Singaporeans earning more

The Star By Cai Haoxiang

Wages are on the rise and so are the number of elderly employees – and the government hopes to cash in on the situation.

THE monthly salaries of Singapore workers went up this year, for the second year in a row.

Their median income – the mid-point in a range – was $2,633 (RM6,410.88) in June compared to $2,500 (RM6,087.05) a year ago, a 5.3% increase, led by economic growth and a tighter labour market.

The rise is even steeper when part-time workers are taken out of the equation, according to a Manpower Ministry report recently on the earnings and employment of residents, including permanent residents.

Wealthy lot: Fuelled by strong employment growth and curbs on the inflow of unskilled labour, the monthly income of Singaporeans has seen an encouraging rise this year. – The Straits Times

It shows full-time workers’ median income to be $2,925 (RM7,121.85) a month against $2,708 (RM6,593.49) last year – an 8% rise.

After taking into account projected inflation of about 5%, their real wages rose by an estimated 2.8%, said the ministry’s Singapore Workforce 2011 report.

But for all workers, including part-timers, the real wage increase was just 0.1%, said labour economist Dr Hui Weng Tat of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Noting the Government’s goal to raise real median incomes by 30% over 10 years, Dr Hui said it would require an average increase of 2.7% a year.

“Attention thus needs to be focused on improving the wages and work opportunities of the 194,700 part-time workers, as they are increasing in number, and half of them indicate they want to work longer hours,” he added.

The report also disclosed for the first time median income figures that include the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions of employers.

With CPF, the income of full-timers soared to $3,250 (RM7,913.16), which is $250 (RM608.70) more every month than last year.

Explaining the new move, a ministry spokesman said employer’s CPF contributions form a “significant part of compensation, and can be used for housing and health care”.

Hence, it would publish the figures yearly to give “a more complete picture of residents’ income growth”, she said.

The rise in income this year builds on last year’s increase, which was a turnaround from the decline caused by the 2008-09 recession.

Last year, the strong economic recovery lifted the monthly income by 3.3%, from $2,420 (RM5,892.26).

This year, the increase was fuelled largely by strong employment growth, especially in the services sector, coupled with curbs on the inflow of unskilled labour and stricter conditions on employing skilled foreign workers, said economists interviewed.

“Wages were pushed higher with the big projects like the Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa resorts needing a lot of labour, together with the tightening of foreign worker inflows like increased levies,” said National University of Singapore economist Shandre Thangavelu.

These moves pushed the employment rate to a new high of 78% for residents aged 25 to 64.

At the same time, immigration conditions were tightened, causing a decline in the number of permanent residents.

As a result, the resident labour force went up by just 1.6% to 2.08 million, compared to an annual average of 2.6% in the past 10 years.

On the other hand, more older residents and women are working this year. A record 61.2% of residents aged 55 to 64 are working, up from 59% a year ago.

Similarly, with women aged 25 to 54, the number employed rose to 73%, from 71.7% last year.

Labour leader Cham Hui Fong cheered the increases in these two groups, saying they show that efforts of unionists are paying off.

Said Cham, assistant secretary- general of NTUC: “Companies are now prepared to hire and spend time training these workers.”

Also, more government funds were available, she added, citing the Advantage scheme that helped companies redesign jobs for older workers.

Another is the Inclusive Growth Programme, which gives grants to companies to invest in high-tech equipment and redesign jobs for low-wage workers in return for raising their pay.

“We hope these schemes will continue because we need to build up the momentum,” said Cham.


All work and no play !


According to a survey, Malaysians are spending too much time at work. Should we change our work culture to emphasise quality and productivity rather than long hours?

DRAUGHTSMAN David Lee likes to play Michael Buble‘s song Home near knock-off time at his office.

“When Buble sings I wanna go home, I’ve got to go home’, I’ll turn up the volume. But my lady boss never gets the hint,” he grumbles.

Lee, 36, says his boss has a tendency to call for a meeting or an “emergency” brainstorming session at 5.45pm. The staff only get to leave the office at 8pm most days and when there is a project deadline to meet, they burn the midnight oil.

