Taxi-Taxi@SG: if you hate LTA’s app, maybe it’s you?

I’ve been there before, standing at the side of the road in the rain watching busy cabs go by, grumbling about how these lazy drivers all go into hiding at the first sign of precipitation. I swear out loud at that ****** **** who popped out 200m down the road and STOLE my fricking taxi, how dare he: I will find you; I will kill you. I try crossing to the other side to try my luck… and then all the cabs start appearing on the side of the road I just left. I curse a random deity. It’s their fault, it’s someone else’s fault – it’s not my fault.

I vacillate between booking a cab and not booking one, battling the inner scrooge wanting to save $2.50 or $4, but still desperate to get my ride. I start to make bookings on GrabTaxi, Comfort and EasyTaxi SIMULTANEOUSLY, proving that I am indeed a douchebag planning to cancel on some poor driver.

Three minutes later I flag down a taxi with a green light, jump in and leave all my bookings to hang. Let them rot – I’ve got what I came for. That’s what the surcharge is for, no? No risk, no return. Muahahahaaaa….

I want it all. I want it now.

And maybe that’s the story behind why we hate LTA’s new, FREE app Taxi-Taxi@SG. We wanted to book taxis, not flag them down. Consider, however, that there are may be some people who do want to flag taxis down: the struggling student, the low-income elderly who need to take a taxi for medical appointments, me when I’m not in a rush. Think of the taxi drivers who are sick of commuters who don’t show up for bookings, wasting their time and money. They just want to see where the general demand is and don’t want to commit to a booking that may end in a no-show.

Nevermind that there are so many applications for this big data that LTA is putting into our hands – think of how the API could be used to enhance bookings by booking apps.

If we wanted bookings, we’d have gone to someone else’s app – LTA isn’t in the business of snatching market share from other companies. It’s not out to generate revenue through taxi bookings (although we all know how ELSE it generates revenue). But forget about that – if the app doesn’t do what I want it to, it sucks.

Because in the world of Singapore taxis, we have no qualms about throwing others under the bus (pardon the pun) if we don’t get what we want, when we want it.

A beneficial policy for Stay-at-home Parents

NOTE: I had published this article on 9 Dec 2014 but it was deleted for some reason (or has gone missing *play mysterious music*). Just reposting.

Remembering some of the initial exchanges about this post, I would like to preface this by saying that the purpose of this policy suggestion isn’t to give out “goodies” per se in the vain hope that it will encourage people to have more kids, but to bring Stay-At-Home Parenting to the same “value” as “working” parents, at least in the eyes of our G policy.

There would also be the effect of encouraging parents of young children to have MORE children, since I believe that it is nigh impossible to convince those who plan to have no children to have children, but it is far easier to encourage parents of one or more children to have another.

I also see this as congruent with:

1) Our aim to improve TFR

2) Our principle of equitable benefits that accrue to all our children (even those whole parents choose to care for them at home)

3) That the scope and effort to care for a child at home is by no means less than the work of a domestic worker (who is considered employed), or a childcare teacher (who is considered employed)

4) The concept that parents are the most preferred primary caregivers for a child

Stay-at-home parental benefits are one of the things that Nee Soon GRC MP Patrick Tay has been trying to work on, although many other policy issues overshadow it. Some of these are, in part, developed from conversations on his FB account and elsewhere. Here’s the policy I’m suggesting:

A parent is considered a stay-at-home parent when:

  • He or she has a child under the age of 2 (or 3 – this can be implemented first and then increased later)
  • He or she is not employed for more than 56 hours per month
  • His or her family unit does not employ a FDW (other than to care for an elderly or disabled person in the household)
  • Both parents cannot claim this benefit simultaneously (maximum of one stay-at-home parent per household)

The benefits:

  • They are classified as working for the computation of eligibility for any other government benefits. This includes maternity leave (can be encashed at fixed rate) for those who have a second child before their first turns two
  • They receive $145 each month (cash equivalent of the Enhanced Foreign Domestic Worker Levy Concession)
  • They receive an annual contribution into their CPF equivalent to 1 week of pay (based on their last drawn monthly salary, capped at $10,000) to help them with their retirement planning. This offsets the Childcare Leave and both cannot be claimed simultaneously for the same period
  • Their other children receive a $300 subsidy for kindergarten (not childcare) fees during this time
  • A stay-at-home parent’s MC can be used for their spouse to take medical leave (but no change in total statutory entitlement)
  • Comprehensive job placement services for when they return to the workforce

