Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Its deja vu all over again

My morning ritual wherever I am is to sit in a coffee shop having my caffeine hit and reading the paper. Being in Singapore all last week the only difference was that the paper was the Straits Times.

Even the stories I was reading were familiar. It's fascinating how many of the stories were similar to those I usually read in Dubai, or in the international press about Dubai.

Some of the headlines I came across in last week's papers:

Price fall for S'pore prime homes 5th largest globally.

Rents in prime areas head south.

2,600 workers housed poorly.

Got the pink slip? Tips to stay afloat.

Mother-daughter pair now admit abusing maid.

First woman minister appointed.

It all sounds familiar doesn't it.

I've noted before that there are a many similarities between Dubai and Singapore and last week's Straits Times included stories on a number of them.

Singapore is being hit badly by the global recession and there had been a feature in the paper about job losses in the present climate, picking up on the general 'foreigners taking our jobs' chatter. Eighty percent of people responding to the feature said that jobs should be reserved for locals.

There are now over a million foreign workers in Singapore, making up 36% of the workforce. Putting the figures in context (how I wish the media here would do that, as I've said so often in previous postings) the article says: Both 2007 and 2008 were boom years, with more jobs being created than there were locals to fill them. (The figures) also do not tell you that many of the jobs filled by foreigners last year were in the construction and service industries - jobs which Singaporeans usually shun.

Related to that was the report that a restaurant owner was jailed for falsely declaring the number of local workers he employed so that he could hire foreign workers. Employers are only allowed to hire foreign workers after meeting a certain quota of Singaporean employees.

A quota of local employees has a familiar ring to it.

Expats' employment passes, as in Dubai, are tied to the employer/sponsor so expats losing their jobs have to leave the country. There is now though a Personalised Employment Pass which they can apply for and which allows them to stay for up to six months between jobs to look for a new employer. The government here is looking at a similar visa.

Singapore has a reputation as being an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art, highly sophisticated clean & green city.

The paper reported last week on worker accommodation:

Government inspectors have been checking on workers' accommodation and have found thousands of them housed in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions. They were found living in unapproved converted factories and in residential properties.

That's also sounding familiar.

Not seen here for years though is the way workers are transported to and from their workplace in Singapore:

That's perfectly normal in Singapore, hardly any companies have covered buses for their workers.

And it may be a surprise to many people that Singapore has never had a female minister, until today that is. Mrs Lim Hwee Hua started in her new position this morning as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. She is also Second Minister in the Finance and Transport ministries.

Something else that's probably not associated with Singapore is maids being abused by their employers.

In a similar situation to that story, I was appalled one morning to see a maid up on the wet roof of a bungalow sweeping leaves from it.

And there are all-too-often reports of physical abuse of maids - this is not me spreading unfounded rumours, I've put some links to stories below.

Both Dubai and Singapore have a lot going for them and I like both places very much. But I don't pretend that everything's rosy in both city-states, that there are no problems and issues to be addressed. Nor do I believe that those issues, many of which are the same or similar, should be swept under the carpet. To be resolved they need to be openly discussed, so even though it may shatter some illusions about Singapore I make no apology for talking about them.

If you're interested in more, here are some links to Straits Times stories:

Worker accommodation.

House price drops.

First woman minister.

Phantom workers.

Maid abuse here, here, and here.


Catalin said...

I always thought Singapore was very similar to Dubai, but never imagined it to be THAT similar. Great post!

Aaaarghlan Not 100 said...

Not sure that the following would be said about Singapore:

Expect this to do the rounds like all the other ill-informed pieces on Dubai.


tortilla chips said...

I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with you. I'm a Singaporean Chinese who's been to Dubai. Singapore's much cleaner and better developed, IMO. Dubai felt like it was just piled up with oil-money, noveau riche almost. And unlike Dubai we actually have locals around, not 80% foreign workers. I also thought emiratis were extremely racist, unjustifiably so cause dubai's nothing amazing if you think about it. Don't even mention the airport or Emirates, they're worlds away from Singapore Changi or SIA. They were cramped, tacky and above all smell horrible! It's one of the worst experiences I've had.

I think dubai's trying to play a catch-up game with singapore, hk, tokyo in the financial sector. Except it focuses on islamic finance. But is a city so reliant on foreign labour able to do that..?