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Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Learning From HK How To Regulate Real-Estate Agents

After the seemingly "face-off" with President of REDAS as reported in the Straits Times (March 27, 2010), the National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan was reported (Mypaper March 30,2010) to have left for HK from March 30 ~ April 1st, to learn how HK regulates its real-estate agents in order to improve such regulations here.

It was reported that he would meet senior officials from the Transport and Housing Bureau, the Hong Kong Housing Authority, and the Estate Agents Authority.

It would be interesting to see how he could "cut-and-paste" some of these regulations from HK for implementation here in Singapore to help deter speculation, and make HDB housing more affordable for Singaporeans. Or would he be making it more expensive so that one day Singaporeans could milk their "cash-cow" in future under Mr Mah's proud asset enhancement strategy?

Little protection for older workers


I refer to the attached letter by Mr Tan Kin Lian which was published in the Straits Times (24 May 2010).

I agree with Mr Tan Kin Lian that there is still a lack of statutory protection for older workers, particularly PMEs against prematured layoffs before reaching retirement age and also unfair retrenchment.

I had quite similar experience when I worked for a Korean MNC contractor, even though I was in the Mid-40s. I was retrenched in 2005 and paid a meagre compensation for my 13-year employment service, only after raising the issue with the NTUC and MOM. Luckily, I was hunted by another company, whom I had business contact, for a difficult project then.

Those years of wage re-structuring during the economic downturn had allowed employers to put forth and stretch unfair practices; while many middle income earners (PME) were forced to sacrifice with wage cut, CPF cut and CPF income ceiling cap, etc., but at the end; they suffered from a lack of statutory protection for retrenchment.

In Singapore, HR practitioners continue to support and capitalise on a blurred line between the following :-

(a) definition and contractual provisions for "termination" of employment contract,

(b) definition and contractual entitlement for "retrenchment" compensation or severance pay under the employment contract,

(c) statutory provisions under the Employment Acts.

The NTUC capitalises on it as a grey matter to attract membership, and talks too much on "ex-gratia" entitlement rather than push for statutory protection.

The MOM now convene a tripartite mediation process, which will be in place next year to help junior and mid-level professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) earning up to $4,500 a month to address common employment issues with their employers, except issues on "retrenchment benefits".

Note there is still a blur line between "workmen" and "employee" as far as HR practices are concerned, as opposed to the Employment Acts.

Employment Act (Cap 91)


Application of this Part to certain workmen and other employees

35. The provisions of this Part shall apply —

(a) to workmen who are in receipt of a salary not exceeding $4,500 a month (excluding overtime payments, bonus payments, annual wage supplements, productivity incentive payments and any allowance however described) or such other amount as may be prescribed by the Minister; and

(b) to employees (other than workmen) who are in receipt of a salary not exceeding $2,000 a month (excluding overtime payments, bonus payments, annual wage supplements, productivity incentive payments and any allowance however described) or such other amount as may be prescribed by the Minister.

Outsourcing also marginalise local workers when there is no "Minimum Wage Policy".

Even if local workers are not discriminated when there is exceptional economic performance, it is alright only if employers are willing to pay. However, this is just the macro view for the Government.

At the micro-level, the local workers still suffer, because a minimum wage policy is not in place.

The Governemnt is happy because they could collect foreign worker levies...while our State provides little welfare to locals; and zero unemployment benefits.

There remains much to be done to accord older workers the necessary fair statutory protection from unfair employment practices.


ST Forum
May 24, 2010

I REFER to last Thursday's letter, "Less than 3% of private firms cut older workers' wages", sent in jointly by the Singapore National Employers Federation, Ministry of Manpower and National Trades Union Congress.

Employers in Singapore have the flexibility to terminate an older worker for a variety of reasons, including restructuring and outsourcing. This has been practised quite often in the private and public sectors. There is little need for them to keep workers until age 60 to have their wages reduced under the Retirement Age Act. This probably accounts for the low percentage of employers exercising this wage cut.

I cite the case of a friend who has worked for 11 years in regional business development for a local insurance company. He was rated a good performer by the previous management. Recently, with a change of top management, he was asked to leave and was offered a compensation of only three months of salary.

He asked for my assistance on how to make an appeal to the Ministry of Manpower, as he still has a family and a sick elderly mother to support.

I hope that our tripartite partners will recognise this type of difficulty faced by many Singaporeans. The current employment practices offer little protection to workers, especially older ones, when the top management outsources the work to contractors to reduce their costs or replaces senior people with their own buddies.