Costs

My estimate that the cost to fund this will be based on the following assumptions:

 

  • 2 years’ worth of benefits
  • 40,000 Singaporean children born per year
  • Assume 50% of parents choose to stay at home (this is quite high)
  • Assume average of 2 children per family and that the elder child will benefit from the kindergarten subsidy (50%, this is also quite high)
  • Average personal income of $4,000 (also above the national average)

 

CPF contribution cost $40,000,000/year

FDW levy encashment cost $69,600,000/year

Childcare subsidy cost $72,000,000/year

 

That’s $181.6 million per year. Add to that the cost of job placement and administration and miscellaneous costs… Maybe $250 million a year? In comparison, the G is already spending $1.6 billion on the Baby Bonus scheme.

 

Hidden costs include potentially lower workforce participation in the short run, but not significant (less than 20,000 expected to take up scheme in total each year).

 

Is a policy like this worth $250 million a year? Let’s think about socioeconomic benefits:

 

  • Increased reemployment after child reaches 2 years old
  • Increase TFR (priceless! OK, fine, you economists go figure this one out J)
  • More respect and recognition for the duty of parenting
  • More appreciation for the work of FDWs, childcare teachers and other caregivers
  • Incentive to develop flexi-work or home-based work to tap on stay-at-home parents

 

I’m sure I’m missing part of the picture here – what costs and benefits am I missing out on? Of course, this policy needs to be made more congruent with other policies, but I’ll leave the nitty gritty out for now.

 

 

 

Are our pro-family policies fair?

A friend brought up the issue of parental benefits this week and it got me thinking hard about the issue again.

Although the initial conversation was about the relationship between productivity, labour participation and pro-family policies, I noticed that things aren’t all fair or logical.

See, for example, the well-known issue of benefits for children of unmarried parents: Consider this bit of pedantry from MSF, which claims that children get the same benefits whether or not their parents are married. The ministry drew an awkward line to define “benefits” only as those accruing directly to the children, rather than to a parent, as though maternity leave or housing, for example, did not benefit a child).

Unmarried mothers (parents) do not receive: Baby Bonus Cash Gift and Child Development Account, 8 weeks of Maternity leave, Paternity leave, Shared parental leave, Parenthood tax rebate, qualifying child relief, handicapped child relief, working mother’s child relief, and grandparent caregiver relief, Foreign Maid Levy Relief, Housing grant for families and Housing priority schemes.

That’s a LOT of benefits that a child misses out on. I’m sure I haven’t even named them all. When the G withholds these benefits from parents, it is the children that really suffer, which makes all that talk of a level playing field for our children a bit of a twisted truth.

I’ve heard some ideas for easy-to-implement tweaks to make our policies even more family friendly, and not just family friendly – fair and logical.

Fully-shareable parental leave
Because if you can share one week, why not share all the weeks? What’s the difference, really? Sometimes you need that flexibility, and if your employer is okay with it, why not? It will make sure that bad employers don’t give pregnant women the “evil eye”, since they can now foist their TAFEP-breaching prejudices on men as well.

Extending parenthood benefits to single parents
Because people don’t get pregnant out of wedlock just BECAUSE you offer them the same benefits as everyone else. Moral hazard is near to zero. And really, in spite of what MSF says, it’s the kids who suffer the most. That, in my book, is unmeritocratic.

Paid childcare leave
Paid childcare leave that doesn’t increase when you have more kids? That’s the purpose of PCL, right? To take care of your kids. Maybe 4 days for first child, 6 days if you have 2 children, 7 if you have 3, 8 days for 4 and above? It’s not THAT much, and parents will take leave only when they actually only need to.

Classifying stay-at-home-mums and dads as “working”
I’ve got a much more in-depth post about it. Take a look.

