Sunday 30 September 2012

Job Flexibility for Productivity: New plan to relieve hotel labour crunch

By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2012

WORK permit holders working in hotels may now hold up to three positions at the same hotel in a government move to relieve labour shortages in the hospitality industry.

The Ministry of Manpower yesterday announced its Job Flexibility for Productivity plan, a pilot initiative aimed at helping hotels and hostels.

Businesses that want to participate in the programme may apply to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) from Monday.

"Hotels can optimise the use of their workforce by deploying their existing workers to perform more functions, instead of hiring more foreign workers," said Mr Lee Ark Boon, the ministry's divisional director of manpower planning and policy.

"The expected productivity improvements should contribute positively to their bottom lines."

Currently, a work permit holder can perform only tasks specific to the position he or she was hired to do. It is illegal, for example, for one hired as a cleaner to work as a receptionist as well.

Under the new initiative, however, approved businesses may deploy such workers to a maximum of two other jobs in the same company for two years.

Singaporean workers can already rotate between roles.

The programme, which the ministry and STB will review over the next two years, is one answer to the hospitality industry's struggle to recruit and retain workers.

Because it relies largely on foreign labour, the sector has been hit hard ever since the Government made it more difficult for employers to hire foreigners.

There are more than 300 hotels and hostels licensed by the Hotel Licensing Board here. Since July 1, the proportion of work permit and S Pass holders allowed to work in each firm in the services sector has been cut from 50 per cent to 45 per cent.

The Singapore Hotel Association's executive director Margaret Heng said yesterday the move would "help hoteliers manage their resources more effectively".

Mr Kevin Bossino, the regional manager for Accor Singapore, a hotel chain, called it a "positive change".

The group will consider applying for the programme, he added.

The ministry said successful applicants must continue to comply with the Employment Act, which states, among other things, that staff cannot be asked to work more than 12 hours a day.

Employees must also be trained, and paid a fair wage for the extra work.

Royal Plaza office staff help out in the cleaning
Hotel rolls out initiative as labour crunch in housekeeping turns dire
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2012

MANY companies complain about difficulty in finding local workers for service-related jobs, but perhaps nowhere is the crisis more evident than at the posh Royal Plaza on Scotts, where even top executives sometimes wield a toilet brush and a vacuum cleaner.

The five-star business hotel in the heart of Orchard Road has asked its back-office staff to clean their own workspaces so the housekeeping department can focus solely on guest rooms and public areas.

The 78 staff in departments such as sales, marketing, human resources and information technology now take turns to vacuum their own offices, empty wastepaper baskets and even clean the office toilets - for no extra pay.

Managers, including general manager Patrick Fiat, are not exempt.

The initiative began two months ago as the labour crunch in housekeeping became dire, he said.

"The guest rooms are supposed to be ready for check-in at noon, but sometimes guests have to wait until 4pm or 5pm. This happens maybe five or six times a week."

The hotel now employs 15 per cent fewer staff than it has budgeted for.

"The worst-affected department is housekeeping, where we have enough staff now for an average occupancy of 70 per cent, but we are running at around 90 per cent occupancy on average," Mr Fiat said.

The labour shortage is a result of two factors - a sharp increase in the number of hotels here and the Government's move to tighten the supply of foreign labour.

Royal Plaza participates in job fairs and holds recruitment drives targeted at locals every two to three months, but it is hard to get Singaporeans to take up housekeeping jobs.

Its latest local hire in housekeeping took seven months to find and recruit.

The crunch is so bad that managers have had to call on staff from the engineering, security and front-office departments to help with housekeeping.

They do simple things that do not require training, such as stripping away bed linen, clearing rubbish and putting fresh towels in the bathrooms.

In his 16 years of working at Royal Plaza, engineering supervisor Chua Boon Kin had never had to do such tasks until last month, when he was asked to help redo more than 10 guest rooms.

"I am happy to help out. I've worked here so long and it takes only about five minutes for each room," said the 51-year-old.

While the housekeeping team was complaining about its workload, the back-office staff were starting to murmur that their offices were not being cleaned regularly.

Mr Fiat said he put two and two together and one morning called a meeting of the office staff and presented them with vacuum cleaners.

The move was not about cutting costs, he insisted.

The hotel could have hired external contractors to do the office cleaning, but this would have been "an easy way out", he said.

"To me, it was more to send a message that we are all together in the same boat and we have to help one another.

"There's no point complaining or moaning, let's work together."

Associate sales director Josephine Lim, 35, said the 14 people in her office have a "buddy" system where they are grouped in pairs and take turns to vacuum the floor and clean the pantry each week.

This means each person does these tasks only once every seven weeks.

"We take turns bringing home the cleaning rags from the pantry to wash and bring them back after the weekend," she said.

The regular cleaning sessions have turned out to be quite a good bonding experience, she added.

"All the sales staff tend to go out for meetings most of the time so we barely see one another, but now I've found out, for example, that my buddy likes fishing, which I never knew."

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