May 26, 2017

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Authors Posts by Suhaile Md

Suhaile Md

Suhaile Md
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You can reach me at suhaile@themiddleground.sg

by Suhaile Md

VACANT retail spaces hit an all time high last September with a vacancy rate of 8.4 per cent according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Still, that has not got in the way of new malls popping up. Just last week (Mar 29), it was announced that SingPost Centre, which has five levels of retail space, will open in the second half of this year. And there are at least four other – more expensive – such projects that are expected to open by end of 2019.

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Here’s a rundown of the five malls:

1. SingPost Centre

The centre, next to Paya Lebar MRT station, has about 176,500 sq ft of net lettable area for retail. That’s the amount of space available for rent. Speaking of which, the usual suspects have signed up as tenants: NTUC FairPrice supermarket, food court operator Kopitiam, and cinema chain Golden Village, which makes for a pretty healthy bunch of anchor tenants (tenants that bring in significant human traffic). Besides the mall, the new 3,200 sq ft General Post Office will also be sited at the centre. It will cost about $150 million to construct it.

Hopefully, some new names or independent retailers will show up to add some variety. Failing which, at least there’s something else to look forward to: The centre “completes the omni-channel eCommerce experience by bringing together retailers, customers and eCommerce last-mile fulfilment”, said SingPost in its announcement last week. It’s not exactly clear what that means, but it sure sounds fancy.

2. Paya Lebar Quarter

At $3.2 billion, this is quite the project. It occupies 3.9ha of land and it will consist of three office blocks and three condo blocks. Then there’s the 340,000 sq ft seven floor retail mall. It will open in 2018… just around the corner from SingPost Centre.

Guess which retailers have already signed up? That’s right, NTUC FairPrice Finest and Kopitiam. They will take up 22,000 sq ft and 15,000 sq ft of space respectively. Otherwise, about 200 stores and a cinema are expected to open. About 30 per cent of the tenants are expected to be food and beverage operators.

The Paya Lebar area is actually slated by the URA to be a commercial hub, as part of a plan to move offices away from the city centre to spaces nearer to residential areas to cut down on congestion. That’s probably why so much development is taking place there.  Australian company Lendlease is the developer for this project.

3. Marina One 

The mixed development primarily focused on office space – 1.88 million sq ft of it. Bigwigs like Facebook, Swiss private bank Julius Baer and consultancy firm PwC Singapore are tipped to move in. The Temporary Occupation Permit is expected to be issued sometime this year. Tenants can move in once it’s issued.

There’s 140,000 sq ft of space dedicated to retailers. Supermarket chain Cold Storage and food court operator Koufu are confirmed as anchor tenants. Sounds just like NTUC FairPrice and Kopitiam, just more atas.

The supermarket is expected to be the largest in Marina Bay. Smaller tenants like Japanese restaurant Teppei Syokudo and 4 Fingers Crispy Chicken are also confirmed.

Gym chain Virgin Active will occupy 26,000 sq ft over two floors. There’ll be an indoor swimming pool and climbing wall among other things. 

At $7 billion, this project is more than twice as expensive as Paya Lebar Quarter. It’s a 60-40 joint venture between Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Temasek holdings, the sovereign wealth funds of Malaysia and Singapore respectively.

4. Northpoint City

It’s a mixed development as well, including the air-conditioned Yishun bus interchange, 12 residential blocks, and of course, a mall. But at least it’s something that’s more than just office space and supermarkets. Northpoint city will have a shopping centre which will house Singapore’s first community club in a mall, rooftop community garden, and a town plaza. The plaza is basically an open space to hold events. It spans 4,400 sq m (47, 361 sq ft) which is about the size of 10 basketball courts.

Frasers Centrepoint, the owners of the mall, bid $1.43 billion for the plot of land in Yishun in September 2013. This was 47.4 per cent higher than the second highest bid, reported TODAY. Wow, somebody really wanted the plot.

The mall is expected to open sometime next year. It will expand upon the existing Northpoint Shopping centre, doubling the number of retail and dining outlets to over 500. This will make Northpoint City the largest mall in northern Singapore. Yishun pride ok.

5. Jewel Changi Airport

Of all the malls on this list, Jewel Changi Airport is by far the most unique: There’s a five-storey garden and an indoor waterfall, 40 metres high. The garden will have about 2,500 trees and 100,000 shrubs from countries including Brazil, Australia, Thailand and the United States, reported the Straits Times. We just have to prove to tourists how much of a garden city Singapore really is.

The design won the 2016 International Architecture Award. The Jewel Changi Airport will have five storeys above ground and five basement levels with a gross floor area of 134,000 sq m (1,442,364 sq ft). There will be about 300 shops and food outlets and it’s expected to open in early 2019. It costs about $1.7 billion.

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Featured image Marine One Project by Flickr user Nicolas LannuzelCC BY-SA 2.0

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Photo By Shawn Danker
Singapore Parliament.

by Suhaile Md

THAT foreign maids are not slaves should patently be obvious to any decent person. But clearly that is not the case to some as seen by the maid abuse cases that appear from time to time. So much so that the Minister for Law and Minister for Home Affairs, Mr K Shanmugam, had to say in Parliament on Monday (Apr 3): “They are not slaves.”

