Suicide prompts investigation of Singapore eye care firm’s working conditions

Catrene Khoo was 21 at the time of her death in December 2019. Photo: Catrene Khoo/Facebook
Catrene Khoo was 21 at the time of her death in December 2019. Photo: Catrene Khoo/Facebook

A formal investigation is being conducted into an eye care services chain after a former employee’s suicide was blamed on workplace mistreatment. 

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower told Coconuts last night it was looking into alternative treatment firm SLM Visioncare after a woman filed a complaint about the suicide last year of her daughter, who had worked there four months. 

The ministry said that while the deceased, 21-year-old Malaysian Catrene Khoo, did not file a workplace complaint prior to her December 2019 death, her mother Anny Chew did so last month, nearly a year later. 

“The deceased did not lodge a report with MOM prior to her death on 19 Dec 2019. The deceased’s mother contacted MOM on 29 Oct 2020. We have reached out to her, and are looking into the allegations raised about the workplace,” the ministry said in a statement. 

Allegations about the role workplace conditions played in Khoo’s death surfaced online earlier this month through a Facebook page created by people who said they used to work at SLM Visioncare. The post, which included what appeared to be Khoo’s handwritten suicide note, accused the firm’s boss Darren Yaw of insulting and bullying Khoo, who joined the firm in August 2019 before she was fired. After her work permit was returned, she moved back to Muar, Johor, where she took her life.

Company representatives including Yaw could not immediately be reached for comment. But the firm’s director has denied the allegations, saying Khoo was let go due to poor performance. He also had demanded Khoo to pay a S$1,000 tax penalty for breach of contract as it was the company’s “responsibility to collect the tax amount from the employee.”

The Nov. 15 post calling out the company was written in Mandarin and published to a page filled with complaints purportedly posted by former employees.

“During her employment, she was often bullied, scolded, insulted and harassed by her boss Darren Yaw,” it said. “Every day, she was forced to hit sales targets and asked herself why she was stupid after failing to meet the company’s requirements. She was always under severe pressure and frustration because she could not achieve the company’s unrealistic sales goals.”

It said the suicide note, also in Mandarin, was provided by Khoo’s mother.

“I really can’t bear the stress any longer, as I don’t know what to channel it towards. I’ve worked hard to earn a keep, but I didn’t expect it would be this hard,” read the note, which included an apology to her parents. 

According to her mother, it was Khoo’s first job in Singapore and an attempt to support her family financially.

“My daughter was a very filial, bubbly and compassionate child who, after the job, lost joy in her life. I only want to seek justice… as there is nothing that can bring back my daughter now,” she told reporters recently.

SLM Visioncare has four locations in the city offering alternatives to medical optometry. Its medical claims are also reportedly under investigation

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