Too many news about foreign workers?

I always have deepest respect to the law enforcement in Singapore. Blogged about it once about how they helped me with a Small Case: basically the annoyance when some joker locked his/her bicycle together with mine.

So I find myself wondering whether there’s any action taken against this vigilante, Mr. Mr Lee Chia Poon, who claimed to punish with his fist a foreign worker allegedly urinating outside his kitchen window. (Reference to Straits Times 25/11/07, “Foreign workers at void decks leave residents seething”)

Mr Lee Chia Poon, 38, a plumber, said his wife, who is a member of the patrol, had alerted him to the worker urinating.

'I ran out and grabbed him and we got into a fist fight. My fist was bleeding and I hit his head so hard that an ambulance came to patch him up.'

He said the foreign worker did not report him to the police because he knew that he was in the wrong.

Terrible. It sort of reminds me to one blogger’s post about the incident of a foreign worker was punched in the bus because he’s accused of staring. (Reference to Jadeite’s blog 02/06/07, “Fugly Singaporean”)

Anyway (still referring to the Straits Times article) I’m rather puzzled with this:
The workers said residents have thrown bags of water and urine at them.

How this helped the situation is beyond me. The workers were “loitering” at the residents’ block & they were rewarded with “bags of water” and “urine”. Sure they aren’t classified as a “killer litter”, but don’t the residents realize they exacerbate the problems? Not only their estate is seemingly troubled with foreign workers’ unwanted presence (just conveniently ignore the fact that it’s a public place), but the residents are also equally bad in handling the situation.

In the previous post of mine I quoted a blogger, mrbiao’s remark about how government ought to do something like introducing “compulsory courses for foreign workers to attend, teaching them about Singapore’s laws, regulations and cultural differences.”

As a matter of fact, it has already existed. True, it is not compulsory (C’mon, all things compulsory usually have a negative connotation). Yes, I am referring to Straits Times 05/11/07, “Grassroots groups rope in foreign workers”.

Of the 9,000 foreign workers housed in three dormitories in Eunos, 42 are now trained in evacuation procedures and understanding local culture, among other things.

With more foreign workers expecting to come here (what, with construction indusry is recovering very well especially with the incoming IR projects and marine industry booming, thanks to the ever-growing oil price), expect more problem of housing them. Ministry of National Development once issued a statement, "More sites for foreign-worker housing", 23/01/06 to remind employers to provide "acceptable conditions" when housing their foreign workers.

It is quite obvious that a number of employers had deserved that reminder:
Between April 2005 and last month (December 2005), the Ministry of Manpower has warned 963 employers for housing their workers in non-approved accommodation and 12 employers were fined a total of $14,400.

Compare that to between January & May 2007 (I don't have statistic for 2006) when "18 (employers) were issued composition fines totalling S$30,700 and 98 others given warning letters." (ChannelNewsAsia 27/06/07 "Employer fined for housing foreign workers in public toilet")

SINGAPORE: A local company providing cleaning services has been fined a total of S$7,500 for not providing adequate accommodation for its foreign workers.

Maint-Kleen was taken to court by the Manpower Ministry after an inspection in February last year revealed four of its employees had been cooking and sleeping in a public toilet at Waterloo Street.

So that's why these 34 foreign workers decided to choose their own accommodation & ended up being crammed in a four-room HDB flat? (ChannelNewsAsia 19/12/07 "HDB to investigate case of 34 workers living in one rented flat")

Maybe. Maybe not. One thing for sure, though, the article did not mention whether the employer(s) of these 34 workers would be investigated.

SINGAPORE : The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will launch an investigation into a flat unit at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 which is rented to 34 foreign workers.

The tenants said they each pay S$150 a month to stay in the four-room flat unit.

The landlord has taken one room, and the remaining space is not enough for all 34 tenants.

So they spend time at the void deck to avoid the cramped conditions.

The HDB said four-room flats can only take in up to eight occupants, and the case is a clear breach of HDB rules.

With the levy rate for skilled foreign workers--which constitute above 50% to 60% of total workforce and above 30% to 45% of the total workforce in the Manufacturing and Service Sectors--had been increased from $100 to $150 since beginning of this year as well as with Introduction of Employer-financed Medical Insurance Requirement for Foreign Workers, applicable for all new and existing foreign workers on Work Permit or S Pass since beginning of next year, it's obvious that employing foreign workers are not that cheap. Not anymore, at least.

Still employers might have no choice but employing foreign workers & the government had recently announcened about quota widened for foreign workers (29/11/07, EnterpriseOne):

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will ease regulations on the hiring of foreign workers and implement several measures to support Singapore's growing manpower needs.

From 1 January 2008, the quota of S-Pass holders will be increased from 15% to 25% for all sectors to help meet the growing demand for mid-skilled, mid-level foreign workers. Companies can therefore employ more S-Pass holders in lieu of Work Permit holders. The 10% increase is expected to bring in another 50,000-100,000 new workers into Singapore.