While responding to questions on enhancing sentences for child-sex abusers, Mr Shanmugam said that foreign domestic workers (FDWs) are another “separate class of vulnerable victims” whose abusers should also have enhanced sentences. Members of Parliament (MP) Ms Tin Pei Ling and Mr Alex Yam had asked the questions on whether child-sex abusers should get stiffer sentences.

However, Mr Shanmugam emphasised that the above was his own opinion. The laws are currently being reviewed and he did not want to “prejudge the issue”.

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Past cases of abuse

Just last week, a husband-wife pair was sentenced to jail for sustained abuse on their two maids for years. They slapped, punched, kicked, and hit their domestic worker with canes and bamboo sticks as well. The husband was sentenced to two years and four months’ jail for being the instigator while the wife got two months’ jail.

Many other cases made the news in recent years. One foreign domestic worker had a heated spoon pressed against her arms and face. In another case, a mother-daughter pair left their maid with a permanent disability in the left ear. The culprits were sentenced to jail between 12 and 16 months. In yet another case, a maid was hit with a hammer for not cleaning the toilet properly.

However, the Penal Code was amended in 1998 to deal specifically with abusive employers of maids. Section 73 was inserted to stiffen the punishments meted out to maid abusers. For specific offences, like hurting a maid or molesting her, the maximum penalties are one and a half times that of the general penalties a culprit would face had the victim been the general public.

Said then Labour Minister Dr Lee Boon Yang: “I want to tell employers: Your maid lives in your house 24 hours a day, isolated from society. She is female and particularly vulnerable to abuse. If you take advantage of this, the law must come down hard on you.”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Mr Shanmugam on Monday: “They come here, they do the work because we don’t have enough people, and they have to be treated with certain dignity and a certain respect of the law. They are not slaves.”

Other considerations

No decent person will disagree with the good Minister’s sentiments. That said, what constitutes abuse? Could the bar for what counts as “abuse” be set too high given the context in which maids operate?

Working in an environment that is verbally hostile, being subjected to condescension and humiliation, day in and out, is a form of abuse that leaves no marks a physical health check at the clinic can catch. Some maids have their movement and outside contact restricted by their employers. It’s one thing to work for a demanding boss at the office and completely another to live with one – there’s no escape.

While an office worker can complain to the human resources department or change jobs, there is no such recourse for domestic workers. They are not allowed to change employers, unless the current boss agrees to to it. Would a mean-spirited employer allow that? Not likely, so it’s a ticket home.

Perhaps the review might take that into consideration.

It’s early days yet

Still, as Mr Shanmugam emphasised in Parliament, he could not reveal details. He only spoke in his personal capacity. After all, the issues of sentencing and charges are “independent decisions by the Attorney-General’s office”, and “not within the control of the Government”, said the Minister.

That was also his response to Ms Tin Pei Ling’s follow up query on whether the Minister could say if the review would end with tougher sentencing for child-sex abusers. However, he did add that the review would not have taken place in the first place if “everything was okay as is”.

The review comes on the back of the recent case in which child-sex offender, Joshua Robinson, was sentenced on March 2, to four years’ jail. He was found guilty for underage sex with two 15-year-old girls, showing an obscene film to a six-year-old, and possessing over 300 child pornography videos. Many in the public questioned if the sentence was adequate. However given legal precedents, the prosecution decided not to file an appeal.

The review is expected to complete at the end of this year, said the Minister.

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Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

FAKE news has real consequences.

Just ask Mr Prakash Hetamsaria. The website All Singapore Stuff (ASS) used a screenshot of an old video footage which had his face and name plastered on their fake article. It didn’t ask him for permission, which was bad enough. But the accompanying article was about a new Singaporean who wanted his old citizenship back because he was dissatisfied with Singapore. As one would expect in the wild frontier of the internet, Mr Hetamsaria, who is Singaporean, became the subject of much racist and xenophobic abuse.

This was just one example that Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam cited in parliament earlier today (Apr 3). ASS was cited once more for its false claim that the rooftop of Punggol Waterway Terraces had collapsed. The police and civil defence force had even been deployed to investigate the issue then.

The Ministry of Law provided four examples of egregious forms of fake news by States Times Review, including the time where it falsely claimed that no one turned up for former President S R Nathan’s funeral and that kindergarteners were forced to attend it. See the list here.The Real Singapore (TRS), which was closed by the Media Development Authority in May 2015 for posting fabricated articles that were against national harmony, was mentioned twice. Once for falsely claiming that a commotion between the police and Thaipusam participants was sparked by a complaint from a Filipino family. These are just two examples, it’s “impossible to list all the fake news they published”, said the Ministry.

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Besides websites, the ministry also picked up online hoaxes which had gone viral, such as the fake account of the childcare centre that supposedly neglected and abused the children in its care.

Such fake news “unreasonably, unfairly damaged” the reputations of the victims, said Mr K Shanmugam. Often they are motivated by money. The more an article travels online, the more advertising revenue is generated. TRS, for example, made over $500,000 before it shut down.