For many Malaysians, the long hours that Lee and his colleagues spend at the office is not something unusual. In fact, about a third of the Malaysian working population spend over 11 hours at the office daily, giving the ant colony a run for its money in the title race for “most hardworking”.

According to a global survey that polled some 12,000 business people in 85 countries, Malaysians are not only clocking more hours at work but bringing their office load back home as well.

About 47% of Malaysian workers take tasks home to finish more than three times a week, compared to 43% globally; 15% regularly work more than 11 hours a day, compared with 10% globally.

The survey by Regus, the world’s largest provider of workplace solutions, also found “a clear blurring” of the line separating work and home with long-term effects, noting that such over-work could be damaging to both workers’ health and overall productivity as workers may drive themselves too hard and become disaffected, depressed and even physically ill.

As Budget 2012 pushes for the retirement age of civil servants be raised from 58 to 60 and the proposed Private Sector Retirement Age Bill empowering the Government to stipulate the retirement age of private sector employees, Malaysians look set to contribute even more to the country’s economy. And they expect better rewards.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) president Mohd Khalid Atan says the Regus survey confirms what the union has always known.

“The MTUC has been calling for higher remuneration and better benefits for a long time now because we’ve always known how hard Malaysians work. Unfortunately, employers always say that our workers are not productive enough even when we ask for minimum wage. I honestly don’t know by what standards they are measuring our productivity. Perhaps with this survey, employers will finally see the light,” he says.

National Union of Bank Employees (Nube) assistant general-secretary A. Karuna agrees.

Karuna, who is also the Nube Kuala Lumpur branch secretary, says bank employees work late because they don’t have a choice.

“The cost of living, especially in big cities, is too high and employees have to work more to earn overtime to make ends meet.

“By offering higher basic salaries, employers are fulfilling their corporate social responsibility because their staff will be able to earn a decent living and still have time for the family,” she adds.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Shamsuddin Bardan points out that employees are paid overtime when they stay late, so it’s a non-issue.

“Generally speaking, 40% of the salary of those not in managerial positions are derived from overtime claims. If those in managerial positions are able to better manage their own time, they won’t have to stay back as often.

“Of course, there must be a balance between quality living and delivering at the office but it really depends on how efficient the individual is at time management.

“If you cannot meet your deadlines and refuse to put in the extra effort to get things done, your performance and career advancement may be affected,” he adds.

Some actually bring their work home or to trendy coffee outlets just to show that they are busy.

“I suppose they want their friends and relatives to see how important they are. So for some, it’s a question of showing off how important they are in a company. It’s more of an ego-stroking exercise,” Shamsuddin muses.

Human resource practitioner S.C. Lim who manages a head-hunting agency in Petaling Jaya, says local employers expect their staff to stay back.

Some even arrange for meetings in the evenings, expecting the employees to linger on.

“They think it’s alright to do that,” she observes.

“Western countries or even orang putih managers based in Malaysia do not expect or believe in employees staying back after work. They believe in productivity and quality rather than longer hours of work, which may not produce better results.”

Lim, however, warns that an employee will not be offered a job regardless of how skilful or qualified he or she is if the person can’t work late.

She notes that while it’s true Malaysians bring work home, it may not necessarily mean that we’re a really hardworking lot.

“Our work culture is such that no reasonable time period is given for one to perform a task well. Almost every company here expects immediate solutions and responses.

“Keen competition has left most people with no choice but to deliver despite the unreasonable time frame given, hence the culture of longer working hours and bringing work home,” says Lim.

Asian Academy of Management (AAM) executive committee member and past president Prof Datuk Dr Ishak Ismail says it’s wrong to have a negative perception of those who leave the office punctually at knock-off time.

“What’s more important is efficiency and productivity. Unfortunately, the reality is that most clock-watchers are not committed to getting the job done well because they are preoccupied with arriving and leaving on time,” he says.

