Saturday, September 30, 2006

Outsourcing done wrong

Golden Handshake - has been a growing trend over the last few years. It has largely been a good thing. It is going back to the basics where people specialise in their areas of their greatest competency and trade these competencies with others for the greatest efficiencies which lead to lower costs and increased profits. However, as with all good things, it doesn't always pan out the way it is supposed to, for workers, at least.

Today columnist, Liang Dingzhi, has raised the issue about how outsourcing often hurts workers even if those workers do not lose their jobs. Sometimes, workers are merely 're-assigned' to a new 'outsourcing' company (the 'outsourcee') set up by the outsourcer to continue to do what they have been doing. The difference is it allows employment terms to be renegotiated between employee and the new outsourcing company. Unfortunately for the employees, these companies often do so from a position of strength because any failed negotiation essentially means retrenchment for the workers.

It was this 'take it' or 'leave it' terms that my friend faced two years ago when HDB corporatised its construction arm. He ended up with substantially reduced pay although the nature and scope of his job remained the same. A golden handshake was offered as an alternative. Having 2 young kids to support, being 50-ish and having no other skill, he had no choice but to accept terms that were worse than before. That Golden Handshake wouldn't go far given his circumstances and worse, the construction industry was in the doldrums then.

I wonder where the champions of labour were then? Perhaps they were around, I don't know. But if they were present, did they put up a fight on the workers' behalf for more equal terms or is this a case of hands-off because it concerns a government statutory board? To me, this remains one of the most serious blots on the much vaunted Labour movement in Singapore, which perhaps explains why I have not joined any Union although I have been invited to do so.

At the end of the day, it is better not to rely too much on others, not even the Unions.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Puberty's potent mixture

Parent and child - parent tend to have problems with their growing children, particularly when their children enter puberty. Not only do they change physically, but they also become independently minded, desiring their own personal private space.

Just the other day, my sister-in-law mentioned how her eldest daughter (about 15 years old) seemed not to want to listen to her anymore. Somehow, a communication gap has developed. Instead, the child would lock herself in her own room on end, and this has gotten the mother quite worried. Like Mr Felix Kumar's (a pseudonym used by a parent in his letter to Today) child, this niece has had the best upbringing any child would want - loving parents, good exam grades, a room of her own, being ferried to and from school by private car, two overseas holidays a year (the last was to Japan), and a family of Christians.

I will not attempt to psycho-analyse here. My profession lies elsewhere, so many people are much more qualified to comment. But I do want to take up the issue about girls, or even boys, getting to know people on the internet through chatlines, messaging, etc. and subsequently establishing some sort of liaison with them, whether virtual or physical.

First, the internet is real, it is here, and it cannot be ignored. So parents should introduce the internet to them, and perhaps teach them how to use it. More often than not, their children will learn more from their friends in school. But there is one thing that you must repeatedly tell them within the context of their experience, and that is that the internet is full of trickery, dishonesty and yes, malicious people. You must drum into your child the fact that you cannot trust what you see or read on the internet, especially in chats, messenger messages and e-mails. You can never know if the messenger who claims to be 20 is not actually a 50 year-old paedophile prowling the net. In this digital world of ours, photos and videos can be faked. I have told my son often not to trust anything or anybody they encounter on the internet. The rest must be a judgement call that he must make on further corroboration with fellow students, trusted adults and teachers (nah, they won't ask the parents) if a website and its contents are alright. In fact, I am not surprised that my son learnt about key-loggers from his friend, which I subsequently corroborated. So the first order of things is to inject a healthy dose of scepticism about the internet while introducing them to its wonders.

Second, if you need to give your child a handphone, get them a pre-paid card instead of a monthly plan. Yes, pre-paid card rates are generally higher per minute of talktime, and it doesn't come with 'free' talktimes. But honestly, tell me if it has been any easier on your pockets with those 'cheaper' subscription plans? Pre-paid cards come with a sufficient number of free SMS which the child can get by without engaging in frivolous messaging. So far, after 3 months, I have not had to top up on the initial $18 pre-paid card that I got for my son.

Well, maybe it is still early days for him, and for me. My son hasn't reach puberty, but I am mentally prepared for it. Whether this is enough remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

$econd $ingapore Idol

We have the $econd $ingapore idol and it$ a money game, 'nuf $aid.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Do what you do best

Focus on core activity- should just stick to its core competency, which is to provide transportation services to the island in whatever form, such as its subway trains, buses and taxis. Obviously it does not have the time nor the expertise to manage shopping malls within its premises in the subway stations, such as the Dhoby Xchange.

