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What happens to blue collar citizens when things go South

I had the unpleasant experience of telling a young man that he was royally screwed. It’s the second time in my dealings that I’ve told him that life has f** him good and hard. Goes without saying that he wasn’t happy. I did tell him that he was f**ed in our initial conversation because his employer has just gone into liquidation and at the moment there’s no money to pay anyone. I did however, tell him to keep in contact because things might change. Unfortunately for me, he took it that I was telling him that there would be instant cash in the bank in a month’s time. I guess, I guess the fault here is that I assumed he’d take what I said literally but I guess he heard what he wanted to hear.

I get it that he’s p** off right now and from where he’s coming from. If I look at his situation objectively, its clear that he has been screwed by life’s ironies. He is officially doing everything right – working in a sector that the government claims to want Singaporeans to work in. He’s obviously competent enough at his job. He’s raising a family and having children (which is officially what the government wants) and yet, when he’s been screwed through no fault of his own, the system can’t help him. His biggest fault in this case is the fact that he is a Singaporean citizen. So, whilst his Bangladeshi, Indian and Malaysian colleagues have the option of trying their luck with MigrantWorker’s Council (“MWC”), this guy doesn’t have anyone else to turn to except hope that there may be a distribution in the liquidation (which is at best a slim chance – the Company wouldn’t be in liquidation if it could afford to pay wages).

This incident comes at a time when Singapore is trying to show its citizens that you don’t need to have a first from Oxbridge followed by an MBA from one of the American Ivy League schools. Towards the end of last year, our President went as far as to say that we should reward people for their competence rather than qualifications: [LINK]

Our President’s message was supposed to assure Singaporeans who were not Oxbridge-Civil Service material that they too had a stake in the country. Thanks to Covid spreading like wild fire in the dormitories for migrant workers, the government decided that it needed to recognise that migrant workers were actually human beings but at the same time needed to lesson the dependency of certain labour-intensive industries on workers from “darker” parts of Asia.

How am I seeing this in daily life? Well, this time I found out through discussions with Ministryof Manpower that there was the possibility that some of the workers might get help from the MWC. Then, earlier this month, there was a call for the construction industry to develop a “Singapore-Core.” [LINK]

So, if you go back to this young man’s dilemma, its very easy to see why he’s upset. He is doing what the government wants him to do and he is what the government says it wants.

However, in his situation, there’s no alternative except to write off a lot of overtime. Let’s forget the dollar figure of what he’s lost. He has lost 60 hours for the month of August of last year. To put that into perspective, the standard work week is 60-hours. So, for that particular month, he worked an extra week. Had someone told him he wasn’t going to get paid extra for that, he would have been better off spending it with his kids.

While migrant workers do not by any means have it easy. There are still too many instances of abuse and too many people who think that the guys doing the tough jobs should be grateful to be housed in places where we would enter in a hazmat suite. However, there is a belated recognition that migrant workers are actually human too.

Treating migrant workers better also needs to be accompanied by an improvement in working conditions for certain industries so that the local population would be less inclined to shun them. The government’s answer has been that it does so through the foreign worker levy, which makes hiring a worker from elsewhere as expensive as hiring a local. In practice, this is a superb money spinner for the government because there are things other than salary that make the job undesirable.

Today’s encounter would suggest that a Singaporean worker on a construction site doesn’t get the sense that he’ll be protected it things go wrong. This young man is screwed for being a good guy. I can’t refer him to any agency for help. We shoot down things like employment insurance because it’s deemed as too costly for business. Yet, when people do work in the jobs that you want to work in, shouldn’t we at least have a system that provides them with something to help tide over until they get the next job? Nobody is saying that people should get a hand-out instead of work. We, should, however, ensure that people who are willing to work, particularly in the tougher industries have a lesser burden if things go south.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

6 Responses to “What happens to blue collar citizens when things go South”

  • Lips service:

    Many times the actual case on the ground is not so good for those without paper qualifications or seniors.
    To change ,we need the HR to change first.
    Reset their bias.
    Too much lips service.

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  • birdie:

    We are the human mine 人矿。
    We should stop producing more human mine.
    This is the last generation of ours. 我们是最后一代
    They can go import plenty foreigners, I am numb.
    When I die, f.uc.k good buy paying gst and taxes.

    What they need is 80% of us peasants and cheap labours to feed the 20% of top blood sucking system, while 20% of rich imported elites to drive the whole economy.

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  • Observer:

    USA leading the way in using 3D printing to build new houses.

    But even China uses 3D printing for construction. We used to think China labor is poorer than us.

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  • Not just construction sector:

    Also in IT and Finance and other white collar jobs we need to develop Singaporean core as much as possible, then if not enough manpower get genuine foreign talents through stringent scrutiny of their work experience and achievements by Singaporean interviewers (who can be from the same company such as HR department or retiree volunteers )appointed by Ministry of Manpower. Finally check authenticity of their degree, accept they don’t come from top universities if their capabilities (observed during interview), work experience and achievements are outstanding. Finally we need to diversify the nationalities especially in IT and finance and consulting – among asians increase intake from north East Asians which can help boots marriage among Singaporean at the same time they give you world top class productivity and quality. Each nationality cannot account more than 20% in each company and department.

    The above suggestions will stop hiring managers recruit their own kinds, fake talents, minimise low productivity and quality. Also minimise Singaporeans being discriminated thus deprived of job and losing their skills and knowledge after years of being unemployed which result in lower Singaporean talent pool making it difficult for companies to headhunt Singaporean.

    I hope Singapore Manpower hear my appeal.

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  • Personality cult:

    The use of personality cult to brainwash people no longer works in 2023, these pappies are so outdated.

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  • Panama papers:

    Not just construction sector:
    Also in IT and Finance and other white collar jobs we need to develop Singaporean core as much as possible, then if not enough manpower get genuine foreign talents through stringent scrutiny of their work experience and achievements by Singaporean interviewers (who can be from the same company such as HR department or retiree volunteers )appointed by Ministry of Manpower. Finally check authenticity of their degree, accept they don’t come from top universities if their capabilities (observed during interview), work experience and achievements are outstanding. Finally we need to diversify the nationalities especially in IT and finance and consulting – among asians increase intake from north East Asians which can help boots marriage among Singaporean at the same time they give you world top class productivity and quality. Each nationality cannot account more than 20% in each company and department.

    The above suggestions will stop hiring managers recruit their own kinds, fake talents, minimise low productivity and quality. Also minimise Singaporeans being discriminated thus deprived of job and losing their skills and knowledge after years of being unemployed which result in lower Singaporean talent pool making it difficult for companies to headhunt Singaporean.

    I hope Singapore Manpower hear my appeal.

    It’s my suspicion that many of those companies in sing are mainly shell companies set up for money laundering from overseas. This might be why the HR do not bother with credentials when hiring. Why does one need to be stringent in fitting when u set up a company for show? Think about it

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