Tan Kin Lian

"Work-life balance? Here's one day in the life of a teacher",

Another letter to expose the unhealthy "Work-life balance" - Not only time for family life, but also preventing setting-up of family.

I think the Government should restrict working hours to support "Work-life balance".


ST Forum
May 21, 2010

Passion for teaching quickly sapped

I AGREE with Ms Aishah Quek's letter, "Work-life balance? Here's one day in the life of a teacher", last Saturday. Her husband is not alone.

The situation is also true for my daughter who is in the teaching profession too. She leaves home at 6.45am, returning at 7.30pm for dinner and continuing her work till midnight, all for a meagre salary. She hardly has any time to be with us or for herself, much less enjoying any kind of work-life balance.

My daughter was full of passion when she started teaching, but under these circumstances, it won't be long before her passion gets eroded and she suffers from burnout. Any new teacher would be quickly disillusioned and thus leave the profession in search of more fulfilling careers.

My daughter is single and with this routine, how is she going to look for a life partner? A number of my daughter's teacher friends who have been in the profession for about 10 years are still single, with no plans to get married. With the Government's push for more families and babies, even if my daughter wanted to support it, she is unable to.

If the Ministry of Education does not seek to understand the true demanding routine of a teacher, how can it say that it is taking measures to ease a teacher's workload?

Chin Sian Yew (Mdm)

Work-life balance

I work in the construction idustry for over 20 Years. The working hours in this industry is known to be mercilessly "anti-social" against employees. I recall when I started work, I had to work a 6 day-week. Monday to Friday, from 8am to 7pm and Saturday, 8am to 5pm. At night there was overtime work, without any OT pay, but a mere "meal allownace". Most employers were either Japanese or Korean MNCs. Even local contractors soon follow such "market" practice.

Quite often overtime works are required despite the long hours. The practice is often to compress salary first and then to pay some ovetime pay. One way was to use "foreigners". I am not sure if they deserved to be called "foreign talents"; for obvious reason that there is still a diifference. During the downturn, ovetime pay was even withdrawn. Hence, it is not worth the long hours worked.

The construction industry employs many foreign employees, beside the general workers. Many signed employment contracts in their home countries, often at lower salaries. Soon local employees are marginalised.

There is weak "union" representation to advocate for more decent woking hours, despite the environmentally unfriendly working environment. As time progresses, only employees of the Developer or Consultants work a 5-day week. Those who work for Contractors continues to work such "anti-sovial" hours.

To hear of the "anti-social" working hours for the teaching profession is not surprising for me. However, teachers belong to a well-represented "union" and is a civil service job. Why does the Government and NTUC allow this profession to deteriororate to such a stage just like what is described in the letter? The teaching profession is supposed to build the "pillars" of the future generation, why do we allow their current status quo to worsen.

Ironically, I knew of an engineer who had left his father's subcontracting firm, without an heir to the business, to join the teaching profession, because of the "anti-social" working hours of the construction industry. I wonder how is he today - Happy or Dis-illusioned?

Reference :
ST Forum
May 15, 2010

Work-life balance? Here's one day in the life of a teacher

I am often told how the Ministry of Education is easing teachers' workload, but I see little evidence of it.

My husband has been teaching in a neighbourhood school for several years. Despite the mantra of work-life balance, I see little of it in the lives of teachers. Here is a typical weekday routine for my husband:

5am: Wake up and prepare for school.

6am: Leave for school.

7am: Arrive at school and perform morning duty (in a sense, 'guard duty').

7.30am to 1pm: Regular teaching duties (including extra games for students who need more exercise during recess, which is part of the Holistic Health Framework that replaced the Trim and Fit scheme).

1 pm to 1.30pm: Prepare for remedial lessons.

1.30pm to 3.30pm: Conduct remedial lessons (my husband's school believes that to improve students' results, remedial lessons must be conducted daily).

3.30pm to 5.30pm: Be present for the co-curricular activities he is in charge of.

5.30pm to 6.30pm: Administrative work like keying in remarks on students for the mid-term report book).

6.30pm to 6.45pm: Pack 36 books and piles of worksheets to take home and mark.

6.45pm to 7.45pm: Travel home.

7.45pm to 8.30pm: Eat dinner and rest.

8.30pm to 1am: Continue with administrative work, such as marking books and worksheets, reviewing examination papers, and preparing programmes for the June school camp and Youth Olympic Games activities.