In spite of it being located in one of the busiest subway stations on the island (it houses both SMRT's and TransitLink's subway train stations), we are told that the Xchange is virutally a ghost town. And that's not because the goods and services on offer in these places are not interesting. Well, actually, I wouldn't know. People, including myself, do not know how to get there. Some do not even know it exists in the first place! If SMRT takes the stance that they will build the mall, collect the rent and leave the retailer to sink or swim, then in the long run, retailers will just pack up and leave. There are probably better places and better landlords that will work together with them to ensure that their businesses are successful.

The SMRT should get serious and employ people who are good and know this area of business so that some professionalism can be injected into an organisation that basically moves people and not entertain them. But this will depart from its core competency of transportation services. I don't see why SMRT should want to go into this area of business just because it owns potentially commercialisable retail space in its subway stations. SMRT has certainly already expanded into this area of business significantly, going by the growth of retail business locations in many above-ground MRT stations such as Pasir Ris and Sembawang.

Alternatively, the SMRT can outsource the management of these malls and retail spaces to a party that specialises in these things. These mall operators will probably have the networks, programmes and trade linkages that gives them the competitive and cost-advantage in operating these malls and places that will yield an even higher return on investment.

It is a fact that SMRT moves people very efficiently, but probably lacks the mindset and ability to attract and entertainment shoppers.

p.s. Just so that you do not mistaken this to be idle ranting, the writer has a Diploma in Retail Management from the University of Stirling.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Greed and doom are close cousins

Wolfowitz on Corruption and Aid - got it right from day one. Let's give credit where credit is due. Mr Lee Kuan Yew made anti-corruption a pillar of the Singapore government from day one. The World Bank's Mr Wolfowitz is seconding this wisdom today at the WB/IMF meetings when he made corruption a pre-condition for aid. Some may not agree with this but consider the experience of the very country that this decision is made in today.

In hindsight, Singapore's ability to forge ahead with its nation building efforts to reach 1st World status in less than 40 years is largely due to the policy of incorruptibility in government and society. Granted we had a lot of help along the way from the International community, but it was the uncompomising stance and astute policies that galvanised and provided the purpose for Singaporeans to work hard for their own futures.

Under Singapore government policies which stressed equitability and merit through hard work, Singaporeans understood that the future lies not with corrupt officials, nor government largesse, but with themselves through education and hard work. The future was theirs to build or to neglect, irrespective of how much money one started out with. Sure, there were miss-steps and mistakes, but the important thing was we learnt from failure to forge ahead. There may be things that we may not be happy with in Singapore society and politics today, but at least we are still here to debate and engage the powers that be to bring about change. Consider what the alternative would be.

I am unabashed when I write this because the evidence is for all to see, no matter what some small number of ignorant people imagine and say...

p.s. and no, I am not a PAP party member, nor PAP supporter - only a common citizen of Singapore.

Monday, September 18, 2006

State of Police Action

Symbol of Terrorism and Hate - Hat Yai burns, I cannot help but reflect on the strong and unwavering police in Singapore in ensuring the security and well-being of the delegates and their families in the IMF/World Bank Meeting now in session in Singapore. This has been done at the cost of rebuke from as high as the President of the World Bank, Mr Paul Wolfowitz, who was extremely displeased with Singapore's actions in banning 27 activists (now reduced to 5) from entering the country to participate in the IMF/WB meetings.

When the delegates pick up the newspapers today in their hotels, they will realize that terrorism is at Singapore's doorsteps, if not its backyard. Hopefully they will now understand and appreciate that living in an environment where the police is resolute, thorough and incorrupt goes a long way towards the uninterrupted proceedings of the WB/IMF as well as the peace and enjoyment of the meetings and the island by delegates' spouses. Not only the delegates and their spouses, but more so the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) should appreciate that their demonstrations and messages can be lost in the death and destruction that can be caused by terrorists' indiscriminate and wanton acts. Demonstrate if you must, disagree and demand change, but do not, in the process, compromise the safety of others and themselves. And who best understands the issues and the dangers than the Singapore police?

Many foreigners misunderstand that Singapore is a police state. Well, it is. It is a state that is policed by good, committed and incorrupt officers for the good of its people and its guests so that they can go about their business without too much disruption. But don't believe me. Ask the IMF/WB delegates when they get home what they actually found out in Singapore as opposed to news writers who have never visited Singapore putting up fantasy and fiction about the police and the state on this tiny island of ours.

I cannot help but think that the unfortunate events in Hat Yai yesterday is a vindication of the security blanket that has been thrown over Singapore, even at the risk of offending our learned and passionate guests.

