I was introduced to Mr Leicester Chua from i-vic International some time back by a friend, “You have to meet this gentleman, he has so many ideas and it was just a pleasure chatting with him.” I got to know that the company has tried its best to hold on to its Singaporean workers amidst the pandemic and had wanted to find out how his industry has been impacted since Covid-19 hit our shores.
“There is much value in our Singaporean workers.”
It was heartening to hear that i-vic International’s operations were not severely disrupted as they were already using sophisticated solutions and technological systems before the pandemic. They were also experienced as they were managing systems and monitoring quarantined patients during the SARS period.
“My teams started working from home 4 days before the Government announced the start of Circuit Breaker period. In terms of technology, we were well-prepared,” Leicester shared. Indeed, “luck” favours the prepared.
Leicester is friendly and chatty, with an assured air about him. “There is no need to rely on foreign workers as a quick fix way to lower costs. In fact, protect your Singaporean workers. There is much value in our fellow countrymen. I have to say that I do have foreign staff who are equally experienced, but way ‘hungrier’. At the end of the day, it boils down to how much you’re willing to push yourself to better your skills. On my side, we have a very structured training programme to train up our locals to take over from our foreign talent eventually. I’ve always been very upfront about this with my staff,” he said.
The Government can’t keep giving handouts, we have to contribute to the fight. Hard work is always relevant. To Singaporean workers, invest in yourself, constantly upgrade your skills. There are many resources out there for you. To Singaporean employers, have trust in your Singaporean workers, invest in their learning journey. To be honest, the call centre is a sunset industry. Like many SMES, our business is struggling too under the current economic climate. But we all have to contribute to the fight and protect our Singaporean workers.
The inflow of foreign talent has always been a hot topic. Singapore Business Federation has urged employers to retrench workers only as a last resort and, if really needed, to ensure that the proportion of local staff in the companies is not eroded. If companies need to retrench, they should have in place fair criteria that protect their Singaporean Core and yet retain talent necessary for growth. They can also explore other options – such as sending workers for training, redeploying them to other roles and implementing wage adjustments – before retrenching staff.
As Leicester shared, there is still a need to bring in global talent. For PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians), we need to look for those who can bring the expertise to complement and supplement the talent pool we have in Singapore.
This might sound same old-same old, but coming from someone who has walked the talk, and been avoiding the easy way out by outsourcing the bulk of their operations overseas as many competitors have done, I trust Leicester really means it.
The NTUC’s efforts in Protecting the Singaporean Core
You see, the notion of a Singaporean Core centres around having the right balance of Singaporeans and foreign employees and precautions to ensure Singaporean workers’ interests are safeguarded. Every country has to find the right balance when it comes to the management of foreign manpower. Why would Singapore be any different?
“Protecting Singaporean Core” is a key principle set out in NTUC’s Fair Retrenchment Framework, released in July 2020. This was also articulated by NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng when NTUC intervened during the unfair retrenchment exercise carried out by aviation firm Eagles Services Asia.
More recently, Member of Parliament for Pioneer SMC and NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay made further proposals to raise minimum qualifying salaries for foreign employees even further, measures to augment the Fair Consideration Framework, and suggested stronger enforcement actions to be taken against errant companies that discriminated against Singaporean workers.
There is no easy way out in protecting our Singaporean Core. Manpower policies, prevention of discriminatory hiring, encouraging fair consideration and in the longer term, cultivating the right mindset among Singaporean employers and workers – it takes ALL of us to make things work. Not just the Government, not just the Union or employers.