Weekends are hardly restful. I often ask him if the endless work is because he is singled out. That is not so, he tells me. His colleagues face the same punishing workload.

As I am writing this letter at 10am, my husband has developed a fever. But he is unable to seek medical attention as there is an oral examination in the afternoon.

I understand there is a need to be accountable to students' parents. But in this case, who is answerable to a teacher's family if anything happens to the teacher?

Aishah Quek (Ms)

Saturday, 22 May 2010

TODAYonline | Voices | A conference too soon

A conference too soon

There's no way MBS would have been ready for bar meet - and the IPBA should've known better
My Letter to Today Voices, May 22; 2010

IT HAS been reported that Marina Bay Sands had slapped the organisers of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) conference with a writ of summons to claim payment of $300,000 ("MBS serves writ on conference organiser", May 20). Last week, the organisers asked MBS how it would compensate them for the "aggravation and embarrassment" encountered during the four-day event.

This incident highlights the unique way the construction industry operates as compared to other business sectors.

In the construction industry, new buildings are often issued a TOP (Temporary Occupation Permit) after a series of checks by the Building Control Authority, certifying "substantial completion".

The common Standard Forms of Contract adopted locally, including the Public Sector Standard Conditions of Contract for Construction Works, allow for construction defects to be rectified within the Defects Liability Period - usually at least 12 months after substantial completion.

The is an entrenched practice, one which I believe is not alien to the organisers of the IPBA conference, which consists of top lawyers practising worldwide.

There could be no way of ensuring the conference would proceed without fault unless the premises had first been meticulously put through a thorough testing and commissioning regime.

You could compare it to the situation at the Singapore Flyer soon after its launch, when a power failure saw dozens of visitors trapped for hours.

As such, the IPBA was walking in with "eyes wide open" in opting to be the first to host a conference at the integrated resort.

Shouldn't ample time have been given for the premises to be ready for its opening? That would have been fairer to the thousands of construction workers who had to work non-stop to ensure the building was ready for the opening ceremony.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Spare The Children

The Taiwan Government seems to be also having problem with the teaching of their Second Language, English. To me, the slogan on the placard seems to be suggesting "Spare The Children" rather than "Give a break to children" as translated in the arcticle. This is the interesting part about learning languages.

Abstracted From The Straits Times ( May 17, 2010)

TAIPEI - LEARNING English is an obsession in Taiwan, but a plan to boost instruction in the language for elementary school students has triggered an unusual response - outrage.

A demonstrator holds a protest placard reading "Give a break to children" during a rally in Taipei. Around 3,000 teachers, school children and their parents joined the rally against a plan by Taipei county government to increase three hours of English classes per week for elementary school children. -- AFP

Taipei county wants to add two English classes to the weekly schedule from September, thus doubling or in some cases tripling the pupils' exposure to the language, but teachers, students and their parents are not happy.

'Kids should have time to enjoy their a childhood,' said Su You-liang, a teacher at Ta Kuan Elementary School in Panchiao city.

On Sunday, thousands of children and grown-ups took to the streets of Taipei, urging the county government to scrap what they called an 'illegal plan'. The two additional English classes are supposed to help local school children catch up with their counterparts in Singapore and Hong Kong, education officials said.

The export-dependent island has long had a love affair with the English language, seeing proficiency as a prerequisite for success, with President Ma Ying-jeou routinely doing interviews with foreign reporters in the language.

Many Taiwanese complain that the English instruction they receive at school is insufficient, and a plethora of private schools specialising in the language have evolved across the island. -- AFP

Friday, 14 May 2010

MTL - Changed Strategy In This Issue But What Is The Real Problem & Solution ?

"EDUCATION Minister Ng Eng Hen apologised yesterday for giving the 'wrong impression' in a recent press interview that his ministry was planning to reduce the mother tongue weightage." (Straits Times, May 12, 2010)

"I think I should have chosen my words more carefully and apologise for creating that wrong impression," he said of his interview three weeks ago with The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao.

In that interview, Dr Ng had said the Ministry of Education (MOE) was looking at options to address the overemphasis on exams, where 'mother tongue languages count for so much in the PSLE'.

"The worry is whether it could exclude someone from progressing in his educational pathway even if he did well in other subjects," he had said.
There is a changed strategy in addressing this issue by the PM and the Education Minister about MTL teaching and examinations in our education system, but what is the real solution for promoting the quality of teaching of the MTL in our education system?