Who wants to work forever?

Well I do, and that’s because I like my job. There are others as well who want to keep working for various reasons – avoiding monotony, force of habit, feeling of being valued, financial needs, social reasons… the list goes on.

Singapore’s most visible elderly workers – our cleaners. Photo from https://guanyinmiao.wordpress.com/

The latest report from MOM showed that employment of older workers aged 55-64 has increased from 65% in 2013 to 66.3% this year and, according to a Straits Times report, employent for workers aged between 65 and 69 has risen from 35.2 per cent in 2011 to 38.5 per cent in 2013 it now stands at 41.2%. This is in part due to the tight labour market and also the promotion and enactment of the RRA (Retirement and  Re-employment Act), which came into force in 2012. Now, there is talk about extending the RRA to 67.

Workers can still retire whenever they want, really. But this is a good option for those who do want to stay employed.

The only potential risk from the RRA (considering that we have full employment)? Employers of older workers may (or may not) experience higher healthcare benefit costs and health-related absenteeism. To mitigate this, MOM has cut the CPF contribution rate for this age group by 5%, meaning that the cost burden is passed on to workers. Is this a worthwhile tradeoff?

The target age of 67 was supposed to have been met back in 2003, as part of a decades-old plan to bring into balance Singaporeans’ longer life expectancy, productivity and retirement needs. This is a benchmark that Singapore desperately needs to meet, given the fact that we have scaled back our foreign-sourced population growth plans.

I had the opportunity to ask Heng Chee How (NTUC’s Deputy Secretary General) for his thoughts on what kind of impact we will see form a rising re-employment age.

“The offer and acceptance rates for reemployment in both the public and private sector since the law took effect are both in high 90+%.  That is very encouraging,” he shared, “The Tripartite Committee on the Employability of Older Workers (Tricom) issued an Advisory asking companies to extend the re-employment age ceiling from 65 to 67.  It also asked the Government to provide incentives to firms to do so, and the Government has agreed.”

As to whether there is discrimination against older workers and whether it is true that older workers are less productive, Mr Heng was quick to set the record straight.

“Every age group has its strong performers, average performers and poor performers. The best performers among the mature workers are those who know how to leverage their strengths, experience and networks to best effect.”

“There is ageism in every society. Our strength lies in strong tripartism and effective unionism at workplaces. Together with efforts by like-minded entities like TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices), we have the mechanisms to promote fairness at work and to deal with allegations.”

“Re-employed workers want to be treated fairly and be valued for their performance and contribution, and not be typecast and diminished just on account of their crossing a certain chronological age.  Employers worry whether re-employed workers can keep up their performance, updated skillsets, productivity, health and adaptability.  These are factors that affect a firm’s competitiveness.  Value is created by bringing down barriers of prejudice and negative stereotyping, and by positivity, lifelong learning and active, healthy aging.”

Personally, I see the 5% CPF rate cut as a form of ageism. It seems terrible to think that this should be considered normal – instead I hope to see it as a necessary evil to gt buy-in from employers but it should be reinstated gradually and I hope that the half to one per cent CPF reinstatement for older workers in mid-2015 is part of this journey back to fair employment practices.

Here at Last: Wage Protection for Security Officers

It has been a long-drawn debate between the G, NTUC and security companies and the result has been a long delay in the implementation of NTUC’s Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for Security Officers. I’m glad the wait is over.

The deadlock was broken when the parties in the Security Tripartite Cluster agreed to implement the Progressive Wage Model and the Government announced that it would be implemented as part of the licensing framework for security agencies.

Given that the ruling will only kick in for security agency license renewals after 1 September 2016, the real impact will only be seen several years down the road, but at least it is set in stone.

There has been much confusion (myself included) over whether this constitutes a minimum wage, but it is clearly a far cry from the classic US-style minimum wage, where a single wage is applied across all sectors with little regard for skills and career development concerns. This confusion has resulted in people variously saying that NTUC has had to eat its own words after criticizing suggestions for a US-style minimum wage.

I shamelessly stole this graphic from NTUC and vandalized it – please read.

I shamelessly stole this graphic from NTUC and vandalized it – please read. 