Police search for bomb clues
Thai blast kills 4...
Security loophole admitted
The murderous cost of failure
Australian hurt in Thai bombings
Google sources

Re-inventing life in Singapore

Reinventing life in Singapore - economy couldn't be better today, so we are told. The oracle suggests that Singaporeans will have an average pay increase of 4%. The painful Singapore recession of 2004/05 is now fading into distant memory for many although I believe that those who were affected most by it - those aged 40 and above, will forever see that recession as an inflection point in their lives, to borrow a Maths concept. Nothing they have ever done for the last 10, 20 or even 30 years are going to return any time soon, the booming economy notwithstanding. Many lost their high-paying and high-flying jobs as companies downsized and some moved out of Singapore, perhaps never to return in any big way, if at all. Many are now on vastly reduced pay while others, not willing or not used to being told what to do in the office, have struck out on their own. Some may have succeeded, others may still be in limbo.

While the old has moved out, the new have arrived - in the form of biotechnology. Where Physics once ruled amongs the army of engineers in the factories in Singapore, Biology and Chemistry has taken over as the kings of the Sciences in the labs. Go to One-North, Singapore's newest mecca to high technology and feel the rarified atmosphere on top of the hill. Even if you are not into high technology, I hear that the food there is good.

All of this goes to show that not only must businesses re-invent themselves to stay relevant, survive and thrive in the long run, so must humans skills be upgraded or adapted to new environments. Staying in a lifelong trade is no longer possible nor desirable unless that trade is constantly being reinvented by the person to make it relevant and meaningful to the times.

Such is the bind that many Property Agents find themselves in, when in order to feed the family and stay in the trade, they resort not only to getting paid by Paul but robbing Peter also after sealing a property transaction over which they may have little contribution or value-add. This is my frank opinion over the recent debate over commissions paid to property agents. I say to them that nobody owes them a living, just like the rest of us who have, at one time or another, lost our jobs. Robbing via fiat is not only unethical, it is criminal. Some re-evaluation and reform is in order, though I suspect that it will not happen anytime soon, given the current booming economy and probable escalation of property prices because the Singapore government has openly invited foreigners to set up home on this tiny island. If anything, property agents are in for a booming time.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Customer must be majestic

Abuse - is the received wisdom of retailers, or anybody in the service industry. The customer must always be right even if he/she is wrong. So it was a shock to read (in the Straits Times) that the owners and chef of Le Petit Restaurant up in Thomson Road actually threw out one of its diners for causing a commotion in the restaurant.

I say, to **** with that received wisdom. Diners, indeed any customer, can be king or queen as the case may be, if their behaviour is kingly, which may include being very demanding. But once the king becomes abusive, then all courtesy can be thrown out of the window, together with the king/customer. The restaurant in questions has now gained a unwelcomed notoriety which inevitably will cost it in terms of patronage. But I suspect that many discerning diners may feel that the customer in question was in the wrong and the management of the restaurant did the right thing by ejecting the customer. If I were dining at that restaurant that day, and my dinner was being spoilt by the commotion that this woman was causing, I would be grateful if somebody took action to restore order and let me dine in peace and quiet.

3 cheers to the owners and chef of this restaurant who, no doubt, were thinking of the rest of its customers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

City of 4 million smiles

The World Bank/IMF Meetings taking place between 11/9 and 20/9 cannot go unmentioned in this blog. It has been touted as the most important event in the Singapore calendar in 2006, so much so that it has been given a name - S2006 and includes several websites, each for a different purpose:

Indeed, Singapore seems to have got itself into a disagreeable situation with its guests, the World Bank/IMF over its strict enforcement of Singapore's laws on open air demonstrations and the banning of certain civil organisation activists. I don't know if the WB/IMF does not see any irony in their stance of allowing these civil organisations to hold demonstrations in the streets in the name of democracy and open-ness virtually all over the world where it has had its annual meetings, but have yet to address these organisation's issues and complaints enough all these years to make these demonstrations unnecessary. Does the WB/IMF see these demonstrations as validating its meetings and lending a high profile and newsworthy angle to the whole event, gaining it a self-generated importance without which these meetings will be a bore?

Well, they don't need to worry about that. Singapore is sparing no expense (last reported to be S$100m) to make this event the most secure, the most conducive, the most comfortable, the most beautiful and the most convenient for all the expected 16,000 delegates who will descend on the island this week. It has even gone to the extent of engaging almost free labour in the form of students from the Polytechnics, whose mid-semester vacations are in full swing this September, to man various posts such as the kitchens, the e-kiosks and even the tour buses so that the delegates have the best meeting experience of their lives. Indeed, the WB/IMF delegates will be treated like kings and queens this week, going by the importance and attention to detail that the Singapore government has thrown into the meet.

But by far the greatest contribution that Singapore has made, beyond all the smiles and rooms and facilities must be the utter security that the government has blanketed the venue with. This is not coincidental as this week, the world remembers 9/11.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 five years on

Anthony 9/11 Memorial - - these numbers will be etched in people's minds for many years to come, especially those who have lost loved ones - friends, relatives, colleagues - and acquaintances in this heinous destruction of the World Trade Center Buildings in New York and the Pentagon. Today is the 5th anniversary of that day when Muslim Terrorists rammed their 747 jets into buildings that they considered icons of American capitalism and imperialism. More than 3,000 innocent lives were sacrificed for their beliefs, and many more have been psychologicallly scarred ever since.