To ease the manpower pressure in the booming construction, process and marine sectors, MOM will raise the dependency ratio of local to foreign workers from 1:5 to 1:7. Workers in the construction industry will only require 2 years of working experience from next March, down from the current 4.

The dependency ratio of local to foreign workers for the Marine sector will also be raised from 1:3 to 1:5 next year. The Manufacturing sector will be allowed to employ 6.5 foreign workers for every 10 Singaporeans, while the figure for the Services sector is 5 foreign workers to 10 locals.

So expect more foreign workers, expect higher cost in employing them and expect more of so-called 'social problems' because of their presence.

Have a happy new year, everyone!

Update on 20/05/08: Yes, apparently there are too many news about foreign workers in "Singapore company vs landlord. The loser: 167 foreign workers."

Update on 02/06/08: More of housing problem in From "Shophouse of Horrors" to "Horror Hostel" | Rite Choice: Yeah, right.

let's all complain about air travel 2

finally a post on the jetlagged blog that makes sense!
read it here.

let's all complain about air travel

I have always struggled with people's inability to discern the difference between senseless whining and complaining. A complaint is the voicing of a legitimate concern with the positive goal of improvement. Granted, a complaint should be voiced in a constructive manner to get the best response, but moreover than not, people simply take it as whining and ignore the intended message (i won't even begin to address the inability of even well-educated people to have a truly intellectual discussion on the subject of religion, politics or computer operating systems!)

To me, designers and inventors are great complainers. Many of us will start with a verbal gripe, but luckily, many also sit down and draft solutions to all sorts of vexations! I find designer stories very engaging, especially when they can identify their motivation, inspiration and influences in/of their work. One theme that comes up in my own process is air travel (which will bring me to the point of this blog entry).

By the time I was conscious of air travel, the boeing 747 was already flying for a few years. If I remember correctly, my first non-infant flying experience was on a National airlines flight to Miami on a DC-10. Concords were flying over my head from the beach club on Long Island giving out a short sonic boom we would wait to hear. It was also at this time that Start Trek was popular in reruns, Space 1999 was must-see-tv and overall, Sci-Fi was prime-time. From my childhood perspective, the 747 and DC-10 were not even the height of technology for travel at the time as we had the concord in the air and space shuttle on the way. Our sights were set for colonies on the moon by 1999 and trips to Tokyo in super sonic jets cutting the trip to 5 hours (not to mention hovercrafts!)!

This is where I must insert my amazement and awe in technological advancements in computers and mobile telecommunications as I like to keep things on a positive note, but my frustration with things like air travel is a major component of my motivation in creating Nooka – airplanes and wristwatches are 2 things that do not match the level of advancement that should be acceptable in a world that has room for the iphone!

Anyway, why am I writing this? Because the New York Times has a blog that never ceases to anger me on the subject of air travel [access it here]. The NYT is normally a consumer-first news source, but this particular blog seems to be a mouthpiece for the industry itself. Sometimes they do address some concerns like rediculous and pointless security measures, but moreover it is a rebuke to anyone who complains about the state of air travel in 2007 [and soon 2008].

My point? I am on an airplane a minimum of 10 flights a year since 1987. A flight to Tokyo in 1977 took 15 hours from NYC and guess what? It still takes that long in 2007! A computer in 1977 was pretty much 0 for me as home computers were a rarity then yet we have seen increases in speed and technology that only a mathematician could express for me. Why should we not have higher expectations for air travel? The Jetlagged blog sometimes refers to when people had to take boats and trains as a scolding to people complaining about airtravel, and I use the same argument to make my point: it is not 1907 anymore. Everything gets faster and safer...why not air travel?

As for service on the planes: let the people who made the decision to not serve food on short flights prepare for a trip to starting in a suburban household in central New Jersey with a vegetarian and a child with Celiac disease. Let them see how 2 hours flying time does not mean 2 hours travel time for even a family living near a major airport (or anyone for that matter with current security procedures). Let the city planners and politicians travel with a lower middle class family with 2 children and their luggage on a bus to a midwest airport or on the subway+airtrain here in NYC. Let them find a healthy meal in an airport.

I say it's time for EVERYBODY to complain and complain in an articulate and productive manner so blogs like jetlagged get with the program -- and please note, this is not an airline-only problem -- the airports and the government are equally responsible for creating infrastructure and systems that keep air travel a safe and efficient experience. And a note to all the aeronautic engineers out there: where the hell is my anti-gravity drive hovercraft?

Too many foreign workers in Singapore?--So what?!

I read this
post by mrbiao (screenshot above) & I cringed at the display of arrogance.

The following quoted parts belong to mrbiao:

I’m quite disturbed at the number of foreign workers in Singapore nowadays. In fact I’m getting quite foreign-worker-phobic. Maybe its just the area I live in. Everytime I go to the ATM near my place on weekend evenings, there’ll be a queue of at least 10 foreign workers there, and they take forever to use the ATM. It’s not that I cannot empathise with their lack of ATM skills… I understand they are obviously less used to such ‘innovations’ than us, but being a typical Singaporean, I’m always in a rush, and I cannot tolerate waiting 10 minutes or more to withdraw some cash.