Singapore, like other nations, is clever enough to try and implement sector-based wage protection and integrate it with skills development pathways. This results in more work needing to be done to maintain the system in balance and keep all sectors updated to new developments in technology and knowledge, but it is preferable to the “lazy way” of implementing a classic single minimum wage instead of something like the Progressive Wage Model.

My only gripe is that it is taking forever to implement. Only cleaners and security officers have been covered so far since the PWM was mooted in 2011 (landscaping workers are next). There is plenty of ground to cover.

This is a good interim solution for the security industry and Singapore – wage protection often falls into different forms along a spectrum, with no wage protection at one end (where Singapore used to be) and the collective bargaining of overpowered unions on the other (in nations such as France). With only a fraction of our workforce in unionized companies, it will be a long time before our workers have the awareness required to secure their own rights.

Who do we have to blame for that? Since it is collective bargaining, I guess we only have ourselves to blame.

Nparks is under who? HHH and ST both clueless

Han Hui Hui wrote to Vivian Balakrishnan to ask for the Hong Lim Park ban to be removed, but I don’t think it will work out for her.

REASON? Dr Balakrishnan is the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), and Nparks is under the Ministry of National Development (MND).

ST doesn't know either!

ST doesn’t know either!

Sadly, ST doesn’t know this fact either, and has happily published that Nparks is under MEWR as well. Unless there was a reshuffle today, Nparks is actually a child agency of MND, and Khaw Boon Wan is in charge.

from gov.sg

from gov.sg

Tragically, our political activists are barking up the wrong tree, and even worse, our newspapers don’t even know.

Handy tip: Warren Fernandez is a board member of Nparks. Yes. The Editor of ST.

Khaw Boon Wan is just sitting there smiling now. 😀

Starbucks vs Koi Cafe: the difficult customer test

If you ever wondered why nobody wants to be in the service industry, look no further than the Straits Times. Two cafes were in the news in the last two days for customer-related incidents that occurred at their outlets. But whichever way you want to pin the blame you have to admit one thing – it takes something special to do a service job well (and many service staff don’t have it).

Long hours, meagre pay and some physically challenging work are only there to whet the service worker’s appetite for the icing on the cake – difficult customers. And armed with the almighty Internet, where it is easy to tell a one-sided story and fool the feckless masses, difficult customers have found one more way to bully people on the front lines.

Case 1: Koi Cafe (read the case file here)

If you read the description of the event, the customer actually confessed to taking the trouble to go all the way back to the Koi Cafe outlet AFTER she had gotten her drink elsewhere so that she could engage in verbal fisticuffs with the staff once more. Probably for sport. Probably to get material for a good Facebook/STOMP post. Probably so that I have something to write on my blog (thanks!).

It is, of course, no excuse for the staff member to call her names (fail), but this is the typical “difficult customer” – the person who makes your pay package completely worthwhile (to your boss, so that he/she doesn’t have to deal with these people). For the employee, however, this is simply another opportunity to get fired from a thankless, dead-end job, which “Rachel” successfully accomplished.

She’ll probably get another crappy job next week elsewhere unless she goes to…

Case 2: Starbucks (read the case file here)

Annoying students who hog tables and buy one small drink to last for 5-6 hours are the bane of paying customers in land-scarce Singapore. They are also a bane to business owners, but how many are brave enough to admit it? I personally take offence at people who let their coffee go cold – it is simply not in good taste. The worst kinds of people leave their table for 30 minutes and get all offended that the manager helped them to keep their stuff safe.

This time, however, the fickle Internet decided to bite back, and “Huixin Yap”‘s Facebook profile has suddenly become… very private. Starbucks did not reprimand their staff and gave a nice, vague reply befitting a large, profitable corporation.

Service is good here. And all the entitled twats have gone somewhere else.

Service is good here. And all the entitled twats have gone somewhere else.

I, for my part, took a longer than usual walk after lunch, bought a latte at Starbucks Citylink Mall, left a tip in the tip box (which I normally never do – shame) and praised the staff for their… service excellence.

Conclusion: it is better to buy from and work at Starbucks than Koi Cafe.