My Opinion

The real problem is that in Singapore, our system is always searching for "easy" tools to quick-fix a "problem". I felt it was an attempt to stop antagonising some parents for a quick fix because Election is near. Hence, the issue almost saga but the strategy backfired.

When the Governemnt cannot use "money" as a tool to quick-fix a problem, they often use their policies, and hence "examinations" are targetted as a quick fix.

I believe language should be taught through a "natural" way and process. I do not think Chinese as a MTL is taught in a unique way in China today via quick-fix manipulation, through examination policies or emphasis by weightage on examinations.

I recall I was amongst the pioneer batches required to pass Chinese at "A" Levels in order to enter our local university. My peers who did not like Chinese as 2nd Langauge, and took Malay; had cursed and sworn at that policy then. That was the "trial and error" phase to introduce MTL education.

I personally learned Chinese the "natural" and "simple" way, ironically when our education system was not so well structured and complex.

Today, I work for a subsidiary of a China state-run MNC. I am employed more because of my specialist skillset in Contracts, as well as my knowledge of the English langauge; rather than my ability in the Chinese language. But with my MTL knowledge learned as a 2nd language, I am able to communicate and appreciate the Chinese culture, style of management and way of doing business.

I do not and need not speak as fast as natural Chinese native speakers, but I can follow at the speed they are talking or delivering their message, in order to work with them. And I communicate at my own speed, and also in the imperfect Singaporean mode, due to my early upbringing in a Hokkien dialact environment.

I believe this was also the way I learned English as the First Language. While in our university, I had to get use to listening to lecturers speaking different brands of English - UK, USA, Australia, NZ, HK and other Asian nationalities including our very own Singlish, and it was not about studying languages but on the very technical subject on "Architectural Buildings and Construction".

In fact, it was harder for me to cope with learning English than Chinese at the early stage. Today, I know both pretty well, although I have lost touch in written Chinese. But I can read sufficiently well.

I believe which ever langauge one knows better, one will tend to use that language as the "comprehending" language in the thought process. I do not know if any language expert can prove me wrong. So my tendency is to listen well in Chinese to a native speaker and then use English language to decipher its meaning. This is a habit which is hard to rid completely and slows the communication process. Hence, I do not agree completely to the suggestion on the use of English to teach Chinese / Mandarin.

However, my above handicap does not stop me from understanding the Chinese culture, management style, and ways of doing long as I can catch the spoken Chinese words fast enough.

The real problem is we do not have the "cultural" environment to help us learn the language. "Culture" or "Wen Hua" ... means language (wen) which is just the first part or beginning to culture, and we need the bigger environment to perfect the learning of the Chinese language. When one master the langauge, he is most likely to go on to master the understanding of culture. And in China, when you master both, you are considserd as "educated". This environemnt, we do not have, to support our learning of the language. This is not simply solved by using quick-fix tools and policies like having native speakers as language teachers or putting weightage on examinations, or even the way it is tested or examined. It helps a little but is certainly not the cure.

The learners must be immersed in the right larger environment.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Mother tongue still vital

"THE teaching of mother tongue languages remains a vital feature of Singapore's education system, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday" (Straits Times, May 4, 2010).

The PM issued a brief statement in the wake of strong reactions to Education Minister Ng Eng Hen's recent comments that the weighting given to mother tongue languages in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) may be cut.

The sudden announcement of "quick changes", quite obviously to please the electorate, like this one and other changes such as the upward revision of employers' CPF rate, are clear signs that the Election may be imminent.

It seems that each Minister is busy coming out with his own "quick fix" to test the response of the electorate or to please them. We are even assured of "total water sufficiency" by 2061 when the 2nd Water Agreement with Malaysia expires, as announced by SM Goh Chok Tong. (Mypaper, May 4, 2010)

If not because of the Election, such "productivity" in implementing policies is rarely seen and often handled with much "red-tape" ?

An educated and more sophisticated electorate should still look in depth beneath the surface of such "quick fixes"; by exercising their voting discreetly, in view of the outcry of "blunders" in policies by the incumbent Government, such as the heavy losses incurred by the two SWF investment funds, despite installed structural measures, supposingly to safeguard our national reserves.

Currently, mother tongue has a weighting of 25 per cent, similar to that for English, mathematics and science, the other three subjects in the PSLE. Quite obviously by lowering the weightage on mother tongue, the emphasis and burden in examinations is not going to be alleviated but shift to other subjects.

In a different perspective, objectives of our education system should not be so easily given up in just a feat to gain more votes during the Election.