Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Labour chief calls for nation of better customers

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2014

WORKERS providing a service are not the servants of their customers, said labour chief Lim Swee Say, as he called for a nation of better customers in his annual May Day message released yesterday.

Overly demanding customers would cause even more of a strain on the labour crunch, which is here to stay for years to come, he added. “As we strive to become a more advanced economy, we must also strive to be a nation of better customers and better people.”

Although Labour Day on May 1 has traditionally been used by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to celebrate workers’ contributions to Singapore, the labour movement is turning its focus – for the first time – to customers, with a campaign to get them to show more appreciation to workers.

“Instead of complaining that the service standard in Singapore is still not good enough, why don’t you ask yourself ‘Are the customers in Singapore good enough?’” said Mr Lim, who is NTUC secretary-general.

Mr Lim in a media briefing last week on NTUC’s May Day celebration plans.To kick off the campaign, 1,000 union members will fan out across Singapore on Labour Day this Thursday to say “thank you” to 100,000 workers.

NTUC is also mulling over plans to get workers to highlight model customers. The effort could help firms cope with the labour crunch, said Mr Lim, noting that workers are shunning service sector jobs as “customers are adding to the stress”.

He also warned: “The labour market will remain tight until 2020, and even tighter all the way to 2030.”

He explained that the local manpower growth will slow with the ageing population, and that curbs on the inflow of foreign workers will continue. To cope, “employers have to learn to make better use of every worker and treat every worker better”. Workers, on their end, should not take job certainty for granted and keep upgrading their skills, he added.

In a separate message yesterday, NTUC president Diana Chia said unions will step up the drive to get more workers from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to join unions, because SMEs hire “a large proportion” of the labour force.

“We do this because we believe that no worker should be deprived of the benefits of union members,” she said. This ranges from having a union to speak up for workers when negotiating with employers to shopping rebates at FairPrice.

NTUC has some 780,000 members, including over 70,000 from its youth wing, and retirees. There are about 140,000 foreign workers and 570,000 local workers.

NTUC kicks off its May Day celebrations tomorrow, where it will hand out over 100 awards to firms and individuals at a dinner at Orchid Country Club.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will give his annual May Day Rally speech this Thursday at the new Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East, named after the former president who was a union leader.

Labour market to remain tight until 2030: NTUC head
S’poreans must adjust mindset to succeed in the economic restructuring ahead, says Lim Swee Say in May Day Message
By Amir Hussain, TODAY, 28 Apr 2014

The labour market is set to remain tight till 2020, and even tighter all the way to 2030, said labour chief Lim Swee Say.

While the tightening of the labour market will spur a faster pace of economic restructuring, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Secretary-General said the labour movement is determined to keep upgrading workers’ skills and creating good jobs, in order to succeed in the transition.

To that end, he has called for an adjustment in Singaporeans’ mindset, to “change our economy, our workforce and our society for the better”.

Employers have to learn to make better use of every worker, and treat every worker better, said Mr Lim in his May Day Message ahead of Thursday’s celebration. “Competition for good people will not ease. Only better employers can attract and retain better people and grow more profitably,” he added.

Mr Lim noted that Singapore’s economic growth is healthy and wages continue to move up faster than inflation, but he cautioned on the need to find ways to go through the economic restructuring “as smoothly (and) as effectively as possible”.

He told reporters: “Because if we get it wrong, our economy may lose our competitiveness, our job growth may slow down, and eventually businesses may either relocate or just completely close down their operation.”

Workers, meanwhile, should not take the tight labour market for granted, Mr Lim said, as he pointed to the global move towards robotisation and the use of technology to reduce dependency on labour. Hence, Singaporeans have to “value our jobs more and take greater pride in what we do”.

Mr Lim’s comments came as figures released last week by the Manpower Ministry showed that 11,560 workers were laid off last year, slightly more than the 11,010 in 2012. Overall, the top reason for redundancy was the restructuring of business processes, reflecting the ongoing productivity drive. This affected 40 per cent of workers laid off last year, up from 37 per cent in 2012, the MOM said.

Senior Regional Economist at Barclays Leong Wai Ho felt Mr Lim’s May Day Message was an “apt reminder that global competition is intensifying”. “As wage costs rise due to the labour tightening and the ageing of our workforce, along comes pressure for workers to be ever more productive and value adding,” he added.

DBS Senior Economist Irvin Seah, meanwhile, noted that it remains to be seen whether the tight labour market will slacken in, say, the case of a recession. However, from a structural perspective, the population is ageing and the foreign labour policy is tighter, so the labour market will remain “persistently tight for many years to come”. On unemployment from the restructuring, Mr Seah noted that the only way to mitigate this is to reskill and retrain workers so they remain employable.

On the tight labour market, Deputy General Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees Yeo Chun Fing noted that workers may be more stressed as employers push for higher productivity.

In his message, Mr Lim also said that as the Republic strives to become a more advanced economy, it must also strive to be “a nation of better customers and better people”. He urged Singaporeans to treat service workers as equals: “The globalised world thrives on mutual dependency, mutual support and mutual acceptance. Good services beget good customers, and good customers beget good services,” he said.

Executive Secretary of the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union Patrick Tay noted that his union members want their customers — patients and their families — to treat healthcare staff with respect and honour. But the mindset change will not be an easy task, he said, noting that expectations are high. “It takes everyone to join hands to make Singapore more gracious and a great place to live and to work in,” he added.

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