But there’s another nefarious purpose to fake news. It’s a “powerful tool to interfere in the domestic politics” and affairs of another country, said Mr K Shanmugam. He did not say if there was such external influence here but cited the example of last year’s presidential elections in the United States which were dogged by suggestions of “serious attempts” to interfere in US elections. Democratic challenger Mrs Hilary Clinton was, in one instance, falsely accused of selling weapons to the terrorist group ISIS. Other misinformation that falsely linked her to a pedophile ring based in a restaurant also floated around, prompting a gunman to open fire at the restaurant.

There are “suggestions that many fake news stories” during the US elections were created by teenagers in Macedonia, as a way of making money, but “countries may well be involved as well”, said the Minister.

Given the ease and connectivity of social media, fake news can spread “easily, speedily, widely”.  Countries like the US and Germany are looking into drafting laws to stem the dangerous spread of misinformation. One suggestion has been to compel social media platforms like Facebook to be responsible for stemming the tide. Germany is considering fines as high as €50 million (S$74.5 million) for social media platforms if they refuse to remove illegal content or give users the choice to complain about hate speech.

The situation in Singapore is “not quite at the level” where there have been attempts to influence a referendum was the case with Brexit in the United Kingdom. Still it’s easy to predict that the “same sequence of actors” and actions can be used to sway domestic affairs here, he said.

As for what constituted fake news, he said they aren’t “trivial factual inaccuracies, but falsehoods that can cause real harm”. He added that it must be assumed that “fake news can be used as an offensive weapon by foreign agencies and foreign countries..”

In January this year, the G had served notice that it would look at how to tackle fake news. This came at the back of the Attorney General’s Chamber’s (AGC) and Ministry of Defence’s (Mindef) failed attempt, at the Court of Appeal, to use the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) against a doctor and The Online Citizen (TOC) website.

Section 15 of POHA allows victims of false allegations to get a court order to prevent publication of said allegations, unless it shed light on the truth.

TOC had published a statement from the doctor about alleged patent infringement by Mindef. Mindef’s refutation was later published on TOC but the AGC wanted TOC to amend the story and indicate that the doctor’s allegations were false. The appellate court ruled that the G does not come under the “persons” in section 15 of POHA, and so the court could not prevent TOC or the doctor from publishing.

About a week later, the Law Ministry said that it did not “intend to amend POHA (Protection from Harassment Act) to protect itself from harassment” but that the G still “needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore’s institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information”.

Mr K Shanmugam, who was responding to queries from two MPs, said that existing laws, like the Telecommunications Act which makes it an offence to spread messages that are known to be false, are “ineffective now”. It was written before the “new age (of communications) as it were”. It was last invoked in March last year to charge a culprit for a bomb hoax.

So, purveyors of fake news have been forewarned. Mr K Shanmugam gave no indication of what form the strictures will take, whether in terms of legislation or regulation. His ministry is currently reviewing the issue and will announce its position “once we have completed our review,” added Mr K Shanmugam. It’s a pity that no MP engaged him on the issue, which he took pains to stress was a “serious threat”. They didn’t even ask him when the review would be completed. 

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Want to know more about the issue? Read: Can we talk about what to do with fake news here?

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Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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Dr Tan Cheng Bock speaking at the press conference.
Speaking at the press conference at MHC Asia Healthcare building today, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, 75, announced his intentions to run for the next presidential election.

by Suhaile Md

MONTHS after constitutional amendments were made to the Elected Presidency (EP), we finally hear from former presidential candidate Dr Tan Cheng Bock. He called a press conference on Friday (Mar 31) and questioned the timing of the reserved election.

Unlike the G, he thinks that the presidential election later this year should be an open one, not reserved, as was announced on Feb 6. This is important to address, otherwise “the Elected Presidency will always be tainted with the suspicion that the reserve elections of 2017 was introduced to prevent my candidacy,” said Dr Tan.

At the heart of the matter is the definition of who the first EP is. If there has been five consecutive presidential terms where a Chinese, Malay, and Indian or Other minority race member does not become President, the next Presidential Election would be reserved for a qualified member of that race. Singapore has not had a Malay President since Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

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So who’s the first Elected President?

The G said the late Dr Wee Kim Wee is the first EP. Yes, he was not elected, but the EP came into effect in 1991 during his term, making Dr Wee the “first President who exercised the powers of the Elected President,” said Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong last year in Parliament (Nov 8). Following Dr Wee, was Mr Ong Teng Cheong, Mr S R Nathan, and Dr Tony Tan. Mr Nathan served two terms. PM Lee also mentioned this was in line with the Attorney-General’s Chamber’s (AGC) advice.

Dr Tan disagreed on Friday, and questioned if the “AGC’s method of counting was in line with the spirit of the Constitutional Commission’s Report”. The report, said Dr Tan, talked about a reserve election being triggered only “if open elections” do not produce presidents from a particular community for five consecutive terms. That is, an election that is open to candidates of all races. He emphasised the word “elections”. Simply put, Dr Wee was nominated, not elected, but Mr Ong Teng Cheong was, therefore Mr Ong is the first President from an “open election”.

I question whether AGC’s method of counting is actually in line with the spirit and purpose put forward by the Constitutional Commission for having a reserved election.

