Monday, 5 October 2015

Company Warning: Worldwide Media (Singapore)

I hate that I have to write this post, but I have to. It's the same thing as that post about my brother's bullying - I'm not here to write a vendetta post, but this is something that I need to share. I'm writing this because I want to make sure that my kouhai's (especially those in Singapore) know about this company, so they can make informed choices.

I'm going to go into a lot of detail here, so if you want a summary, just read the parts in bold.

The summary: My cousin introduced me to a translation job from Worldwide Media (in Singapore), and it was the worst experience of my life. It was about three months of stress that I did not need at a really bad time. There were also problems getting my pay, although I did get it in the end. 

Now, I imagine some of you might have a few questions even before I start. Like:

Why are you writing about this if you got your money? Why are you complaining?

Because I do not want anyone to have to go through what I did. Or at least, if you choose to take this, you go in with your eyes wide open.

Why did you write it only after the whole thing was finished? 

Because if I wrote it while the entire thing was happening, I would have been too emotional and couldn't be fair to the company. I'm here to tell the truth, not to slander anyone. So I waited until the whole matter was concluded and I managed to get some distance from it.

Ok, so let me go into the details

The Job
The job basically consists of a team of translators and designers turning a Japanese travel guidebook into an English guidebook. My cousin's cousin and I were in charge of the Tokyo guidebook. The job was supposed to be from April to July (4 months), and I figured with Golden Week and the start of school not being so rushed, it would be reasonable.

But April came and went. And then May too. Each time my cousin asked, she was told a few more days, until eventually, the books came.

In June. Oh, and there were 40 more pages than what we were originally told (from 178 to 218 pages). And they didn't even tell us if this meant our pay would be increased (we were supposed to be paid by the book, not by the page), so my cousin had to renegotiate everything. It's partially my fault for my section, but I was so scared of doing work I wouldn't be paid for that I refused to do more than a few pages (and I refused to submit anything to them) until the payment terms were confirmed.

That meant we had a month till the original deadline (assuming I worked without confirmation of payment - which I didn't. I accept full responsibility for that). So my cousin negotiated for us to have till the end of August (giving us 3 months), which was about 1 month less than originally. To make things worse, this shifted our translation season from the relatively slow-paced beginning of the school year to the end of semester, which you may recognise means "exams". Along with a class trip just before the exam season.

And then due to some problems, the deadline was moved up, I think about 5 days? What I remember is that my plans for translation (which were done to minimise interference with things like my internship and Church camp) were totally undone when the company moved up the deadline with no prior notice. I spent all free time at the Church camp doing translation work, which was greatly annoying because I hadn't seen most of these people in two years.

The Summary: Through late delivery of the original books and arbitrarily moving up the deadline, the company cut our translation time by a month and moved it to possibly the worst time for students. To put things in concrete numbers we went from 178 pages in 4 months to 218 pages in 3 months. 

Payment Problems

You'd think that even though the work was stressful and rushed, we'd get paid on time, right? I mean, the payment deadline was set by the company after all.

Nope.

This is actually the part I could start ranting about, with screenshots and videos and all that. But I'm not going to, because this post is not me trying to take revenge, it's me giving all of you (translators, and designers, if you're here), a warning. So here's the summary of what my cousin (and a few of her translators) had to go through:

- Working without a deposit or a contract (I disapproved of that from the start, but my cousin was persuaded by Cecelia, the ladyboss - who also insisted that most communication be done through phone calls, that she could be trusted.)
- The company did not pay us by the deadline they promised, and blamed their client. It's something that mystifies me, because we're working with the company, not their client. They are responsible for paying us, not the client. Our pay should not be dependent on their client. Our pay is dependent on us finishing our jobs (which we did).
- When my cousin called to politely ask to talk to Cecelia, she was scolded by one of Cecelia's subordinates. I've heard the call, and I can vouch that my cousin was perfectly polite the whole time. She just kept asking when she should call back. If you want more details, email me or check my cousin's post (which I will link to when it's up).
- One of the other translators was scolded by the head designer (who apparently helped Cecelia set up the company) for being "selfish". Reason: Instructions were not sufficiently clear, and a few pages of translations and labelling were handed in in jpeg. The designers apparently did not want to do anything but copy+paste (I have a lot of respect for designers, since my cousin and bestie are ones, but face it - they're not designing the page from scratch here. They're substituting Japanese for English words, and possibly changing the font size). So the translators had to redo the thing (I'm not sure why there weren't original word documents, but things happen), and then get scolded for not handing it in during the weekend.

The summary: Yes, we were eventually paid, but only after a lot of stress. 

The part where I talk about our faults

I'm trying to be fair to the company, so I also thought about things we might have done wrong. So far, what I can think of is:

- Incorrect labelling for the first few pages, that were fixed ASAP when brought to our attention.
- A few of the new translators did not translate the background - for pattern sort of words because we didn't know that they were included.
- My cousin is a very empathetic person, so she always tries to understand how the other party is feeling, and wants them to understand hers. Explaining her emotions is not the most business-like of things to do, but I still don't see how it warrants her getting scolded.
- The company threw a party to apologise (which was weird, since I think most of the translators are not based in Singapore) and very few people showed up or something like that. I know I couldn't make it, because I was't in the country. That might have offended them or something like that.

That's all I can think of, actually.

Who to avoid
Ok, this is the part I struggle with the most, actually, because I want to give you guys sufficient information, but I don't want to dox anyone (Although to be honest, everything was only a google search away). So this is what I decided to do. I'm going to give you the link to the company site, which should have all the relevant information. If you're approached through LinkedIn and you're not too sure if that person is from this company or not (I think the chief designer, who would be recruiting the other designers, isn't on the site), email me and I'll try to help (I only know who the designer and the boss though).

Worldwide Media Website. The projects we worked on are the Rurubu Travel Guides



Conclusion
If you're the sort that has a lot of free time, can handle stress and don't mind bending to the company's whims, you could consider taking the job. We did get paid, and if you ignore all the stress-related stuff, the pay wasn't bad.

Personally, I'd never work with Wordwide Media (or any company) again without:
1. Upfront deposit
2. Contract stating payment (trust me, that was an issue for a while) and payment deadlines, which should really be "on completion" not "when the client pays us".  Oh, and a clear and non-negotiable deadline for the delivery of the original books.

Summary: Stay away from this company unless they drastically improve the way they treat their freelancers. Or, if you don't mind working with the stress and possibility of delayed payment. 

Short, slightly impassioned rant time: I was told by a few people that having freelancers treated poorly is the norm in Singapore. I was also told that complaining is going to make me seem unprofessional, and quite possibly hurt my chances of getting employed. Too bad, I don't care if it's the norm. This is wrong, and it needs to be called out. It's not just the delayed payment, it's the way we were treated, as though we didn't have any worth just because we were freelancers. I don't believe that keeping quiet will magically change things. I do, however, believe in people deserving information about their future employers, so they can make rational decisions (hello, economist in me). I might be the only one making noise with no effect, or I might help a few people say no to terrible jobs.

What do you think will happen if one day, enough people say "no" and a company that treats its freelances badly no longer has any freelancers? They will either have to pay the us (general 'us' here) well enough to make the stress worth it, or treat us right. Delayed payment, stress over whether you're going to get paid the promised amount, being blamed for things that aren't your fault - these are things we should not have to put up with.

Let's change things for the better.

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