Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Rehiring past 65: Incentives for firms which voluntarily re-employ older workers up to 67

Incentives for firms to re-employ workers past age 65
By Janice Heng And Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

FROM next January, incentives will be given to companies that voluntarily rehire workers past age 65, before legislation kicks in to raise the re-employment age to 67.

This "promotional approach" was suggested by a tripartite committee and accepted by the Government yesterday, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Details of the incentives are now being worked out by MOM, together with the Finance Ministry and tripartite partners which include employers and unionists.

These will be announced next year but backdated to Jan 1, 2015.

But the labour movement, especially, has been calling for the age to be raised to 67.

Since late last year, the Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers (Tricom) has been studying the question of when this should happen.

After consulting stakeholders such as unions and employer groups, Tricom recommends that the Government use incentives to coax companies to do it before legislation eventually kicks in.

It also issued guidelines in a Tripartite Advisory on Re-employment of Employees from Age 65 to 67, for employers that want to do it.

The labour movement welcomes and supports this advisory, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said last night.

"Starting with promotion is not new," said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, noting that the same approach was taken in 2012 to encourage firms to rehire older workers when they turn 62.

Mr Stephen Lee, immediate past president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said the news should cheer bosses, who feared the legislation would kick in "too soon".

"We therefore welcome the time given to help employers to manage their older workers over the next few years before legislation sets in," he added.

Experienced crane operators wanted

More new hires but they lack experience needed for complex jobs
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

THE number of crane operators has nearly doubled in the past year, but construction projects may still be delayed as many new hires do not have the experience needed for complex jobs.

And while the rules allow for four foreign hires to every one local hire today, they will be tightened to a ratio of two to one by 2017, and that could worsen the crunch, said Singapore Crane Association chairman Alan Chan.

There are about 6,000 crane operators today, almost twice the 3,600 reported by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post he wrote last year about the manpower shortage for building new Housing Board flats.

But while the increase in operator numbers is encouraging, construction companies told The Straits Times a "gaping" need remains for workers with at least five years' experience, an industry standard.

This is because high-risk projects, particularly those in populated areas, require "much more careful handling", said Mr Belvin Tan, 47, safety manager of Yau Lee Construction. It will take time to bring the new pool of hires up to standard, he added.

The need is made even more pressing by the ageing pool of operators, more than 40 per cent of whom are above the age of 50.

Many will find it hard to continue working with increasing age and its impact on eyesight, and chronic illnesses like heart conditions and high blood pressure, said Mr Chan.

Though the association does not have concrete figures, Mr Chan said the attrition rate due to health conditions is "quite high".

Ageing crane operators may also find it harder to renew their Class 5 driving licences needed to operate mobile cranes after the age of 65, which would further shrink the pool.

Though the Monetary Authority of Singapore lowered its forecast for the growth of the construction sector earlier this month after an industry poll, insiders say about 800 to 1,200 more crane operators are still needed.

Delusions pushing Germany towards decline, experts warn

Pride in its economic growth model ignores massive 'lack of investment'
The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2014

BERLIN - Germany, which has long seen itself as the star pupil among debt-mired European economies, is heading for a steep decline driven by serious delusions about its own model, prominent experts are warning.

This gloom-and-doom scenario for Europe's top economic power is at the heart of a new book by Professor Marcel Fratzscher, head of the influential German Institute for Economic Research, which is coming out today and already inviting wide scrutiny.

In The Germany Illusion, Prof Fratzscher argues the bare facts paint an angst-inducing vision of the future in which some of the key sources of German national pride - discipline and thrift - become the tools of its undoing. "The economy of this country is sputtering. Its growth since 2000 is weaker than the European average. Salaries have risen more slowly and poverty, on the rise, is impacting one child in five."

Prof Fratzscher argues that Germany's own flattering self-image when it comes to management of its economy, a model driven by deficit-trimming and trade surpluses, is simply "dangerous". Germany, he says, is "resting on its laurels" while the average household income has sunk 3 per cent since the turn of the millennium, and 5 per cent for the poorest citizens.

