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.

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