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A familiar argument

It’s an argument that was raised in parliament by the opposition earlier this year (Feb 6). The AGC’s advice to count Dr Wee as the first EP “was surprising and illogical to many Singaporeans, given that President Wee Kim Wee was never elected to office,” said Workers’ Party Chairman Ms Sylvia Lim. Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and Government Whip, Chan Chung Sing replied that the G was “confident of the advice” from the AGC, and not going to rehash the arguments made by PM Lee in Parliament on Nov 8.

On Nov 9, Ms Lim had also asked if the G was “prepared to publish that advice” from the AGC. To which, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean responded that “it was not normal… to publish a lawyer’s advice because that is something which is provided to the Prime Minister.” If Ms Lim felt that the AGC had not advised correctly, she could “challenge judicially”.

Although Dr Tan Cheng Bock did not mention these exchanges specifically on Friday, he did say this: “Unfortunately, there was no debate on whether AGC advised the Government correctly. The Government also declined the opportunity to explain this in Parliament.” Furthermore, he said that “a recent high profile” Court of Appeal case showed that the AGC can be wrong in their legal opinion. He did not specify the case he was referring to.

Unfortunately, there was no debate on whether AGC advised the Government correctly.

He added: “If the Government double-checks the AGC’s advice with the Court, then Parliament and the people of Singapore can be satisfied beyond doubt that the constitutional changes they are making stand on strong legal foundations.”

Otherwise, he concluded, the 2017 reserved elections will be “tainted with the suspicion” it was introduced to prevent him from running.

When asked if he would go to the courts himself if the G declines his invitation. He replied: “The courts should be the last resort. Good politics… not everything should go to the courts.”

When TMG asked if he thought the G made the changes to affect his candidacy, he said, “I hope they didn’t plan it that way, but it seems to be that way because” of feedback from “the ground”.

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Why speak up now?

Last March, Dr Tan had announced his intention to run for President. The report was out last August. The G’s response was out the following month. And on Nov 9, the amendment bill was passed.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock said he was initially “resigned” to the fact that he would not qualify for the Presidency due to the changes proposed in the report, and later accepted by the G (read more here). However, the lack of clarity in parliament spurred him to look into the issues deeper. He added that when he’s “silent, always remember that I’m thinking”, not doing nothing.

A Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) spokesman, in response to media queries later in the day, said that the issue “has been considered and debated extensively for more than a year”, and that “Dr Tan has not raised any new points that require response.”

Dr Tan has not raised any new points that require response.

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The press conference

The press conference on Friday was a humdrum affair – no rallying cry or rousing speech. Instead Dr Tan stuck to script throughout his presentation, driving home his point about who the first EP should be. He came prepared, with multiple references to the Hansard to back up his assertion that in all his “26 years in Parliament we had always referred to Mr Ong Teng Cheong as the first elected President”.

Former presidential candidate Mr Tan Kin Lian, who was in the audience, thought Dr Tan “made a convincing case”. He had run for the 2011 elections against Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Dr Tony Tan, and Mr Tan Jee Say.

Added Mr Tan Kin Lian: “He (Dr Tan) and his team did a lot of work to research… and found many instances where the MPs referred to Ong Teng Cheong as the first elected president. I agree with his interpretation of the intent of the Commission. I am surprised at the incompetence of the government.”

There was a smattering, albeit enthusiastic, applause later during the question and answer session when Dr Tan talked about what he thought should define a President: “You must define (the) presidency by people who believe in multi-racialism, people who have the… character, who have served this country for a long time, who believe in the people… but if you want to define the Presidency by money…it’s very sad for this country.”

if you want to define the Presidency by money… It’s very sad for this country.

Dr Tan did not specify, but he was likely referring to the qualifying criteria, where potential candidates from the private sector must have experience at the senior-most executives levels in companies with shareholder equity of at least $500m.
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The Constitutional Commisson

The qualifying criteria was one of three issues related to the Elected Presidency scheme that the Constitutional Commission was set up to review, early last year. The other two areas had to do with the framework governing the President’s custodial powers, and ensuring that there was minority representation time to time. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon led the nine member commission.

Public feedback was sought but notably, Dr Tan Cheng Bock had not submitted any suggestions or proposals. This fact was not missed by the MCI spokesman who said, Dr Tan “did not… give his views to the commission”.

When TMG asked Dr Tan on Friday why he did not, he smiled and said: “I’m an interested party… let them (commission) decide.”

I’m an interested party… let them (commission) decide.

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Can Dr Tan run for election again?

In 2011, he had lost the race to Dr Tony Tan by just 7,382 votes. Dr Tony Tan won with 35.20 per cent of the votes while Dr Tan Cheng Bock secured 34.85 per cent of votes.

This time round though, even if there is no reserved election, Dr Tan would find it hard to qualify. He was a non-executive chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings – not a company with $500 million in shareholder equity.

For Dr Tan to successfully qualify to run for the President this coming September, a few things must happen. First, race must no longer be a factor. So either the G reverses its stand that the election this year is reserved, or if there is no qualified Malay candidate. But that’s unlikely (read more here).

