Tag Archives: Temasek Times

My reply to: “Tan Chuan Jin: Efforts to reduce number of foreign workers on the ‘right track’” on Temasek Times

Manpower – Stay Calm and Think Rationally

Of late, there have been a number of articles and news pieces on manpower, employment and the economy. The statistics and information presented paint a bright, yet somewhat bleak picture of what lies ahead for our beloved country.

Employers in Singapore are hiring to fill new positions and they are still looking to fill vacancies arising from staff turnover, yet SMEs are having a difficult time recruiting Singaporeans for middle management and professional positions. The Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) has acknowledged that the availability of cheaper (not cheap) foreign labour has resulted in wages levels (or salary offers) stagnating at less-than-desirable levels.

The Ministry of Manpower has reduced the growth of foreign manpower population, and have committed to reducing the foreign manpower figures further. This is taking place amidst a global slowdown and a time of uncertainty, and companies are hoarding foreign workers in anticipation of further foreign manpower quota reductions, thus risking the viability of these firms in the short to medium term. In case you’re wondering, the Purchasing Manager’s Index just shrunk, and this means the orders for locally produced goods are shrinking.

The Prime Minister has announced that two existing institutions, SIM University and Singapore Institute of Technology, will be converted into full degree-awarding universities to accommodate the rising aspirations of Singaporeans. This is in addition to places at NUS, NTU, SMU and SUTD. Bear in mind, there are other degree pathways available – Lasalle College of the Arts offers degrees validated by Open University and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts offers degree completion pathways with Essex University. Curtin University, James Cook University and SP Jain Centre of Management have opened campuses here. Specialist institutions like Singapore Aviation Academy and the Air Transport Training College are co-organising degree courses too. Let’s not even talk about the private institutions.

Minister in the PMO (with or without portfolio, it doesn’t matter) has pushed for cleaners to earn at least $1,000 per month. This is happening while hawkers are complaining about higher hawker centre fees, PM Lee has warned that food prices (raw food supplies) will rise and Singaporeans are still eating the same amounts as they used to (or more). Mr Brown’s favourite bak chor mee may soon cost more.

We look at these occurrences and we all know that these are the changes that Singaporeans (if not all, then at least a “majority”) are seeking. But this may not be the best way forward for all of us.

If we cut back on foreign manpower in the wrong areas, we risk losing SMEs that rely on foreign manpower to do the jobs that Singaporeans would not want to do, either because of the low wages or other employment considerations. And if we artificially inflate the wages of our local workers, we will price ourselves out of the global markets. I am pro-Singaporean, but I think we, as a people, need to be careful what we wish for. There is only so much our Government can do, only so much this little red dot can influence, and if we screw it up, we are going to be in a heap of trouble. And by that, I mean shitloads.

At the same time, companies must look at paying what Singaporeans ought to be paid, rather than what the other guy is asking to be paid. If a foreigner is willing to accept a salary of $1000 per month, while a local chap is asking for $1,500, we should take the local’s offer and make sure he / she delivers $1,500 in value every month (excluding CPF). Profit is not the only thing that matters. A business model that relies on the assumption of continuous and infinite supplies of cheap foreign labour is not a sustainable one, and we should not support such businesses.

Increasing university places may look like a good idea. But the transformation into an economy where the majority of jobs are designed and salaried for graduates will not come that easily. We should be prepared for the eventuality of a graduate-heavy economy, but we must accept that for the first decade or so, as the industries move toward a knowledge and productivity-based economy, Singapore will see high rates of under-employment. This means that you will have graduates sitting on diploma-holder positions as these companies begin to re-structure the work their employees do so that graduates can sit on graduate jobs (and Herman Miller chairs) in the long run.

Singaporeans need to consider what they are asking for carefully. We live in a globalized world, a globalized economy. Not everything is a matter of the Government’s will or doing. Some of it is a bitter truth.

– Posted 3 Oct 2012 on Temasek Times

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My reply to: “PM Lee: ‘National Conversation’ is about managing expectations” on Temasek Times

I have to say that the article “PM Lee: ‘National Conversation’ is about managing expectations” did little to give an accurate analysis of the Prime Minister’s comments.

While I encourage my fellow citizens to examine the messages that the media puts out to us, it is important that we remain discerning and objective when reading and interpreting what the state media or the new online platforms publish.

Let us first take a close look at the article carried by Today newspaper. Comments about which the article is based on are:

“”But some stones, after we look at them, the original place was quite nice, we put it back. There has to be a balance,” said Mr Lee, as he pointed out that managing expectations would be a key challenge of having the conversation.”

If you look carefully at what the Prime Minister is saying, he has made it clear that we should be willing to leave certain issues be, if there is no need for a change.

On the other hand, the commentary by the newspaper or reporter noted that there will be difficulties in managing expectations in the conversation.

To put it in layman-speak, the conversation will not shy away from slaughtering sacred cows, but it will not go on a Sacred Cow culling exercise. At the same time, we must manage the expectation that the National Conversation will be about making any and all changes demanded by the vocal majority (as opposed to the silent majority), some of whom may already expect that their views and ideas will result in radical changes or immediate action, and are ready to dismiss the National Conversation.

Now that we’ve dealt with this confusion, I would hope that the Government will take note of the phrases they should avoid, because the citizens have begun to associate these words with negative connotations or negative experiences.

