Paid company more than she was getting paid: Masseuse at Tampines massage parlour pays $50k to 'buy extra vacation days'

When it comes to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we all crave a little bit of time off to relax and recharge. 

But for one masseuse at a Tampines massage parlour, the cost of a few extra holidays came at a steep price – a whopping $52,000 to be precise.

The 26-year-old woman surnamed Li first joined the massage parlour located on the ground floor of Block 822, Tampines Street 81, as a masseuse in July 2021. 

According to Shin Min Daily News on Monday (Jan 23), she told the publication that although her contract stated her monthly basic salary would be $800, she later found out that her income was actually calculated as $13 per hour of massage instead.

Li said: “I spend about five or six hours a day massaging clients, and up to nine hours if more. If the work is not up to standard, the company will deduct $800 a month, so my monthly income is about $2,200.”

She added that except for the two days given per month for one to rest, should one take leave for any reason, the employee would have to pay the company. 

She claims it is commonly known in the industry as “buying back time” however, Shin Min contacted some massage industry operators and found that this is false and dependent on the parlour.

She further elaborated that because the parlour charges customers around $105 per two hours, which was later increased to $108, if she wanted to be absent from work for one day, she would have to pay the company a 12-hour service fee, which was $648.

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She faced the brunt of the vacation system when she told the publication that in order for her to see a doctor, recuperate at home, and not go to work for a period of time due to a breakup, she asked the company for about 80 days of leave. 

That meant she paid more than $50,000 just to take extra vacation days. Not being able to bear the system any longer, she revealed that she resigned earlier this year. 

Li said: “I resigned on Jan 17 this year. During my tenure, ‘buying back time’ cost more than the money I earned.”

Might not get the money back

Li revealed that at the time when she signed the contract, she was not made aware of how much she had to pay for extra vacations until she started working at the parlour.

She believes that the company should have fired her instead of using the vacation system to deal with employees who have to take breaks if work is affected.


After resigning, she requested for the $52,000 to be returned to her, but to no avail.

Shin Min contacted the owner of the massage parlour, Ping Cai, and the 70-year-old told the publication that it was actually Li who had offered to “buy extra vacation days”, but pointed out that the party took too many days off.

“She wanted to rest after taking two days off each month and taking sick leave, so she offered to transfer money to the counter staff, even though no one asked her to do so,” said Ping.

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Ping said that Li had sometimes exchanged cash with the counter staff, and not all $52,000 went towards ‘buying time back’.

Ping added that if employees needed to go on leave urgently, even if they had no more days off, the parlour would sometimes accommodate them. “Except for her, no one in the store has been taking (extra) leave.”

If the parlour had not been compensated, Ping revealed he would have fired Li a long time ago.

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