Second, Dr Tan must convince the Presidential Elections Committee that he is qualified, through the deliberative track. That is, his past roles in the public or private sector were of sufficient complexity to prove that he can handle the responsibilities of the President.

When asked if he was speaking up too late in the game, he replied: “I think it’s never too late for anything.”

He later added: “Anytime you call an election, my men is ready. I have a team now… I am prepared to assume that role, to look after your reserves, to make sure the appointments of people in the government are in the right order… If I can’t, well, I suppose there’s other ways for me to contribute.”

 

Featured image (taken during press conference in 2016) from TMG file.  

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Race Religion Eurasian

by Suhaile Md

This is the first of  three articles on More Than Just, a closed-door series of  dinner conversations on race and racism in Singapore. Participants were chosen to reflect the diversity of Singapore. Names are withheld for confidentiality, to provide a safe, open space, for honest conversations.

“I WAS the only Malay in the section, the rest of them (Chinese) refused to speak in English,” said a 34-year old, recounting his National Service training days. “For the first month every day,” he reminded them, so that he could fulfil his duties, be part of the team, but eventually he gave up. “I realised they were purposely not including me in.”

He was one of 25 participants who had turned up for the first of a series of three closed door dinner sessions, on Mar 17, to talk about race and racism. The aim of the series is to explore what race and racism means in Singapore and what can be done to move to an ideal state. This first dinner focused on the level of racism experienced here.

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Rate the racism

Participants were asked to rate on a scale of one to 10 what their experience of racism was in Singapore. One meant no racism and 10 meant racism is everywhere.

Responses varied from as low as two to as high as nine. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the lowest score came from a Chinese participant. As another Chinese participant put it, racism in reality is “not like the racial harmony (lessons) taught in schools. The picture of racial and religious harmony presented in school is vastly different outside of class… so the Chinese majority don’t feel it. (racism)”
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“The picture of racial and religious harmony presented in school is vastly different outside of class… so the Chinese majority don’t feel it (racism)”

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This point was underscored by a group facilitator during a post-dinner debrief. The 31-year old Chinese lady said that the Chinese participants in her group were appalled when they heard the stories of racism faced by the minorities. The minorities on the other hand seemed nonchalant, even resigned, about racism in Singapore.

In other words, the Chinese don’t recognise that racism exists because they are not at the receiving end of it.

The highest score of nine was rated by a Eurasian participant in his 40s. But with a twist: Even if a race based policy is positive, he still considered it as racism. To him for example, the racial reservation of the Elected Presidency is a racist policy. Yes, it pushes for minority representation every five terms at the least. But still racist.

At least one participant found it hard to quantify. The 23 year-old Southeast Asian Chinese lady has been in Singapore for a few years. She said she was aware that racism existed but had no overt experience of it. Interestingly, when she was asked to state her race when she first arrived in Singapore, she did not know what to say. “I never really viewed myself according to my race,” she said.

Most other participants, regardless of race, placed a score between four and seven. In general, everyone acknowledged that racial tensions hardly ever turn violent here. Rather, most of the racism permeates through other means like employment opportunities – or the lack thereof – and standards of beauty. This brought the conversation forward to the next topic of discussion, how does racism affect me?
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The impact of racism

Most of the impact was felt in working life. The job requirement to “speak mandarin” is often just “code” for Chinese-employees-wanted, said some. Even though the job itself may not require a mandarin speaker.

A 28-year old Chinese lady who works in the private sector spoke of how she realised, her Malay Muslim colleague, was asked out for group lunch less frequently due to dietary restrictions. There was no malicious intent to exclude. But somehow it just played out that way over time. Even if the intent was not there, could the outcome be considered racist?
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Even if the intent was not there, could the outcome be considered racist?

 

A 32-year old Malay lady spoke of how she found it harder to find jobs here than she did overseas in United States and New Zealand. She suspected race played a role and sent in the same resume with two different names – her own Malay name, and another anglicised. Invariably, she said, her Malay-named resume was rejected but the other accepted even though it was the same job.

Another 28-year old male participant said that because he was considered neither Indian, Malay, nor Chinese, he would be bullied by kids from all the races in Primary School. Sometimes, it got violent.

Despite the heavy topic, the atmosphere was light, jovial, and at times thoughtful, with some instances of intense sharing. But over all, it was carefree. And many stories were shared. Here are some snippets of conversations overheard that night:
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On why they turned up for the event:

“I want to just talk about it (racism), rather than sweeping it under the rug, pretending it doesn’t exist… if we are able to talk about it… then comes the solutions.” Said a Malay man in his mid-30s.

“Catharsis,” said many of the minority races.

“To understand, and be aware”, said many of the majority race.

On what counts as racism:

“Often, people like those of my parents generation, don’t know some terms are racist” and have no malicious intent, said a 23-year old Chinese lady. This was a sentiment echoed by other minority participants as well.

“I think sometimes we can be a bit more gracious when others make comments that seem racist,” said a member of the minority race.

“Maybe intent of our words don’t matter as much as the impact,” said a Chinese lady.

“Context matters… I crack racist jokes all the time with friends from other races, but I would never say them on stage,” said an Indian man.

Questions:

“How do we talk about problems facing certain races without being racist about it?” asked an Indian man.

