Wednesday 18 February 2015

S'pore jobs elude foreign workers who trained for them

Many stranded due to slowdown in building sector, tighter hiring rules
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2015

THEY pay thousands of dollars for training just so they can get a job as a construction worker in Singapore.

But a combination of tighter rules on foreign workers here and a slowdown in the sector are leaving thousands of men from India and Bangladesh stranded without jobs and with rising piles of debt.

The plummeting demand for new workers has meant that more than 10,000 construction workers from India and Bangladesh have been trained in the past year but have been left without jobs, 10 recruitment firms told The Straits Times.

Many of these men, who typically earn about $600 a month in Singapore, spend about $7,000 to get a job here.

About $2,000 goes towards paying for a training course that will help workers pass a test that will qualify them to work here. The rest of the money, between $5,000 and $6,000, goes towards paying employment agents who help them secure a job.

Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldWide, noted that just two years ago, most foreign construction workers would have been able to find jobs in Singapore within weeks.

"The demand for new workers used to be so high that employers would have to wait for them to be trained and tested. Now, it is the other way around," he said.

The construction industry here has been slowing down. Advance estimates show that the sector expanded by just 3 per cent last year, compared with about 6 per cent in 2013.

At the same time, firms here have also been hit with tighter restrictions on how many foreigners they can hire, said Mr Andy Goh, chief financial officer of construction firm Sysma Holdings.

"We have heard of construction firms which need the manpower, but cannot afford to (hire) because of the higher levies for construction workers. Overall, the industry is moving towards retaining existing workers," added Mr Goh.

For workers who trained at overseas centres, the wait for a job can be as long as six months. Even then, some workers do not even get a call back, said Ms Val Ng, a manager at Singapore recruitment agency Union Employment.

"The demand is really quite bad," said Ms Ng.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA), which administers the qualifying test for foreign construction workers, said it does not have the number of foreign construction workers who have taken its test but do not get a job here.

But the authority said it recognises that demand for newly certified foreign construction workers has dropped, "as more firms choose to retain and upgrade the skills of experienced workers".

The BCA has told the management of overseas testing centres to reduce the number of workers being trained and tested.

"For the Bangladesh and India overseas testing centres, the average monthly test enrolment in the first two months of this year has reduced by about one-third as compared to the average monthly enrolment figures last year," said a BCA spokesman.

Bosses of training and test centres in India and Bangladesh said they have started to turn away workers.

"I don't want the workers to blame me for not telling them that it is difficult to find a job in Singapore," said the manager of a BCA-approved testing centre in Chennai, India.

But for the many workers who have borrowed money to pay for the training, they have no choice but to wait for an opening.

"They do not want to take up another permanent job because what if a job in Singapore opens up? They have already paid so much money and want to come to Singapore. They have a lot to lose," said Ms K. Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore.

Migrant Workers' Centre chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, who is an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said the problem of an excess of trained foreign workers starts with errant foreign employment agents who recruit workers without securing jobs for them.

"Source countries share an equal or greater responsibility to enforce against the errant practices taking place in their own countries," said Mr Yeo.

'I didn't know I have to wait so long to find a job in Singapore'
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2015

EVERY DAY, Indian national construction worker Jeyapraesh Pannerselvam, 27, calls employment agents and friends to ask if they have a job for him in Singapore.

But the answer for the last 10 months has been "No".

Despite this, Mr Jeyapraesh does not want to give up on his "Singapore dream".

In March last year, he signed up for a training course to prepare for a Building and Construction Authority (BCA) skills certification test. Passing the test is a must for all new foreign construction workers who want to work in Singapore.

The training course and test fees cost $2,000. He paid half of this with savings from when he was a construction worker in Dubai for four years. He plans to pay the rest with his salary from working in Singapore. He hopes to earn about $800 a month here.

For now, he is working as a temporary construction worker in Chennai in South India and earns about $250 a month, which is about the average salary that construction workers take home in India. In Dubai, he earned about $400 a month.

Mr Jeyapraesh told The Straits Times in a phone interview that he is still hopeful of finding a job in Singapore. "I have already spent all my life savings to find a job in Singapore. I will wait and I am sure I can get a job," he said.

Mr Jeyapraesh, the youngest of three sons, said he was inspired by a neighbour in his village who had worked in Singapore as a construction worker. "My neighbour said Singapore is a good and safe place. He earned a lot of money. I want to be like him too."

Mr Jeyapraesh said his neighbour and employment agents did not tell him about the tough job hunt. "I did not know that I will have to wait so long. It is stressful," he said.

For now, he plans to cast his net wider and call on friends and relatives working in Singapore to find work for him. "My plan is to work in Singapore for four years, save enough money and come back and get married. I hope I can meet my goals," he said.

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