WHEN even the Queen of Caldecott Hill laments about how getting pregnant has
affected her income, you know that celebrities don't always have it easy.
With baby on the way, they face loss of roles, loss of endorsement deals and
loss of pay.
MediaCorp actress Zoe Tay, 39, found that out the hard way.
Now seven months pregnant with her second child, her last appearance on TV was
way back in May, as a one-time guest host on a variety show called Makeover Pte
Ltd on Channel 8.
It is a cruel reality that other female artistes face.
As Fly Entertainment artiste Wong Li-Lin, 33, puts it: "Who has ever heard of a
Wong, the wife of actor-host Allan Wu, gave birth to their first child in 2004
while still a MediaCorp artiste.
She had to decline projects including dramas which required the character to
date, and charity and variety shows where she had to execute stunts. "No way
was I going to walk the tightrope," she says.
But MediaCorp was then paying her a monthly salary. This meant that she was
paid even if she did not have projects to work on.
By the time Baby No. 2 came along last year, Wong had moved over to Fly
Entertainment. She gets no salary there. Instead, she is paid for assignments
she does and Fly gets a commission.
Even though it means a possible drop in income, she prefers the arrangement
because it gives her more freedom to choose the jobs she wants.
Tay would have preferred a more stable income.
In this month's issue of the Chinese women's magazine Citta Bella, Tay, its
cover girl, was quoted as saying of MediaCorp: "Now we have a new policy, which
is, pregnant artistes will have their contracts suspended temporarily. So,
during this period, I'm not drawing pay."
When the reporter commented that she had nothing to worry about given her
status, she retorted: "Of course, I'm worried. If you want to get pregnant, you
have to stop working, and remain in a no-pay situation."
Her comments caused a brouhaha and online chatrooms were packed with posts on
how the new policies stank of discrimination against pregnant mothers.
Last week, MediaCorp Studios released a statement saying: "There is no
termination or suspension of contracts for artistes who are pregnant.
"The current contract for service provides flexibility to artistes who are
unable to discharge their duties fully and will be paid according to the jobs
they can perform. This also applies to artistes who are pregnant.
"The 12-week full pay (similar to permanent staff on maternity leave) would
usually still be paid to pregnant artistes with no obligation or extra
commitment. MediaCorp Studios has always adopted a pro-family approach."
It declined to comment further as contracts between the broadcaster and its
artistes are confidential.
Ms Ivy Low, assistant vice-president at MediaCorp's artiste management
division, did clarify that she and her colleagues continue to field job offers
However, they had to turn down roles in drama serials which were unsuitable for
pregnant mothers or appearances on variety shows which required physical
Of what Tay said, she said that this could be due to "misinterpretation from
TAY could not be contacted for comment, but industry observers say that it is
likely that she has suffered a huge loss in income, not just because of her
pregnancy per se but also how her contract is structured.
Sources say that many artistes are now being offered contracts for service
instead of full-employment contracts. This was introduced at the height of the
media war between MediaCorp and the now-defunct MediaWorks about six years ago.
In the past, artistes employed by MediaCorp got a monthly salary with bonus and
enjoyed full benefits such as medical welfare and CPF contributions.
Under the new terms, it is understood that they don't get benefits such as
medical welfare and CPF contributions.
Mr Kelvin Tan, a lawyer at law firm Drew & Napier who deals with employment
issues, says that the difference between a contract for service and an
employment contract lies in the degree of control the company has over the
Generally, the greater the power the company has to control how the individual
performs his job, the more likely it is an employer-employee relationship.
If the company exercises little control over how the job is done, and is
interested only in the job being completed, then the individual may be under a
contract for service.
Mr Chia Boon Cher, a senior consultant at HRSingapore, which provides HR
services, adds: "Artistes and singers are commonly engaged under a contract for
service. They are not paid a fixed salary but by other means such as by project
or assignment basis. They generally also do not get maternity benefits."
It is not known if all artistes are now under service contracts as MediaCorp
did not want to comment for this story.
But industry insiders say more contracts for service are being offered now
because the scene is teeming with wannabe-stars from talent searches like
Project SuperStar, all dying to replace artistes from the older generation like
With the popularity of reality TV shows, the demand for actors in drama serials
has also fallen. MediaCorp's overheads would be lower if actors not assigned
any projects do not get a fixed monthly salary.
While contracts for individual artistes differ, the pay package of a MediaCorp
artiste generally consists of three parts:
- A monthly basic pay or retainer fee. This can range from less than $2,000 for
a rookie to an estimated $20,000 for A-listers like Tay;
- Performance-based fees, which form the bulk of most artistes' pay. This is
understood to be paid only if the artiste meets a "show quota", that is, a
pre-determined number of projects;
- Fees from outside engagements, such as endorsement deals or guest appearances.
MediaCorp gets a cut of the fees, which can range from 10 to 50 per cent.
In some cases, artistes would have to fork out part of their outside engagement
fees if they do not meet the "show quota", as compensation to the company.
The benefit of such contract terms for artistes is that they have the freedom
to take on external or personal projects other than MediaCorp ones.
For example, stars such as Ix Shen and Jacelyn Tay have gone on to set up their
own businesses while taking on minimal roles.
But pregnant actresses like Tay may lose out because they cannot fulfil their
"show quota", not by choice but because they are setting up a family.
A female artiste, who declines to be named, says: "Right now, I'm still single,
I don't really care. But it may be a burden when I think about starting a
STILL, the contract for service is an improvement from MediaCorp's employment
policy before there was competition from MediaWorks.
In 2000, it was reported in the Chinese press that MediaCorp removed a clause
in the female artistes' contracts which stipulated that their contracts would
be terminated once they were pregnant.
Actresses such as Xiang Yun and Hong Huifang were among those who had to leave
the broadcaster when they were pregnant, but returned after they delivered.
Then group chief executive officer of MediaCorp Ernest Wong told Shin Min
Daily: "In the past, when a female artiste is pregnant, her contract will be
terminated. The change should be good news for female artistes."
Former MediaCorp artiste Chen Huihui, 40, tells LifeStyle that many of her
former colleagues had to think twice about starting a family then.
However, it was a reality they had to accept. "The showbiz industry is unlike
others - the projects you can take on are largely affected by your looks," she
"When you become an artiste, you know fully well what the rules of the game
are, and you have to accept them."
The mother of a two-year-old son, who left MediaCorp to join the now-defunct
MediaWorks in 2003 now owns a beauty salon chain.
Chen adds that Singapore's situation is better than in other markets such as
Taiwan and Hong Kong where some pop idols are not even allowed to date. "That's
so much worse, isn't it?" she says.
Shin Min Daily's entertainment editor Kwan Seck Mui, 60, says MediaCorp needs
to be more creative in managing pregnant artistes like Tay.
"Look at Hong Kong's Cecilia Cheung. She created so much news when she was
pregnant. In Singapore, MediaCorp holds a tight rein on its artistes, so it is
difficult to generate buzz for them," she says.
Fly Entertainment's chief executive officer Irene Ang, 38, who is also an
actress, adds that female artistes themselves must be eager to take on projects
when they are pregnant.
"There are things that only pregnant mothers can do - endorsements for baby
products, cover spreads for motherhood magazines. I would love to do them, but
I can't," quips the single.
She adds: "In showbiz, when a door closes, another opens."
Additional reporting by Dawn Lim