He acknowledges the country has come a long way since it was known as the "sick man of Europe" a little over a decade ago.

New Chinese centre to encourage multiculturalism

By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

PERFORMANCES at the upcoming Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre in Shenton Way will include collaborations with non-Chinese arts groups, said its chief executive Choo Thiam Siew.

For instance, non-Chinese musicians could be invited to play for say, a Chinese dance, he said, adding: "Chinese flautists already play together with Indian tabla musicians."

Mr Choo was elaborating on the vision that the centre's chairman Chua Thian Poh outlined at the building's ground-breaking ceremony yesterday. The event was officiated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is the centre's patron.

The 11-storey centre, Mr Chua said, will "encourage integration among all races in Singapore".

When ready in 2016, it will "mark the beginning of a new era in Singapore's cultural history".

"I am confident the centre will lead and contribute much diversity and colour to Singapore's culture," he added.

The idea for the centre was mooted by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, of which Mr Chua is the president. Sited next to the Singapore Conference Hall, it will include an art gallery, a 150-seat recital hall, a multi-purpose hall and a 530-seat auditorium.

At last month's National Day Rally, PM Lee said in Mandarin that the centre will promote both traditional Chinese culture and a modern, uniquely local variant that has sprung up here.

Thieves, beware: The cars are watching

Motorists with in-car cameras help fight crime in pilot scheme
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

AN EXTRA set of eyes has been watching over 40 of Singapore's carparks for the past five months.

The Straits Times has learnt that Bedok Police Division launched a high-tech crime prevention initiative in May, in which cameras installed in about 400 cars - all belonging to public volunteers - keep a lookout for theft and vandalism.

Motorists with cameras already installed can volunteer for the Vehicles-On-Watch scheme.

Some gadgets are switched on 24 hours a day, while others are kept on standby when cars are parked but start recording when they detect motion.

Video recordings can be used to assist in police investigations. In February, camera footage from a van helped police nab a thief who stole items from the vehicle in Geylang. He was charged in court and jailed for 18 months.

Although Vehicles-On-Watch has yet to be called into any similar action, residents in the area support the scheme.

Community Justice Centre: Over 8,000 get aid from courts' one-stop centre

By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

MADAM Hirnie Tahir lost her cashier job when her degenerative eye disease became worse last year. Her former husband was in jail and she needed money for her four children, aged five to 11.

Then came a surprise one-off gift of $200 from the Community Justice Centre (CJC).

"I was really surprised and grateful for the help," said the 38-year-old. "I thought the CJC officer just wanted to find out about my financial situation and refer me to other agencies."

She is one of a growing number of people getting help from the centre, a charity set up in 2012 to assist those who cannot afford lawyers. It also chips in with cash assistance, provides food rations and collaborates with other social agencies for longer-term support.

In less than two years, it has already helped more than 8,000 people. Last year, the centre's Social and Referral Services programme helped 477 needy people, many of whom required financial aid. In the first eight months of this year, the number of people helped was already 489.

And this month, the centre launched the On-site Legal Advice Scheme, under which two lawyers are on hand at the State Courts five days a week to give free legal advice. An average of 14 people use the service every day, said the centre's executive director, Mr Leonard Lee.

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, who volunteers at the centre, which is based at the State Courts, called it a "one-stop hub" where the needs of the underprivileged could be addressed as a whole.

Police want to stop sales of bottled beer at Tekka

Move to reduce risk of bottles used in fights by rowdy crowds
By Marissa Lee And Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

A SHARP increase in rowdy behaviour and large crowds at Tekka Centre's hawker centre on the weekends is prompting the police to ask stall owners to stop selling bottled beer.

This is to reduce the risk of glass bottles being used as weapons in fights, explained the Singapore Police Force.

The move comes after an incident last month when a drunk man struck a 19-year-old busboy from behind with a broken glass bottle, and fled into the night.

Drinks vendor Maureen Ho, 42, said: "The police met us last week and told us that since people here often break bottles to start fights, we should ban bottles for three months and see if there are fewer fights."

