Rambling thoughts on my job and foreign workers …

It’s coming to 6 months since I started driving taxi as a relief driver. I would take over any of the taxi in the neighborhood whenever those taxi drivers go on holiday trips or just want to take a break. On and off, I have driven no fewer than 10 taxi so far. I notice that every taxi has different characteristics in terms of the taxi set-up (decorations) or the idiosyncrasies of the hirer. I’ll blog about it another time. I just wish to say that my orientation under-study or rather my induction into this taxi trade not forgetting my mentor A.T. and others in EM is more or less complete – of course there is still much to learn as the learning process will not stop. I’ll be getting my own taxi soon upgrading from a relief to a hirer.

There is one particular taxi which I drive on every Sat from 4.30pm to 12.30am opposite my place across Sungei Api Api. I do not need to wash the vehicle or top-up diesel with rental at only $35. Pay $12 for every 100 km.. Usually I clock around 250km per shift. As such, my driving skills improve tremendously with that kind of mileage zipping around the whole island. Here to KL is about 300km.

One pax ever told me that driving a taxi is akin to operating a food stall. You rent a stall and sell your food. It depends on you how hard working operating the stall. However, I think operating a taxi is so much better than running a food stall in a coffee shop. The whole island is my playground. I could bring my mobile “stall” all over the island. Whereas, food stall is stuck at one location. If there is no crowd then it’s dead duck for the stall owner.

In my case, there are kelongs everywhere to hunt for fishes. Different places and different timings give rise to different types of kelongs with different variety of fishes. Just avoid those kelongs operated by LTA with cameras to avoid getting into trouble and you will be safe! I’ll talk about this another time.

As in all professions, integrity is of utmost importance. Never touch anything in the taxi that does not belong to you. Always follow the hirer’s instructions when taking over the taxi. Maintaining the taxi in clean condition, topping up diesel to the rim at the end of the day or pay for the diesel correctly are pre-requisites. Lastly, always be punctual when handing over the vehicle. I am very particular of all these minor points. That is why my reputation is well known in the neighborhood. Frens will recommend me to others and others will cont’d to bring in more driving assignments for me. That’s how I survive over the past 6 months.

Back to the every Saturday driving assignment. I usually arrive well before 12.30am at the hirer’s block to hand over the taxi. I have to wait for the hirer cuz he doesn’t buy car park at all. I can’t just park in the car park but have to wait for him. It’s during the waiting time that I usually meet Ah Lai who also lives in the same block. Ah Lai, aged 62 yrs is working as a counter assistant from 3pm to 11pm in a coffee shop at EM. Around midnight after his work, Ah Lai usually sits at the void deck of his block to read his usual “mosquito” paper. Whilst waiting for my hirer, I would chit chat with him to kill the time.

I recall at one time at EM, Douglas ever pointed to Ah Lai why he was employed by the said coffee shop. You see Ah Lai aged 62 yrs works from 3pm to 11pm with one day off drawing a basic salary of $1,400. It’s an air-conditioned food court. He just need to take orders from customers and serve them drinks. As simple as that. No need to wash or collect empty cups or glasses. There are cleaners doing that. The boss also doesn’t bother as long as he reports for work everyday except his off day. He rides his bicycle to the coffee shop from his place which is just across the river. (Sungei Api Api).

When Douglas heard that, he said, “Brother,” in English followed by Hokkien, “if you don’t hold the fxxxking pink IC, you think your boss would want to employ you at $1,400? They could get a much younger and highly educated foreign worker than you lah! Just becuz of the quota, that is why you are employed!”

Senior citizens like Ah Lai who are still fit to work don’t mind doing easy job. Ah Lai told me that his children are all grown up and they got their families to look after. He is still fit and able to work at an easy pace. No stress and working within his ability. He is also paid CPF with quarterly workfare from the government. He is very satisfied with his current status quo. He used to comment that people wish to work but no work. That is why they come all the way here to seek employment. We should be grateful that we could still work with our hands says Ah Lai.

If you look at the air conditioned food court he is working, there are all young Filipino and PRC workers. When I sit down at the table, the Filipino lady promptly calls you “Sir, what would you like to drink?” Very efficient and courteous customer service. I’m also quite surprised that they employ Filipinos in a coffee shop. Usually, they are all PRCs.

My 72 yrs old mother is also working in a kitchen factory. It supplies food such as salad, chilli paste, french fries, deep fried onions, chicken wings etc readily prepared to all the food stalls all over the island. Her job is just to cut potatoes to be deep fried. She insisted to work even though there is no need for her cuz we give her monthly allowances. She is one of the few senior citizens working in the company amidst a group of young energetic Malaysians. The latter do most of the hard labour job whilst older workers like her doing the easy jobs.

When she complained to her boss that she could not stand for too long doing the job due to her weak knees, they straightaway arranged for her to be seated. Next, she says that it’s very hot and stuffy. The management immediately bought a huge fan specially for her! Who need the union when the management listen to her every valid complaint? If it is not due to her pink IC, then what? The pink IC carries weight here. It’s very powerful in that sense. They need it for the foreign worker quota. It is as simple as that.

Like I used to say, I report what I see. What I say are the things happening around us. I feel that if the government tightens foreign labour too much, many F&B and small businesses will close shop.

To quote an example; well known local food establishment Soon Heng Fish Head Curry was in business for more than 30 yrs. It was forced to close shop due to lack of workers. If many such businesses are shut down, I’m afraid locals especially senior citizens like Ah Lai will not have a job. To let in too many foreign workers without any cap or quota will prize out locals. As such, the government need to calibrate the needs and requirements based on the industry every now and then. It’s a delicate balance that requires much skill and sensitivity. Not easy task indeed!

Click here to read about Soon Heng Fish Head Curry closure.

I ever blogged about Soon Heng Fish Head Curry.

Soon Heng Restaurant closes, no S’porean wanted job One of S’pore’s oldest curry fish head places closed last week as it can’t get enough Singaporean workers to fill MOM quota.
Singapore, November 5, 2012

The last curry fish head had been served and the last customer had paid and left.

At 1.45pm on Wednesday, Soon Heng Restaurant at Kinta Road – one of the oldest curry fish head restaurants in Singapore – pulled down its shutters for good, after 36 years.

Its owners, Mr Hoong Khai Chew, 49, and his wife, Madam Ong, said they can no longer find the manpower to serve their trademark curry fish head.

Madam Ong told The New Paper that the restaurant had a problem finding enough Singaporeans to fill the required Singaporean-to-foreigner quota: “Singaporeans tend to stay away from the F&B industry.

They don’t like to work on Sundays and public holidays, and do not like to be put on probation.

“We have placed advertisements as well as contacted job fairs, and the Yellow Ribbon Project, but few would approach us directly.”

When SMU professor Augustine Tan expressed concern that wages were too high in Singapore and it’s eroding Singapore’s economic edge, he was attacked by netizens. It’s quite disturbing that many do not see the points raised by an expert.

Without strong economic growth, the government will not be able to pump in so much money in our infra structure and other areas. For example digging tunnels all over the island for motor vehicles and trains is not cheap! It’s hell of expensive. If we clamor for more government spending on social welfare, then all the more we need even more economic growth to spend and throw money. We can’t simply print more money but need to earn it the hard way.

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