The Great Singapore Levy Debate

To start with, I did not really follow up closely with the Levy Debate. I only picked up bits and pieces of it in the newspaper and forum. Nevertheless I roughly have some idea that the Government is going to increase the levy for foreign workers to curb companies from further intake. This is to satisfy the complaints of the people about overwelming influx of foreigners to Singapore, and in the process competing with them on job availability.

To start with, I think the Singapore Government is climbing up the wrong tree here, since Singaporean do not want the job of those levy workers, therefore, increasing the levy will only seek to further burden the companies into cutting costs else where, such as jobs of the locals.

I caught up with Low Thia Kiang's speech in the Parliament on a total removal of the levy and instead introduce the quota system. He further described the levy is an opium to the Government. I supported him briefly in the forum thread and was responded by a supporter of the levy. He/she claimed that removing the levy will not help improve competitiveness. At the time of reading the response, I was in fact at a lost of words, and that made me think, "what exactly is the consequences of removing the levy?"

To start with how does this levy comes about? I believe it was a result of a labour shortage in the 80s that the Garment decided to take in foreign workers to cover the vacuum. The levy was used as part of the tool to control companies in application of inttake. That made me think further, "how did this shortage comes about?"

Simple, Economic boom causes more development at a single point of time requiring an increase of labour, thus companies first started grabbing from one another for more labour, but there simply not enough Singaporeans to go about. In addition, people are attracted by higher pay from companies' competitors. Now this puzzles me, because my poly management class did mention that people just don't work for money. The Macclaws hierarchy of needs stated that there are 5, physiology, safety, social, self esteem and self actualization. How is it that Singaporean can't even move onto the next step of the ladder?

I believe it is a mindset problem, not on the part of the workers, but the bosses. Even as we speak, there are still many bosses nowadays who still think, " I am not worried that this guy leave, I can afford to hire another one to take over his job." There is simply no respect given to the workers.

I recall during my younger days that the usefulness of a worker equates to how long hours he works. So if you stay up until 11pm at night and come back to work the next day, you are a good worker. If you go home on the dot, the manager will tell you that he has not loaded you enough.

This is true even in 2004 when I encountered the same thing myself. I recalled that year when I have a change of manager and one evening me and my product marketing engineer was called into his cubicle. He pointed out that the night before while he was still in the office, he saw 2 person, one product manager still wotking at 11pm and the other still replying e-mail at 2am. He praised their commitment to the job, then turned to me and my PME and ask, " can you stay back after work on those days that you don't go for courses?" I gave him my piece of mind and eventually he took me out of his team. He hired another person to take over me and to my amusement, the whole business went down the drain due to his new hired hand.

So what's the point here? Companies do not value their workers, they are always expandable and commitment questionable. The problem is: how can you expect their loyalty when you don't even vaue them? How can you blame them for leaving when you squeeze them dry at every opportunity just to make your money worth while? So even though I would jump from one shit to the other, the other shit pays me better.

People who work are not encouraged to developed their passion in the job, they are simply paid to do what the company wants them to. They are not given the opportunity to grow.

Imagine that in the Western world, there are people who are still Engineers at 60 and they are proud of it. It is almost unheard of in Singapore, once you graduates, no matter what Engineering discipline you are in, you will only use less than 1% of it.

Such mentality is not limited to companies, just look at the biggest party in Singapore, aren't they doing the same thing? The "I can afford to hire another one" is certainly alive and well in PAP. I remember the case of the SIA pilots "revolt". There was simply no negotiation on the company's part to discuss the well being of their pilots, all it needed then was to have LKY stepped in, get the Government to revoke the PR-ship of the union leader, kicked him out of the country. The pilots obediently went back to work the next day.

After all these being said, what does this have to do with the levy? Levy is a symbol of unfair treatment to the workers, it allows the companies to continue with their mindset of " there will always be others". As long as they can find replacement easily, they will never consider the rights of the workers. It will never lead to growth of staff's skills and loyalty because levy workers would change once every few years and the cycle will start again. If the reset button is kept pressing, how would the game be developed?

Garment has recently been playing their recorders on improving productivity, I would see this as a potential failure because they failed to address the most important issue, that is to take every human as human and develop base on their strength. Training is useless when effectiveness is halved when one is not interested in what he does. I can go to a seminar and at the end of the day, the most I can get out of is 10% of the whole lecture.

You want productivity? Make sure the companies value their people and not encourage them to take the easy way out, like hire another one from other country.


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