“As employees, you have to accomplish certain tasks. Bringing work home is not a problem but it’s up to you to make sure that it doesn’t disrupt your family time.”

Dr Ishak questions why there is still inefficiency if Malaysians are really working that hard.

He believes it’s because the eight working hours have not been fully utilised in a proper manner.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

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The price of overwork

Umno ready for the battlefield

Ready for the battlefield

Insight By Joceline Tan

Umno admits the next general election will be its most challenging but it has signalled that last weekend’s party general assembly will not be its last as the ruling party.

THE cannons were all pointed outwards. This was glaringly evident at the Umno general assembly this year. The guns had started shooting when the Wanita, Pemuda and Puteri wings began their own assemblies on Wednesday.

“This is a war drum assembly. The ground is tough but we are upbeat,” said Putrajaya Umno Youth chief Datuk Zaki Zahid.

Everyone was conscious that the enemy is outside the party and that they were about to face the most critical general election in the party’s history. It has sunk in that this could be their last general assembly as a ruling party and it is a scary thought for them.

Guns blazing: Umno’s last general assembly before the mother of all battles saw delegates pointing their cannons outwards at their opponents. — The Star / AZAHAR MAHFOF

Their sights are on the general election. They did not want to end up scoring their own goals, as deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin said when winding up. It explained why the atmosphere at Dewan Merdeka was so different.

As such, while the media corps gave the thumbs-up to the revamped media centre this year, they found the proceedings rather tame and decorous. Journalists who are used to the flowery and bombastic rhetoric, the chest-thumping and jokes that are so much a part of Umno assemblies, found the proceedings somewhat too tame and serious.

The debates had to reflect their intent to hold on to power, and their habit of telling jokes and praising their leaders sky-high had to be put on hold.

They did not want to say anything that could damage the party’s image as what happened in 2005 when their jingoistic tone of debate shocked the nation. The stakes are high for Umno, and as party president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said, there is no such thing as second place in an election.

Shahrizat: The tigress in her came out.

The Malays call it “jaga mulut” (holding one’s tongue). But some claimed it also reflects the new awareness in Umno. They cannot simply say what they like in the new political landscape and hope to get away with it as what happened to Perak DAP leader Nga Kor Ming whose racist slur against Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir is still playing out on the Internet.

The guns were aimed mainly at PKR and DAP whereas, PAS, some noted, got off rather lightly. There was not a single reference to the sex video or the sodomy trial, but numerous speakers poked fun at the “parti sekeluarga” or party of one family, where the husband is the de facto leader, the wife is the president and their daughter is the vice-president.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali’s bravado about breaking down the prison walls if Anwar goes to jail was a favourite topic among speakers. They slammed him for challenging the law, the cheekier ones referred to him as the “buah hati” (beloved), alluding to the preferential treatment he gets from Anwar.

They also hit hard at DAP. They were fed up with DAP blaming Umno for everything under the sky. As one of them pointed out, Umno was blamed even when stray dogs disrupted the Penang Hill train service in Penang last year. PAS was painted as being under the thumb of DAP to the point of putting aside their religious aspirations.

Umno, said Pasir Salak Umno politician Dr Faizal Abdullah, has been slow to react in the past.

“We are going to tackle every issue thrown at us. You can already see that from the speakers,” he said.

Zaki: ‘The ground is tough but we are upbeat’

Some were quite hilarious when hitting back. For instance, a Wanita Umno speaker said it was absurd of former Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin to claim that Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil owned a RM26,000 bra. The speaker had people collapsing in laughter when she suggested that he either had see-through vision or a secret crush on the Wanita Umno chief.

The endless references to winnable candidates shows that the idea has perolated into the party psyche. Now comes the hard part of telling those who are no longer winnable to make way.

That will be Najib’s headache and he had better have lots of Panadol on standby.

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, a more mature and measured person today than when he rode in on a wave of controversy three years ago, put it well when he said that a winnable candidate is one thing, but he or she can only do well with the backing of the party. But, as he noted, Umno has a winnable president.