(1) Manage expectations – enough said. Citizens do not want to be heard only to have their expectations managed, they want to be understood, and have solutions offered, even if such a solution is actually an exception to a policy that must be applied consistently across the board.

(2) Xenophobia – the citizens do not fear foreigners. They fear the loss of their jobs, career progression, salary increments, seats on buses and MRT trains and the way of life they have built up and served to protect (militarily and socially). I think we can just call this “anti-foreigner sentiment”.

(3) Foreign Talent – citizens do not see talented foreigners as key contributors to the economy any further. Foreign talents are now merely new immigrants who compete for space, jobs, housing, education and more. Citizens seem to think of “FT” as wage suppressors, alternative to Singaporean voters, and more. Let’s call a spade a spade – FTs are merely “locally-employed foreigners”.

(4) Engagement – citizens seem to think of this as “I talk, government listens, in one ear and out the other, and they decide on whatever they feel is right”. No need to re-word this term though, we should just work on engaging Singaporeans.

(5) Opposition – while the legal or traditional term of the non-ruling party might be the “opposition”, this term seems to imply that the Government is calling the other parties “opposition parties” as the ruling party is unwilling to work with alternative voices. Since we are able to coin “Uniquely Singaporean” terms on our own (think ‘Integrated Resort’, ‘foreign talent’, ‘group representative constituencies’ etc.) I think we can acknowledge that the opposition parties are merely “Non-ruling Parties”.

(6) Integration – Singaporeans want harmony, but they do not want to be integrated with locally-employed foreigners, new citizens or other non-NS contributing groups unless their interests are taken care of. While integration is key, we need to give Singaporeans sufficient resources and advantages to survive and thrive on the very land they grew up on, defended, built on, and lived on. Only when Singaporeans are less disadvantaged will we be able to fully integrate and harmonize Singaporean society.

Just my two cents worth.

 

– Posted 11 Sept 2012 on Temasek Times

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My reply to: “AXA Singapore withdraws insurance coverage of PRC Ferrari driver Ma Chi” on Temasek Times

There is a need to protect taxi drivers and their families.

Before I go on to comment about the case, I feel it is important to remember that there is still a family who lost a father and a breadwinner. Our thoughts and prayers should be with the family, even as they move on with their lives.

I have seen the footage of the accident (it went viral rather quickly) and I read the reports. I can’t say I am fully familiar with the issue because I have never had the privilege of owning a car. I do have a driving license, and I have driven company vehicles for work purposes, both in day and night conditions.

Here is my take.

By not paying out, AXA has made a very firm stand on whether insurance companies should bear liabilities for a driver who acted recklessly and endangered the lives of other road users.

I agree wholeheartedly that the insurer should not compensate the family of a deceased driver who acted dangerously and without regard for others’ safety. In this case, the Ferrari driver should not have been driving the way he did.

But I have a concern here – and that is for the family of victims. I am not familiar with car insurance policies (my fellow citizens should comment and educate me on this), but if there is a payout that needs to be made to the family of an innocent party who was injured or killed by the reckless driver, the insurer ought to proceed with that payout. If AXA has done that (compensate the family of the late taxi driver), and is now attempting to collect this sum back from the Ferrari driver’s family, I salute AXA for doing so and putting themselves through this process of litigation and spending resources on this task.

I do believe all cars must be insured, and all drivers must be licensed. Insurers ought to be aware that they are essentially putting a driver and a car on the road whenever they sell an insurance policy. In this respect, the insurer has a dual role – one as a service provider making profit from taking a risk, and the other as a corporate citizen with a social responsibility who should not insure a driver who might not be the best operator of a vehicle. I’m not saying that the Ferrari driver was a bad one (though I think he was), but generally speaking, insurers should take this as an obligation, one that must be taken seriously.

On the part of licensing drivers, I do note that there are a large number of foreign drivers on Singapore roads. I urge the Traffic Police and the Land Transport Authority to impose the same standards on foreign-licensed drivers as they do on local candidates. We must note that the road conditions, traffic conditions and driving culture are different in Singapore. We are not like the rest of the world. But let us not forget that we too, have bad drivers who are Singaporeans. They should be taken to task for their misdeeds and offences.

Taxi drivers are a vulnerable group – they rent taxis, drive around for a fare, and pay rental to the taxi companies. Taxi drivers are “hirers” in the eyes of the taxi companies, and “independent contractors” in the eyes of the law. They are not employees. They do not receive the same protection and benefits that employees do. I personally feel that we need to protect them better.

Think about it – when they fall sick, they lose money. I once took a taxi when I had a cough. The driver insisted on driving with the windows open. He humbly apologized and informed me that he was afraid of falling ill. “I take ‘MC’, no one pay me”, he said. Other taxi drivers told me that they couldn’t afford to take leave, since they earn their fares on a per-trip basis. The taxi drivers do not earn CPF.

Lastly, passengers who ride in taxis should be offered a degree of protection. We must implement minimum standards of safety – air bags to say the least. We should establish the duty of care that the taxi owners (i.e. the taxi companies) owe to the public.

I hope to see Singapore set the standard in managing taxis, licensing foreign drivers and administering taxi drivers’ benefits and protection in the near future.

– Posted 5 Sept 2012 on Temasek Times

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