At the last management council meeting of the last year at my condo, we were presented with a request by the cleaning company for a 20% contract fee hike. The managing agent then presented us with three other quotes that hovered around the old fee mark. We opted to terminate the incumbent and go with the cheaper one. 20% was just too much.
The contractor gave the usual reasons — gahmen tightening supply of labour, and the mandated progressive wages about to hit the industry.
The Progressive Wage Model did indeed ‘hit’ last month, in a better way than I thought — in an incentive (basket, early nair say) worth a total of $5M for buyers of services — meaning we could’ve stayed with the old cleaning company, and NTUC’s Progressive Wage Incentive would’ve foot part of the bill.
That’s a nice cushion for buyers since it is now compulsory for cleaning companies to implement the Progressive Wage Model – Lim Swee Say’s betterer version of the minimum wage. Cleaners will now have better entry pays (at least above $1,000 per month), with clear pathways to higher pay based on work experience, skill upgrading and productivity improvements.
That, together with other grants (from the e2i) means that outsourcing industries like cleaning companies and security businesses can look at vendors of machines, systems and services that improve their productivity so they can provide the same level of service for clients without having to jack up prices 20% all of a sudden. (Which, in the words of a member our management council — “wah lao, one time so high, is too much”).
I also sat through a particularly dry presentation (sorry ah, presenter) by the Changi Airport Group during the Best Sourcing Symposium at the e2i, and managed to glean something — that with passenger number increases over the last five years, the adoption of best sourcing practices has somehow managed to keep the contract cost and number of cleaners relatively low while maintaining cleanliness standards.
There are ways for companies and buyers to bite the bullet and shift towards a more productive and innovative mindset, and seriously, you can get a discount via the Progressive Wage Incentive if you’re one of the first to do it. Apply now before it runs out!
That’s the message I got out of the response to the EIU’s ranking of Singapore as the most expensive city in the world for expats.
I’m a local, and so I shouldn’t be eating cheese (we’re mostly lactose intolerant anyway), watching movies from Gold Class cinema seats, buying Cat A theatre tickets, taking a taxi, driving any car or motorcycle and having a four course dinner at a restaurant.
And who wears a Burberry raincoat anyway? So fargly! Please lah, raining just put a newspaper on your head lor. Only $1. Some days even got news worth reading.
So don’t complain lah, please. Life is good as long as you don’t aspire or wish for anything else other than your lot.
I’m spending a lot of time writing Kumar’s (and several others’) script for Happy Ever Laughter 2014, and I’ve been explaining to Kai what I’ve been doing at work as well.
Then we came home one day, and as we were driving past the guard house, our night guard, whose name is also Kumar, waved his customary wave at Kai, who reciprocated.
Kai then told me matter of factly, “This Uncle Kumar doesn’t wear a dress”.
So I said to him proudly, “He can if he wanted to”.
A couple of Saturdays ago, mrbrown and I were invited to watch the community theatre group theVoice perform a song and dance skit at Tiong Bahru market’s food centre.
It was a little bit cheesy, but the enthusiasm of the troupe made up for that. Besides, the idea was to raise awareness of workers’ rights, especially those of lower waged ones.
When companies that buy services from providers, sometimes this puts the squeeze on those who bid — and the pressure eventually trickles down to the people who do the actual work — the cleaners, factory workers, kitchen staff — who aren’t as well versed on their rights under the Employment Act and the CPF Act.
(Employers like myself are very, very well versed with the CPF Act, actually. Just you try forgetting to pay CPF to your employees — in my case, myself — and your friendly neighbourhood CPF Compliance Officer calls you faster than you can spell CPF).
There are some common misconceptions which are often gleefully perpetuated by employers:
- Staff not eligible for CPF because part time
- Not eligible for CPF because not Singaporean
- CPF is optional. You can opt out and get more cash
- No need to be paid regularly because never sign contract
- Contract says you are paid only if the company is hired for job
More recently I even read about a case where someone complained to the CPF about the employer actually taking the employer’s contribution out of the worker’s salary. Bastard right?
It helps if every one of us knows that there are avenues of redress. There are many lower waged workers who don’t know their rights, and as you can imagine, not everyone has access to the slew of information available online. Many of these workers do in fact trust that their employers are telling them the truth, and unfortunately, this trust is sometimes betrayed by unscrupulous bosses.