“Is it a race or class issue?” asked a Malay man.

“It’s weird, in a multi-racial society, where does racism come from?”, asked a Eurasian man. He added later: “At what point do kids develop racism?”

 

TMG is the official media for More Than Just, a series of dinner talks to explore what Race and Racism mean in Singapore, and what we (as individuals, communities and society) can do to bring us to our common ideal state.

The dinner series is full, but there are still some slots left for a stand-alone session on April 7. Sign up here.

Join the facebook group to be a part of the online conversation. Click here.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

KATONG Shopping Centre (KSC) has failed its latest attempt at a collective sale, confirmed Ms Christina Sim, Director of Capital Markets at Cushman & Wakefield (C&W), yesterday (Mar 27). C&W is the exclusive marketing agent for the property.

The public tender for the freehold property which closed on Mar 13 had only one bidder, whose offer was “below the reserve price” of $630 million, she said. The reserve price is the lowest offer a seller is willing to accept. Ms Sim declined to reveal the exact offer but confirmed it was a China-based company.

This third attempt was made when the earlier attempt late last year was thrown off course by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The URA shot down the original proposal for a fully commercial mall due to concerns about traffic congestion. Appeals were made even as an ongoing public tender closed on Sep 1. It’s unclear how many had bid for it then.

URA put its foot down. So the proposal had to change to that of a commercial/serviced residence use. Due to the change of plans, another public tender – which is the latest – was opened from Feb 27 to Mar 13. The reserve price was kept the same.

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The first attempt

Owners of the strata-titled property had expressed interest in a collective sale as early as 1993, said Mr Winston Low, who bought his first unit at KSC in 1976. But formally, there was “no action” taken until late 2009 when the first Collective Sales Committee (CSC) was formed with Mr Low as the chairman of the CSC. The Dennis Wee Group soon came on board as the marketing agent.

That was the first attempt. However, their efforts fell through in 2010, and did not even make it to the public tender stage, because the reserve price of $440 million was not “attractive enough” for some owners, said Mr Low. As such, less than 60 per cent of the owners, by share value and strata area, signed the collective sales agreement. The law requires an 80 per cent majority for buildings more than 10 years old. KSC is over 40 years old.

The second, and current, CSC was formed on April 24, 2014. Mr Low remained on the CSC but was no longer chairman. The marketing agent was also changed to C&W.

Tenant Mr Chang Kheng Siang was relieved to know that KSC would not be closed anytime soon. Said Mr Chang: “If close, then must retire. Difficult to get place, frankly speaking… all now new building the rent high.”

Mr Chang currently pays over $1,000 a month in rent, for the 200 plus sq ft unit in the basement, to run his New Katong Aquarium shop. Had the 62-year old set up elsewhere, the price would easily double. It also helps, he added, that he has a good relationship with his landlord.

St James Bookshop owner Mr Ronald Neo on the other hand, was “not too worried” as he was prepared, and already had “another place in mind” within the Katong area. The 49-year old has been in the business for more than 20 years and has regular customers. He has shifted at least “three times” since 1987 but since it was always within the Katong area, his customer base was secure. Mr Neo declined to reveal how much he paid for rent.

There are 459 owners, with 425 units in the 87,000 sq ft mall. The owners stood to make a tidy sum had the sale gone through. For example, Mr Low’s two unit space, at over 400 sq ft, cost him $110,00 in 1976. But now “based on signing valuation” it’s between $1.3million and $1.5 million, said the 65-year old.

Owners with a larger share, like City Developments (CDL), stand to make a killing. It owns 60 units and 323 carpark spaces at the mall, reported ST last year (Jun 8).

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Curious to know more about the old mall? Read: Katong Shopping Centre: Maid agencies galore.

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Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

ON THE face of it, salary disputes seem simple enough: Go to court and get your employer cough up what is due. But what about the hidden costs and knock on impact of such a decision? For one, there’s the expense of filing a case. Also, try working for someone you hauled to court – not much love there, one can imagine. Justice should not be costly.

So it’s good that the Manpower Minister Mr Lim Swee Say recognises this. He said earlier this month (Mar 6) in his Committee of Supply speech: “We need to have for a better future… fair and progressive workplaces for all workers.”

“We need to have for a better future… fair and progressive workplaces for all workers.”

To that end, Minister Lim said that the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) and Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), which opens its doors from April 1 this year, will work together to settle all salary related disputes between employees and employers.

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Big names, so what?

Simply put: From next month onwards, more employees can seek recourse, regardless of salary level, for a wider array of issues, when disputes arise.

The ECT is set up under the state courts. Claims will be heard by legally qualified Tribunal Magistrates, in line with courts processes. It replaces the labour court.

Currently, the labour court deals with issues like unpaid salaries, overtime pay, maternity benefits and the like. Basically rights that are backed by statutory laws that fall under the Employment Act, Retirement & Re-employment Act and the Child Development Co-Savings Act.

Those who earn more than $4,500 do not qualify for recourse through the labour court. They need to head to the civil courts where claimants would have to hire a lawyer to be represented.

Not anymore. The ECT will be open to all employees even if they earn more than $4,500. This a boon to both employers and employees. It’s a lower-cost dispute resolutions channel for both parties – there’s no need to hire lawyers for example.

