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.

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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”.

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Spreading the #WorkRight word

Spread­ing the #WorkRight word

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

To counter the shame­ful crap that has pop­u­lated the #Lit­tleIn­di­aR­iot hash­tag, here are a cou­ple of things worth reading:

“When I made the Sexy Island doc­u­men­tary, one episode was on for­eign­ers. I played an impromptu game of cricket with some Indi­ans on a patch of grass in the shadow of the SportsHub that they were build­ing (not mock­ing it, ridi­cul­ing it, dis­miss­ing it, I might add, but actu­ally build­ing the bloody thing.) They said they were proud to be build­ing a new city land­mark. Some Bangladeshi work­ers gave me a tour around “Bangladeshi Cor­ner” (within Lit­tle India, near Mustafa, but proudly distinct).

Two of the work­ers had lost their jobs after falling off shoddy scaf­fold­ing. They limped in some dis­com­fort. Their employ­ers refused to pay, say­ing the acci­dent resulted from their incom­pe­tence. They couldn’t pay their med­ical bills. Build­ing site pals were chip­ping in and they were rely­ing on human rights/voluntary organ­i­sa­tions to fight their case. They were sleep­ing on friends’ floors and eat­ing cheap meals as Samar­i­tans fought their case on their behalf. We couldn’t use the footage about their case because it was con­sid­ered too sen­si­tive and we couldn’t cor­rob­o­rate in time.

Through­out our brief tour, they proudly showed off run-down cof­fee shops, pro­vi­sion shops and hang­outs that most folks wouldn’t go any­where near. I asked them: If they had a choice (and money), where would they go? No bull­shit. They picked Sin­ga­pore. They were under­paid, over­worked, injured and ripped off by unscrupu­lous employ­ers. They still wanted to make Sin­ga­pore their home.”

- Neil Humphreys

“That vio­lent “Bangla” last night throw­ing fruit at para­medics? He may have been the Town Coun­cil cleaner clean­ing up the trash in our neigh­bour­hood so pests don’t over­run our pre­cious HDB flats and bring dis­ease to our family.

Maybe that destruc­tive “ABNN” who last night flipped over and dam­aged SCDF vehi­cles could be that friendly grass­cut­ter clear­ing over­grown fields so that mos­qui­toes don’t breed and cause dengue to our loved ones.

That angry alcohol-fuelled “for­eign trash” who joined his com­pa­tri­ots in a mob last night could have been that smil­ing hawker cen­ter cleaner mak­ing sure our plates cleared and the spaces clean so we can eat in peace and not get food poisoning.

Or that “orh-lang” who smashed the wind­screen of the pri­vate bus could be that hard­work­ing elec­tri­cian work­ing at the nearby con­struc­tion site putting his skills to mak­ing sure the wiring in that flashy upcom­ing condo won’t end up elec­tro­cut­ing our elderly. And that our future gen­er­a­tions have a new place to live.

Per­haps that “ah-neh” who threat­ened the sanc­tity and peace in our beau­ti­ful city last night was just the day before sweep­ing up our roads so no stray peb­ble thrown up by a speed­ing car hits and dam­ages the wind­screen of our car or worse, hits and injures a passerby — maybe our young ones.

But no. Some of us are call­ing for these peo­ple to be sent back to where they come from, because they “threaten our safety”.

If only we knew what they mean for our safety.”

- Daniel Goh

And check out the FB page: Behind The Bor­ders, Behind The Men

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