On 9/11 five years ago, I had just woken in the morning to prepare for work. My mother, who was then living with me, was coming out of the kitchen. The TV was switched on to CNN, as it was every morning. It was (re)playing the scenes of a Boeing 747 ramming into one tower of the WTC, with another close behind and headed for the second tower. In a matter of minutes after the second jet crashed into the second tower, both buildings just collapsed downwards like a stack of cards - they just disappeared. Such were the scenes that CNN and many other TV stations played over and over again that entire day. I was astounded. Reporters near ground zero were in tears as they recounted the incidents of the day. I was close to tears myself as I watched, in spite of my being half a world away in the safety and comfort of my home.

Apparently, many still believe in the cause of 9/11 today. And it doesn't look like these people will soon fade away. The worst thing is that these people claim to stand up for one of the most influential religions in the world today - Islam. Fairly or unfairly, Islam itself is today tainted, perhaps forever linked to the innocent slaughter of thousands of people who were just going about life, earning a decent day's wages. This perception remains today, even in my mind, because Muslims have not all stood unequivocally to disassociate itself from these murderous acts. I am not sure even today if my Muslim colleague is not a closet terrorist sympathiser although I continue to work with them amicably and with due respect everyday.

Such is my pysche scarred and affected even till today.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Today is restricted

Restricted Newspaper? - years ago, when I was in school, I was encouraged to read the newspapers. I was told that not only is it a source of general knowledge that I should build up, but it was good for my learning of the English language too. Then, there was only one English paper - the Straits Times and it cost money. Nevertheless, I started to read the newspapers when I was in Secondary School.

Today, there are more newspapers on the streets and some are free of charge. For example, the print edition of Today, which is published by Mediacorp and The Epoch Times. Hopefully, this proliferation of papers will lead to a heightened general knowledge and improved English among its readers - the Singapore public.

I was quite disturbed yesterday when my 12 year old son was denied the Today newspaper. The auntie distributing the paper at Compass Point said that students in uniform are not entitled to a copy. I suppose the auntie is not making up this decision but that it must have come from higher ups, such as the distributor or even the publisher themselves. I was dismayed.

I understand that there may be commercial reasons in targetting the paper for certain sectors of the population. But I have seen advertisements in Today which is targetted at the young too. So I cannot understand why Mediacorp is denying its otherwise excellent paper to students in uniform. Now my son will start to think that the earliest he can read the Today newspaper is when he reaches at least 16 years old, and 18 years old if he manages to make JC. Somehow, this gives the impression that Today is a paper in the class of the R16/R18 Restricted Materials category prescribed by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

Surely our young students should start to know something of the world today by reading good balanced reporting through papers such as Today? But this is not what the distributor or publisher (Mediacorp Press) thinks. Apparently, profit is mightier than the pen.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ambivalent community

I have a feeling of ambivalence over the government's very vocal advocacy of immigration these days. Even before the PM's National Day Rally speech where he announced the government's open-arms policy regarding immigration, I have already noticed more foreigners amongst our midst.

I take the bus and MRT (subway) to work every day. Nowadays, I hear people with strange tongues on these daily journeys. I noticed that a number of school students are from China. You can tell from their accented Chinese, which is noticeably different from the Singapore Chinese intonation. You also know they are students because they carry files and bags and get on and off the bus at educational institutions such as the SIM University. I have Indian friends but many Indians I bump into on the train nowadays aren't Indians that I am familiar with.

Ironically, I am not sure how they can integrate into our multi-racial society. Singapore's multi-racialism is grounded on government and education. Government is not a problem, so far, but many of these adult immigrants haven't gone through our school system. Coupled with the fact that they may not have deep community bonding outside of their own cliques, I am not sure that they can integrate into the Singapore society and embrace its multi-racial ethos quickly enough. Yet we wish foreigners like them to sink roots here. I have no issue with either objectives. My only concern is how they can effectively blend in. Singapore has always been against people clustering along racial lines, and I understand that community leaders may have a game plan in place to draw these immigrants into the community at large. Still, their backgrounds, education, assumptions and prejudices may be so different that integrating them into the local culture is not a trivial affair.

Can Singaporeans accept them? I mean communicate with them? Voluntarily get to know them in this dog eat dog society of ours? I just feel that there is some sort of barrier and alienation between myself and these people, something that I don't feel when I am with Singaporeans on the same train. Perhaps it is the language, the dialect, the intonation which is so different from mine, ours, when I communicate with fellow Singaporeans.

As more of these people join us, as they surely will, my ambivalence will increase.