in Canada. Hahaha! :-D As far as I am concerned, anyone who wilfully gives me shit, deserves to be served shit in return. E.g. The WDA staff who tried to bluff my HR manager and me about my contractual obligations. Tsk, tsk!

      > from a normal bond... if you serve for like 3 out of 6 years, then you'll only need to pay 50% of the bond fee.

      Yes, that is the way exiting-a-bond in Singapore usually works. Normally breaking a bond is a fuss-free "pay money in-exchange for career freedom" process. E.g. My sister went through that fuss-free process before, albeit on a different scholarship in another industry.

      That said, someone at WDA tried to pull a dirty trick on me -- and it backfired. We countered with the above grapevine gossip, and I threatened to add to the statistics of "people who absconded to other countries".

      As seen from internet news/gossips, my case is not the first time that paper-pushers tried their best to give those they consider minions a tough time. It is as if their vested interest lies above the law -- the actual signed paper contract.

      Let us just say that thanks to the WDA staff's attitude, I developed a F*** WDA counter-attitude. When my SMCP classmate consulted me about breaking her bond, I told her the whole shitty process that I underwent, and gave her my morale support to spin whatever stories she needed to break her bond with minimal fuss/pay-out. Conclusion: Despite her contract (which was different from mine) carrying a clause that allowed for a 100% claw-back of the bond value, she successfully lied her way to a pro-rated bond repayment.

      > Lets just say his gf needs to be street smart.

      Agreed, 100%. Sometimes it is not that we want to be liars, but the circumstances call for lies to be told.

      Cheers, WD.

  2. hello! i am bonded too, but different industry, different ministry. there are no guarantors involved in your WDA/hospital contracts? my family are also on my contract as guarantors so if i abscond/defect, they can be sued for damages. :'(

    1. Hi Anonymous on Monday, May 13, 2013 10:54:00 PM,

      It depends on your specific contract. For some, the guarantors are involved throughout the bond period. [Most likely your case.]

      If I recall correctly (IIRC), in my contract, my guarantors were only responsible for the bond during the period when I was pursuing the qualification. Once I started working with the company, the bond liability was transferred fully to me.

      In any case, whatever one's bond contract, I believe what my friend (i.e. "Ex-staff" above) wrote holds true, "It costs too much for moh pursue lawsuit, more than the amt she owes (to them)."

      I am not recommending that you abscond. But my point is that there are people who abscond when pushed to their limit (like the example that my friend cited in my blog addendum above). And there are also people (notably foreign scholars) who abscond because it was in their plan all along. Don't believe? See the link below. In short, there are people who abscond, whatever their reasons and strategy to wiggle out of the bond repayment.

      I am not aiming to be xenophobic here but I want to highlight the reality of discrimination against Singapore citizens by their very own elected government. E.g. The question is, why are the Singapore government agencies hitting so hard on Singapore-citizens who break their bonds (remember the "name-and-shame" strategy taken by A*STAR) when there are foreigners who happily have their cake at Singapore's invitation, ate it at Singapore's taxpayer's costs, left their shit behind (left without working a single day of the bond duration) and skip town without paying the bond-fee?

      Something to think about regarding the value of Singapore citizenship and the value of your vote.

      Cheers, WD.

    2. Click here to read Anonymous' comment (dated Thursday, November 07, 2013 8:14:00 AM) about his/her harrowing experience and drama behind his/her exit from Singapore nursing.