Whether or not we are employers, I do think it is every one of our responsibility to help inform low wage workers of their rights under the law — which in my opinion is just as important a facet as raising their wages.
My friend and collaborator Jasmine Teo’s directoral debut is also the first musical to be staged at a brand new venue — The Henderson Project — which is actually the office and rehearsal space for Dream Academy Productions, the company behind The Dim Sum Dollies and Kumar’s Amazing Race.
It stars the amazingly talented duo Linden Furnell and Mina Kaye. Watch:
So there was an Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s ST by Han Fook Kwang, no less, which seems to say that the union movement made a u-turn in their policy on having a mandatory minimum wage. How many times must say liao, that it is not a minimum wage? NTUC never u-turns, understand? It might upturn once in a while, with a song, even, but never u-turn, can?
Besides, Lim Swee Say has been saying things in favour of the Progressive Wage Model since he was Environment Minister, and that was a long time ago.
But seriously though, even if I can’t prove conclusively that having a mandated minimum wage across sectors would sabotage the economy, I think that the progressive wage model is quite a good idea. Pegging wage increases (which already come with public assistance) with job and skill enhancements and pouring public funds into assisting training programs so that employers adopt them sounds good enough for me to support it.
I just hope the usual naysayers would take a closer look at what the Progressive Wage Model entails and how much public funding is going into supporting lower waged workers before they criticise every quarter for not helping. And then if they still must say nay, try to come up with a better alternative.
I’m thankful the first week and a half of work for the year is done.
More importantly, I am thankful for the many blessings I carry into this new year: my wife who does everything outside of my work for me, and who sometimes does my work. And our amazingly affectionate four and a half year old son who interrupts himself and everything else to say, “Papa/Mama, I love you” several times a day.
I was introduced to the Park Hotel Group’s HR team last month because they wanted to showcase how they’ve gotten around the labour crunch that many organizations are experiencing, due to new restrictions on foreign labour and other factors.
It was the usual litany of woes: not enough Singaporeans want to work as housekeepers, cleaners, waiters or front desk staff — the entry level vocations in the industry. Or even if there were, there were still staffing issues like rostering round the clock, since a hotel is essentially a 24/7 business.
Thankfully, a very proactive HR management team worked with the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to create a new vocation called the Park Hotel HOST (Hotel Operations Specialist Team). People who were shortlisted and eventually employed under this HOST scheme were generally dynamic individuals looking to work in the hotel industry.
Essentially, a Park Hotel HOST would undergo 7 weeks of training in the areas of housekeeping, food and beverage (F&B) and front office. Once he completes it, he will ride on the full-time roster of 8-hour shifts (7 am – 3pm, 3 pm – 11 pm and 11 pm – 7am).
A typical morning-shift work would begin in the hotel’s breakfast outlet, where he’d be supporting the full-time F&B staff with serving hotel guests. By 10.30 am when the breakfast room begins to turn around for lunch service, the HOST will take an hour’s break before being deployed to the Housekeeping division to help with rooms cleaning for the next 4–5 hours.
An afternoon shift HOST will begin his day at the Housekeeping and after dinner break helps with F&B dinner service at the restaurants. Night shifts will see the HOST multi-tasking at the Front Desk handling Reception, Telephone and Reservations Sales.
The benefits to the organisation are obvious — there are fewer unused man hours because you don’t get as many staff of one department sitting around doing nothing while the other department is going about like headless chickens because they’re too busy.
Plus, cross-training staff in this manner helps the staff member learn and understand the challenges of each department in the organisation. It’s always useful to have a front desk person know exactly what to say and do when a hotel guest says he can’t find the switch that operates the blinds in the bathroom, for example; or if there is a last minute request to make-up a room in the night when the Housekeeping is closed for the day.
Park Hotel Group ensures that personnel in the HOST scheme are remunerated more than a single-skill staff member — not least because there is actually quite a bit more work for a HOST personnel to perform in the same number of working hours. However in return for having more skills and being more productive, the basic pay for a HOST personnel is around $1,800 and he is put on a fast-track career path.
While the scheme is currently open to new employees of the hotel group, the HR department is currently working on allowing current single skill employees to be inducted and trained as well. One employee who was previously single-skilled saw his pay jump 50% from $1,200 to $1,800 because of his higher productivity and triple-skilling, not to mention greater responsibilities.