My comment: Please lah. It's not that they take "forever" to use ATM or "lack of ATM skills". They're just more cautious in ensuring that they're doing it right. So you think you're better than them?! Has more "ATM skills" than them?! Approach those workers, then. Assist them.

On most evenings, there’ll be groups of foreign workers of various nationalities having picnics on grass patches EVERYWHERE. They sit around having food and drinks, and almost always never clear up after they finish, leaving debris all over the place. Sometimes some of them get drunk and get rowdy or even fight with one another. I understand these chaps don’t have many options for entertainment, I try to emphatise with that, but it gets overboard when they start to make trouble and mess up the place.

My comment: My goodness, just call the police. Maybe the "No Littering" signboards have not been adequately displayed.

Also on weekend evenings, some of the buses that go past my place are filled with foreign construction workers, presumably going back to their quarters after a day out. It gets quite scary when I board the bus and find dozens of pairs of eyes going all over me like I’m some alien… when this is my country! Sorry, maybe I’m too sensitive, but I personally feel quite uncomfortable about it, and I’m a guy. I wonder how girls feel about such a situation.

My comment: Dude, they must have recognized the bad smell of those suffering from foreign-workers phobia.

Again on weekend evenings, the huge grass patch beside Jurong East MRT station becomes a huge picnic ground for foreign workers. It feels almost like one is not in Singapore, with the number of foreign workers around. The aftermath? Empty food and drink packages littering the entire place. Really disgusting. I don’t mind them enjoying their free time there peacefully, but the minimum they can do is to clear up after themselves. Seems like they can’t do that.

My comment: Refer to the earlier comment.

And for some reason most of them love to talk loudly. So loud that I cannot hear myself speaking. It’s like being in a surround sound cinema watching a foreign language movie.

My comment: So that's their culture.

I think the government needs to take some measures to prevent foreign workers from affecting our quality of life. Maybe there should be compulsory courses for foreign workers to attend, teaching them about Singapore’s laws, regulations and cultural differences. They behave like Singapore is their own country, presumbaly because they don’t know better since nobody ever taught them.

My comment: Really, I cannot bring myself to comment on this. No, not because the glaring typo error of 'presumbaly'. That can be forgiven. The statement of "They behave like Singapore is their own country...", that is the clear statement of someone being so xenophobic.

I don’t like to be racist (in fact the problem is not just with any particular race, but with uneducated foreign workers in general) or foreign-worker-phobic, but these people cannot behave and blend into our society, and they get on my nerves. If they can behave more consicientiously and be more civic-minded, Singapore would be a better place really.

My comment: At least the blogger admits that he's racist. He just doesn't like to be so.

Alright, to be fair, many native Singaporeans are also not very civic-minded and conscientious. Sometimes I wonder whether it is an inherent fault of Singaporeans or is it because foreign workers’ behavior rub off on us. For example, I noticed that many foreign workers like to push and shove their way through, everywhere they go. Many Singaporeans do that too… but I wonder if it is only because they don’t want to ‘lose out’. I think its very stupid to push and shove, especially when in a queue. If people upfront are not moving, the queue is simply not moving and everyone just got to wait… pushing or shoving wouldn’t make the queue move faster - it’ll only blow my fuse off. Is it really that difficult to comprehend?

My comment: And here's the blogger blaming foreign workers 'infecting' native Singaporeans for being "not very civic-minded and conscientious". Wonderful.

Just in case some readers misunderstand, let me clarify that by foreign workers I am referring to construction workers and those on a similar level. Sorry if this post seems a bit insensitive, but I feel that I am just reflecting the frustrations of many other Singaporeans who like to enjoy a day out without needing to be pushed and shoved around by foreign workers - on the bus, train, at the ATMs, everywhere. I am aware that when I eventually go overseas, some of my habits might also be perceived as offensive to others too, but I am certain I can learn and will try to adapt to local customs and respect cultural differences when I am a visitor.

My comment: Yeah right.

I admit I'm being insensitive too. But I can't say I'm sorry. He has his opinion & so do I. And so does everyone else.

On a serious note, foreign workers do try to blend in Singapore. Take a look at this recent ChannelNewsAsia article dated 23/12/07, "Volunteer foreign workers form neighbourhood patrols"

And before any of you getting excited that it's the proof that foreign workers are a menace to the society, read the following "Crime Situation 2006" between the lines.

Yes, I'm referring to this one: "As in past years, foreigners made up 14% of those arrested."

A few implications:
1. "Foreigners" do not necessarily mean "foreign workers". Hey, it is applicable for tourists as well.
2. 86% of those arrested are not foreigners. That is to say, local / "native Singaporeans".

Continued here.

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