But stall owners doubt if a no-bottles initiative will help.

"Even if we don't sell bottles, who's to stop them from bringing their own drinks here?" said drinks vendor Madam Ho Ah Hiang, 50, pointing to the shards of a liquor bottle on the ground.

The situation has become so bad on Sunday evenings that security officers use a barrier mesh to prevent foreign workers from overcrowding the open space in the middle of the hawker centre floor.

But outside of Tekka Centre, the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act has left the streets of Little India much more subdued.

Since the Act was enforced in April, licensed shops can sell alcohol only up to 8pm on weekends, public holidays and eves of public holidays. Alcohol also cannot be consumed in public places.

Small businesses which sell alcohol have been hit hard, with many shop owners worried that they may not survive the one-year ban.

S. Iswaran: It's about law and order, and social concerns

Next month, Parliament debates the Remote Gambling Bill. Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran, 52, tells Charissa Yong why the Government wants to draw a line in the sand on online gambling. The official point man for all things F1 here also talks about the race's future.
The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2014

Why is there now a need for the Remote Gambling Bill?

The growing reach of the Internet, mobile bandwidth, and smart devices means many people now carry a computer in their pocket. This has fuelled a global surge in online gaming. Because of that, several countries reviewed their legislation.

We are no different and need to make sure we have the regulatory levers in place to deal with online gaming, before it becomes a big problem. The laws we have governing gaming today - the Common Gaming Houses Act and the Betting Act - were enacted well before there was such a thing as the Internet, (as) the fact they talk about gaming houses tells you.

What are the concerns the Bill seeks to address?

One is about law and order. Because these operations are transnational, there is a real risk of association with criminal activities and money-laundering.

The other is the social concern. Because online gambling is ubiquitous and accessible, you don't have the usual safeguards you might put in place, say, for example, to bar the underaged from a casino. The vulnerable are more exposed to this, especially the young, because they are more tech-savvy and better able to use technology to gamble online.

We're living in the most dangerous region in the world

By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2014

When a world-renowned geopolitical risk analyst tells you you’re living in the world’s most dangerous place, what do you do?

You blanch and blink.

Ian Bremmer, 44, a political risk expert who founded the Eurasia Group, was sitting in a nondescript room with several newspaper editors from Singapore Press Holdings intent on picking his brains on hot spots in the world.

He was talking about the Ukraine and Russia, which he considered a graver threat to world order than the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The western world’s mismanagement in Ukraine had led to Russia flexing its muscle, Nato displeasure and Russia cosying up to China. The latter was what worried Mr Bremmer, more than the mayhem being unleashed by the ISIS extremists in Syria and Iraq.

But the most troubling conflict zone, the most dangerous place in the world long-term, is this region, he said. He meant Asia.

In the media business, it’s easy to get caught up with the headlines of the week. These days, the news is all about ISIS. It was Scotland’s referendum last week, and Ukraine remains on and off for the past few months. China and disputes in the East and South China Seas have been knocked off the front-page headlines for a few weeks.

But it remains the most worrying conflict zone in the world to this political scientist with a PhD from Stanford.

Hong Kong pro-democracy protests

Warnings and ultimatums put HK on the edge
HK leader says he will not resign, points out social costs of protests
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2014

AHEAD of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China today, protest organisers in control of major roads in the city were demanding that Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying resign, or face the prospect of an escalation of protests.

They also want "public nomination", that is, the right for the people to nominate the chief executive candidates in the 2017 election instead of having them being vetted by a nominating committee, as is stipulated under the Basic Law.

An ultimatum for Mr Leung to show up last night to meet the protesters came and went.

A rumoured police crackdown to clear protest sites ahead of today's public holiday had also not materialised by press time.

What did arrive last night instead were yet more people, their enthusiasm not doused by a thundery storm at night. They popped open the colourful brollies they had at hand to guard against tear gas and pepper spray, earning the movement the moniker of "Umbrella Revolution".