Former Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and former Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad made it a little easier for the Umno president when they said on the sidelines of the assembly that they would make way for new faces in the election.

More may follow in the months ahead but as some pointed out, the problem is less about old faces finding it hard to let go than about aspiring candidates sabotaging each other if they are not picked.

New landscape

Najib’s remark about “orang Umno” or party loyalists or stalwarts reminded them that being an Umno member is more than just carrying a membership card, it’s about going the extra mile for the party.

Khairy: ‘Umno has a winnable president’

Umno and the Barisan Nasional will have to rely in a big way on the Malay vote to survive the general election.

“People will hear what they want to hear from the president’s speech. His message that we have to adapt to the new landscape, lead in the new media, talk the language of the youth – we can relate to what he is saying,” said Zaki.

Moreover, internal Umno surveys show that more than 60% of young voters are still undecided.

“If we want to tackle this group of voters, we cannot behave like we are still living in the 1980s or 1990s,” said Dr Faizal.

People are still talking about the way Shahrizat fired up the Wanita Umno assembly with her fierce opening speech. This was a new side to the usually decorous politician who is fighting off criticism over her family’s RM250mil cattle rearing project. She is furious about the way the Pakatan politicians have gone for her.

She was like a tigress. Her eyes, dramatised by dark eyeliner, blazed as she went for the jugular of her critics in PKR. The ladies loved the way she turned the tables on PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and her husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. She was basically saying: “Don’t mess with me.”

But Umno’s top lady is not in a good place now even though there is no doubt about her support from the senior ladies. Some in Umno wondered whether the message was also aimed at those within the party. Was she also telling critics in the party not to push her around, that the 1.3 million Wanita members could shake up the party if the ladies rebelled?

No one could quite read her at this point in time. Neither could anyone tell where she is heading from here. The National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) issue has hurt her and the collateral impact on the party is still reverberating.

Despite their support for her, the Wanita ladies are quite uncomfortable with Shahrizat’s claim that Pakatan politicians were attacking her because she is the Wanita leader. They are concerned about Wanita Umno being dragged into a controversy that has nothing to do with the wing.

The controversy was evidently off-limits at the general assembly. She would have felt the heat from the men if not for a looming general election.

The weird thing is that while there was hardly a mention of controversy inside the assembly, it was a top topic outside the Dewan Merdeka. Opinion in the party about the issue is quite negative. Privately, many say she should make a decision about the situation rather than leave it to the president.

Shahrizat has reached a critical junction in her career. She will have to think about whether she is still a winnable candidate and she may have to decide very soon before the issue escalates and pulls more people in or, worse, pulls the party down.

Umno’s last assembly before the polls settled a number of questions surrounding the leadership. It is quite clear by now that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is firmly behind Najib and wants Najib to win well and for Umno to survive. He is true-blue “orang Umno”. And so is Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The two Tuns are not on the best of terms but they are on the same page in their support for Najib and Umno.

Najib also made it crystal clear that he appreciates Muhyiddin whom he described as a loyal Deputy Prime Minister. He is aware of the gossip out there that he and Muhyiddin have different ideas about Umno’s direction. The No. 1 and No. 2 are two different personalities but they are “orang Umno”.

When Najib took over Umno 30 months ago, the party was floundering, battered black and blue. As Najib rallied the troops at the end of the assembly, everyone could see that this man had taken their party back on the track. He has set them in a state of preparedness for the polls. That was the aim of this year’s assembly.

Very few had seen Najib as an orator but every year, his off-the-cuff speeches in Umno get better. He made a striking figure in his fuschia pink baju Melayu. Confident, earnest and focused, he spoke like a man who knows he has pulled off a job that very few people could and he has done it to the best of his ability.

He is on top of the game and unfazed by the politics of the day. Most importantly, he knows his party is behind him. Despite having somewhat of a poker face, Najib showed a humorous side as he playfully mocked his opponents. The Malays call it “perli” and the audience loved it.