One would also imagine that such a Progressive Wage Model provides a clear path for career advancement — you’d want to pick candidates for management training from the HOST scheme if you were HR.
It’s amazing that not more organisations are doing what the Park Hotel Group is doing. It’s not as if there isn’t help to get you started. The Group did receive significant assistance from e2i for designing the training schedule, innovation to speed up and make employee’s tasks easier — such as passport scanners at front desk, and a guest bed that rises so the housekeeper (many of whom are older workers) doesn’t have to strain his/her back changing the sheets.
What was also impressive was the fact that the hotel group’s HR department felt that the benefits of these measures taken to improve the skill sets of their staff far outweighed the risk of losing these same staff to other organisations, now that they were so skilled.
More importantly, the staff members I got a chance to speak to were happy employees even though their main gripe was that there really was a lot of work. They did also state that they were grateful for an employer who is forward thinking enough to know that investing in staff reaps real rewards.
I’ve been packing to move office for a fortnight now, and it’d have been faster if it wasn’t for my office being a treasure trove of museum grade paraphernalia. Today alone I found my Dad’s old passports spanning three decades.
My parents had their offices in and around Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar from 1966, the year after they got married. My father knew the streets like the back of his hand. To shake off his afternoon lethargy, he used to take long walks spanning the waterfront, then at Shenton Way, to Beach Road, to North Bridge Road, to Chinatown, Tanjong Pagar, and then back again to the office.
About a decade ago, before Parkinson’s got the better of him, I joined him on his walks. These walks were often dotted with stops for a drink or a meal. Restaurants at Purvis and Seah Streets, stalls at Amoy Street and Maxwell Road food centres were our ports of call.
He’d shuffle towards an available seat, sit, look up at a stallholder/waiter and make eye contact. A nod was exchanged, and his usual dish from the stall/restaurant would arrive at our table a few minutes later. Sometimes, it was a raising of a palm — a silent Hainanese greeting — that would signal the transaction.
Every crappy work day I’ve had at the office in recent months, I’ve had the respite of some similar walks, clearing my head, getting some air. Then one day last week, I stopped at Amoy Street food centre, and sat down at a table. I looked up and saw the chicken rice hawker and he saw me. We exchanged nods. A few minutes later, he served me a plate of chicken rice — drumstick with gizzards. My usual. My father’s too.
It is an honour being part of an event that’s become a Christmas tradition. I remember the first shows I was asked to write for at Dream Academy. One of the then producers tried to calm my nerves by telling me, “You think being asked to write a song in two days is a big deal? The Dim Sum Dollies can write lyrics two hours before opening night! You can do it!” Of course, I still crapped my pants.
If you’re not already familiar, Crazy Christmas is an annual variety show comprising songs, skits and dance, and Dream’s rehearsal studio is Madness HQ in the weeks before opening night. Original songs, adapted songs, scripts and dance choreographies are tried, tested, discarded, reinstated, retested and then arranged and rearranged in the show’s rundown. There is a lot of Blu Tac and recycled paper used.
Then comes opening week, and more madness at the Esplanade, as what’s known in theatre as bumping-in happens two days before the show opens. Sound, lights and the set are assembled (I swear there are gremlins messing with the tape measure — parts of the set are always the wrong size). Everyone’s always nervous, but it always comes together even when some bits are still not perfect by Preview Night, thanks in no small part to the mostly unseen technical people.
I wish for everyone to be able to see how hard the production crew of theatre shows work. There is so much grit behind the glitz.
Of course, it also helps that you have the most talented and professional assembly of performers on the show.
And this year’s opening night was special because it marked the return of the Dim Sum Dollies. I doubt Selena, Pam and Denise would have been thinking too much other than getting their lines and moves right, but maybe after this show is done, they’d reflect on how they’ve brought DSD magic back to Singapore’s theatre scene.
There’s just something there I can’t put a finger on. It’s been like that since the first Dim Sum Dollies show, and I’m so glad Selena decided (quite late in the creative process) to relaunch the franchise in this year’s Crazy Christmas.
And to Denise Tan, a big, warm welcome to you, Newbie Dolly! I can’t imagine a more appropriate stage troupe where you can showcase your talents, which are amazing, by the way.
Crazy Christmas: Ting Tong Belles runs till 22 December. Tickets available from Sistic.
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