Also, the cost of pursuing claims through the civil courts can be a barrier for claimants who can’t afford it. This presented errant employers with the opportunity to deal unfairly with their workers, knowing that the workers would have no recourse. Now that the barrier to a hearing is gone, employers cannot get away with mistreating their staff.

Furthermore, it will also deal with claims like the payment of allowances, bonuses, and commissions for example. Basically issues that are not specified in the Acts above, but are covered in employee contracts.

The ECT will be open to all employees of all salary levels – not just those who earn less than $4,500.

That’s it, I’m going to the ECT!

Slow down, don’t forget the TADM.

Over 90 per cent of labour court claims were settled via mediation, said Minister Lim in Parliament last year (Aug 16). There was no need for formal hearings in such cases – saving much time, energy, and costs.

Which is why all claimants head to the TADM first. There, TADM officers will advise workers on the options available to them.

If the claims are too complex and fall outside statutory claims, the claimants can then choose to go for voluntary mediation by TADM or proceed straight to the civil courts. TADM will also help workers get in touch with the Singapore Law Society’s legal clinic. Otherwise, for statutory and contractual salary-related claims, TADM will mediate. Only if mediation is unsuccessful will claimants proceed to the ECT.

Simply put: Salary dispute? Head to TADM. It will advise you and mediate between you and your employer. If that doesn’t work, you will be referred to the ECT. Not under ECT? You will be referred to the civil courts.
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There’s more…

Sometimes, even after dispute is settled, the relationship between the employer and employee may no longer be the same. And the process itself can be stressful.

With that in mind, new services have been added. TADM has partnered with Workforce Singapore (WSG) and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to help with employment issues. TADM has also roped in the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s social services offices to provide emotional and social support to help workers and their families through the tough time.

TADM will provide short term financial relief to low-wage workers in the bottom 20th percentile of the workforce. But only if the claimants are unable to draw a salary whether due to employer’s business failure or inability to pay wages.

The opening of the TADM and ECT is welcome news. Shady employers who preyed on their workers inability to seek recourse will now think twice – protections for employees just increased a good deal.

Where’s the TADM?

For local employees: Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability (DNI),
80 Jurong East Street 21

 For work pass holders: Ministry Of Manpower Services Centre,
1500 Bendemeer Road.

 

This article is part of a series on employment in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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A group of employment pass workers at Changi Business Park during lunchtime.

by Suhaile Md

SINGAPORE is too small a base for global-minded businesses to experiment and refine innovative ideas. At least that’s the view of tech entrepreneur Mr Tan Min-Liang and venture capitalist Mr Isaac Ho, reported the Business Times (BT) on Monday (Mar 13). If entrepreneurs intend to expand beyond Singapore, they should test-bed in larger markets from the start.

Simply put, a test-bed is a space to experiment and develop innovative products before bringing to market. Last month (Feb 7), the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) proposed in its report that the G set aside “special test-bedding zones” for Singapore based enterprises to develop products that can be exported.

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But there are three reasons why Singapore might not be the best place to test-bed.

First, you need entrepreneurs and Singaporeans are not “hungry” enough, said Mr Ho. “Most entrepreneurs know there’s always another job for them… Singaporeans are well taken care of by the government.” Which is why he proposed that the G focus on youth exposure to technology and innovation through overseas attachments for instance. That way they “will be exposed to real hunger and passion, and see how fast the other countries are racing ahead”. Mr Ho is the CEO of Venturecraft, a Hangzhou based biotech and medtech incubator.

Second, to grow the business, an entrepreneur will eventually have to enter larger markets like the United States (US) or China.”By the time you’re done with test-bedding in Singapore, somebody’s already tested” the same idea in China or the US. So “you’re better off starting in the US or China from the get-go”, said Mr Tan. In other words, being based in Singapore could make startups too slow to capture a large global market share. Mr Tan is the CEO of Razer, a San Francisco based gaming hardware company.

Third, a product catered to the Singapore market may not be suited for larger markets. “If startups test-bed here, they will need to expend effort to undo what they’ve built for use in other markets,” said Mr Ho. This raises business costs. Besides, delivering products in Singapore does little to develop a start-up’s capacity to handle “large volume transactions”. This could “result in under-building a product”.

Contrary to Mr Ho and Mr Tan, the G sees Singapore’s size as a selling point. Said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore Reception in 2015: “It’s (Singapore) compact… If you can make it work in Singapore, you can have the chance to adapt and apply to other contexts. If it doesn’t work in Singapore, it’s probably worth a rethink.”

More recently, the CFE report stated that Singapore’s small size has its advantages. Similar firms are found close to each other and so, can “attract talent, create critical mass for shared infrastructure, and generate knowledge spillovers among firms and people”. In other words, it’s easier for ideas to cross-pollinate. When new ideas arise, there’s better coordination between different firms and G bodies to make it work.

Mr Kevin Foo, head of investment at venture capitalist firm Cap Vista Singapore, agreed with the G on this, reported BT on Monday: “The level of infrastructure development within our small cityscape allows for close cooperation between different organisations, public or private, to co-develop and test technologies.”

