Wednesday, May 28, 2008

English and frontline foreign workers: Letter to the editor

Hi Friends,

The letter was published in both Today and Mypaper on 26.5.08.
Today: click here
Mypaper: click here
Straits Times: rejected ( you can't beat them all)

I am posting it here for the records.

The Letter

Dear Editor,

Win-win solution for new (non-English speaking) service workers

I refer to the ongoing debate about foreign workers in the front-line service industry and whether English proficiency entry test should be a prerequisite.

Looking at the situation superficially, the answer seems obvious at first. As English is our lingua franca and as English proficiency is already required for new domestic maids, basic English should be required.

However, casual conversations with business owners in the food and beverage (F&B) and retail industry have convinced me that the problem is less clear cut than that. There is indeed a dearth of affordable workers and getting any worker now is difficult much less English-speaking ones. All businesses want to have workers that meet the needs of their customers. In our competitive marketplace, customers vote with their feet.

Having said that, we cannot ignore the genuine concerns of English-speaking Singaporeans who are not able to communicate effectively with these mainly new Chinese workers. Workers from the Phillipines and Vietnam etc often have higher standards of English.

May I then propose a compromise win-win solution.

Continue to allow the liberal inflow of service workers where needed, but make the passing of an English proficiency test a requirement for renewal of their working permit. I am certain that within one year (or other stipulated period), these generally educated and motivated workers will be able to upgrade themselves – either at the sponsors’ or at their own expense, and then be able to seamlessly integrate into our workforce.

The end-result will be satisfactory to all of us ie English-speaking service workers contributing to our economy; profitable businesses and an impetus for the further development of English language course industry.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan


Anonymous said...

Instead, why not stop getting so many immigrants from China? Why not allow more immigrants from countries where people can speak English, like the Philippines as you mentioned?

It looks to me that perhaps Singapore is importing so many China workers to maintain a particular racial makeup of the country that other linguistic minorities are paying the price. Is this the case or not?

nofearSingapore said...

I am quite certain that there is a population policy ( but I have no proof ) to top up the deficit of Chinese population percentage with new Chinese migrants.

However I am not sure that the present increase of frontline workers from China is directly a result of this.

I think companies/recruiting companies have final say ( supply-demand thingy) about who they want to employ for their front-desk. Perhaps there is greater supply from China now? Every company have a local-foreign worker ratio condition (eg x:y) that they have to fulfil and so long as there are x numbers of locals in their companies, they can employ y numbers of foreigners.

I may be wrong but I don’t think MOM tells them they only can have Chinese ( although they probably have a basket of countries considered as the usual sources etc).

I have noticed that in my hospital, the number of Filipinos and Indians who usually do a certain task are now replaced by China workers after the former groups left ( usually voluntarily).We are facing communication problems here too!We are pressurising management to teach them English!

I initially wanted to argue very strongly that only English-speaking workers be allowed in but the truth is that there is a world-wide shortage of English-speakers. That is why Singaporeans are in such demand all over the world ( IT/Engineering/doctors-nurses) etc.

If MOM legislate that new workers (frontline) pass English test after 6 months / or 1 year, this may be more pragmatic. Even then, I can still think of many many ways that companies can get pass this condition ( I don’t want to teach the companies how to cheat but they will).

I know how frustrated English speakers get when faced with non-English speaking workers. The only thing they can do now is avoid that store till the company pays more for English speaking staff.


Anonymous said...

There has always been talk along the corridors of power that LKY is a closet-racist. He believes that the island nation's progress is due in no small part to the hard working ethnic Chinese who formed the majority. And the economic wealth of ethnic Chinese in our neighbouring countries lend evidence to such thinking.

nofearSingapore said...

I would not consider him a racist ( closet or open) as at different times of his life, he had showed shades of Anglophilia as well as Chinese patriotism.

However in the 50-60’s some had even considered him anti-Chinese due to his actions against some Chinese educated groups in the Barisan Socialis /Nantah etc. But deep down he most certainly is a Singapore nationalist. I think he is paranoiac that the future Singapore will not turn out to be the Singapore that he wanted. He is also a control freak personality and will not let things go if he feels that there is a chance that some unacceptable outcome can result from it eg opposition politics/racial relations.

The PAP always worry that the neighboring countries may have too much influence if certain races become the majority.

All in all, I think his son is a different type of character. Akan dating? ( watch this space?)

Anonymous said...

Cheap Imports need basic training too.
The basic in customer relation is the ability to speak to a client and to convey the basic concept about a product.
This remind me of an incident in Beijing 百脑慧(Beijing equivalent of a bigger Sim Lim) where a few Sexily clad salesgirls shout "MP3 USB" but when asked how many GB it contained. They just ask the customer to speak in Chinese. That day they lost a few European clients but strangely they called the their paying clients names behind their back after they bought a few MP3 player.
How's that for customer service.