The feedback coming in from the Malay ground has actually been very positive for Umno but the party leader does not want his members to take it easy, thinking they are going to make it. He wants them to stay alert, hungry for power and work hard to win.

His message at the assembly was not only for those inside PWTC but as Umno’s best brand name, he is also telling those outside the party to put their trust in him and in Umno to lead the Barisan Nasional.

Umno, he is saying, is ready for Battlefield Putrajaya.

How Malaysia’s politics stay true while reinventing?

The visualisation of the press statements by A...

Much ado about everything

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Nagara

MALAYSIA has braved slogans as milestones with chequered results.

Spanning two decades were the Mahathir-era “Vision 2020” and its “Bangsa Malaysia” component, and the Najib administration’s “1Malaysia” and “high-income nation”. As national goals, they have been positive, inclusive and aspirational.

In 1997 then deputy premier Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim proposed masyarakat madani, translated as but supposedly transcending “civil society”. Much of its potential was however obscured by interpretation issues even in the original Bahasa Malaysia.

Malaysians are generally wary of attempts to tinker with the existing secular (non-theocratic) system. So in the 1999 general election, much of the DAP’s support evaporated over its links with PAS in the Barisan Alternatif opposition pact.

In 2001, then prime minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia was an “Islamic state”. This infamous statement panicked some political circles, notably the DAP.

Typical of Dr Mahathir’s rhetorical flourishes, it was meant to counter and challenge, and needed to be read in context. It had come after a wearying tussle between PAS, which had sought to install an Islamic state and amend the Federal Constitution, and its adversaries.

Dr Mahathir later said since (as he had defined it) Malaysia was already an Islamic state, there was no need to amend the Constitution. He had sought to end the debate and preserve the secular status quo rather than to change it.

That was fine as long as Dr Mahathir still headed the Federal Government and dominated the terms of the national debate. Nine months later he went further and declared Malaysia a “fundamentalist Islamic state”, according to his (textually correct) definition of fundamentalism.

But after he retired in 2003, the terms of the debate changed and his past statements encouraged PAS in further Islamisation instead. His successor Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi could not direct or dominate the discourse that followed.

Aware of popular opposition to its theocratic aims, PAS this year unveiled the idea of a “welfare state”, a vague concept that did not impress many. Kelantan Mentri Besar and PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat then announced plans to implement hudud in his state.

Some legal quarters insisted that no state may implement hudud (punishments for “serious crimes”) without amending the Federal Constitution, but that view has been challenged. PAS then said hudud would not apply to non-Muslims, but that has also been questioned.

Hudud is part of syariah law along with qiya (punitive recompense), diyya (compensatory settlement) and tazir (corporal punishment). Hudud covers apostasy, alcohol consumption, theft (or robbery) and illicit sex, with punishments that include amputation and execution.

These offences can involve other people, including those serving or selling the alcohol or those accused of trying to convert Muslims. Thus saying that hudud would apply only to Muslims is unconvincing.

Further, hudud is considered divinely inspired so its punishments are not open to reform, substitution or reduction. PAS has also told non-Muslims that since hudud would not involve them, they have no right to object.

But in July 2002 after the PAS Terengganu government passed the Hudud and Qisas Bill, Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Hadi Awang said hudud would be “extended to all non-Muslims” when they were ready for it. Presumably the party would decide when non-Muslims are “ready”.

Parti Keadilan Nasional at the time had joined protests against the Bill’s impending passage. But this year, PKR adviser Anwar supported Kelantan’s plan to implement hudud.

Beyond DAP chairman Karpal Singh’s personal objections, the party does not oppose Kelantan’s plans for hudud. DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said hudud was not mentioned in Pakatan Rakyat’s Common Policy Framework (Buku Jingga), placing any opposition to it only at Federal level.

But once Kelantan introduces hudud, Kedah as another Pakatan state may follow. Then, acquiescing at state level may be taken as tacit approval for compliance at Federal level.

These and related issues would be explored at today’s Insap (Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research) forum at Wisma MCA in Kuala Lumpur from 9.30am to 2.30pm. Admission is free.

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