Last October for example, Straits Times (ST) reported that the Economic Development Board together with national water agency PUB successfully completed the initial stages of its renewable-energy test-beds.

10 different floating solar panel systems, from both foreign and local companies, were installed at Tengeh reservoir. The test-bed will establish how viable the 10 systems are – both in the economic and environmental sense. If viable, then the systems can be scaled up for large-scale use.

There are other test-beds underway too, in water technology, and maritime and port services for instance. As the CFE report states, Singapore can be a “living lab for innovative urban solutions” like experimenting with new modes of transport, sustainable energy usage, and water and food resilience. Read more in the report here.

Test-beds are not to be confused with the regulatory “sandbox” the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) proposed last June.

The financial world is kept in check with numerous regulations. But these can stifle the growth of innovative financial technology, or fintech, startup firms. A sandbox relaxes, for selected fintech firms, certain rules like credit ratings, minimum paid-up capital, and so on, to encourage innovation.

That is not to say however, that the sandbox is exclusive to the financial sector only. The CFE report cited this regulatory innovation by the MAS positively. It suggested that like MAS, the G “design a regulatory environment that supports innovation and risk-taking, even as it balances this against risk” such regulations are meant to reduce.

At the end of the day though, is Singapore’s small size a boon or a bane as a test-bed for global innovation?

It’s hard to answer definitively. But the fundamental issue, it seems, is market access. A mass market app based product like Uber for example, would likely do better to test-bed in a larger market like the US and not in Singapore. Here, the arguments of Mr Ho and Mr Tan would make sense.

But if the product is more complex, requires the coordination of multiple sectors, and the main customers are not mass market individuals, Singapore is likely to run ahead. Singapore helping build the new capital city of the Indian state Andhra Pradesh comes to mind.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

AS THE work day comes to a close, a giant mass of office workers stream towards Tanjong Pagar MRT station, ready to head home. Against this flow are a few who are walking towards the GB building for classes at the London School of Business and Finance in Singapore (LSBF).

Thick in the midst of the business district seems an unlikely place for a college campus. There are few open spaces for shorts-and-sandals clad masses of chattering students to mill around. The laid-back atmosphere normally associated with a campus has no place in the fast paced walkways of the district.

But so what? Not everyone looks for a laid back experience. “I’m already past the stage for school-based social life”, said 23-year old Mr Mohamed Mujahid. He’s studying for his Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) certification. Most of his classmates, like him, were “focussed on their studies”, unlike during his time at a local Polytechnic where he completed his Diploma in Banking.

Mr Mujahid joined LSBF because his friends recommended it to him. Most of his friends cited the good reputation of lecturers. “They simplify what seems complicated”, said Mr Mujahid. The quality of the teaching at LSBF was a key reason why he joined LSBF.

Classes

Silence greeted everyone exiting the lift at 6.30pm on the 18th floor of GB building. But a short walk past the lobby revealed a large classroom, that takes up almost the entire floor with a corridor hugging its perimeter, steadily filling up with students.

A quiet intensity hung in the air. Little wonder, since classes started in 15 minutes. Almost all the students were in business attire – work had just ended. There was little time before class. Some made quick trips to the washroom. Others had a short shut-eye with heads resting on their desks. Most of them, though, were eating packed food.

At 6.45pm sharp, the ACCA class started.

The atmosphere in that classroom was quiet, studious. But that is not all there is to LSBF.

Head over to the 6th floor of Springleaf Tower, a mere 3 minutes walk from Tanjong Pagar MRT station, and you’d be awash with the constant buzz of conversation liberally interspersed with laughter. Student-led activities were underway.

Culture at LSBF

There were nearly 60 activities and events for students held in LSBF last year. Student clubs like the go-green club, photography club, sports club, and students council, among others, add life beyond the classroom for students who want to do more than their studies. Through these clubs, students get to meet diverse students outside their courses.

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Student bonding activity at Marina Barrage. Image by LSBF.

“The best thing about LSBF is the diverse and friendly culture,” said Malaysian student Ms Nabilah Aimi. The 20-year-old is studying for an advanced diploma in logistics and supply chain. She has made friends from Singapore, Mongolia and Russia through the student clubs.

“Staff here are engaging and friendly… I don’t feel homesick”, she added.

Echoing her sentiments was Ms Otgonjargal, a diploma in international hospitality management student. She recounted her experience with staff at another renowned PEI when she was doing a campus visit: “I needed help… I waited so long, wait, wait, wait, and finally some guy came and rushed through.” After which he left even though she was still confused. That was not the case when she visited LSBF.

That difference in experience, among other reasons like the course itself, convinced Ms Otgonjargal to join LSBF. When asked if the smaller campus at LSBF was an issue, she shrugged it off and said “it’s cosy”, and that the friendly, helpful culture of the people managing the institution mattered much more.

The human touch

Last December at the LSBF staff workplan seminar, Managing Director Mr Rathakrishnan Govind said: “Yes, technology is important, but the human touch matters.”

It’s not just talk.

Prospective foreign students don’t just email LSBF staff when they have queries. Staff engage them live, through online chats, said student Mr Baldev Singh. The 28-year-old Indian national joined LSBF just over a month back to study hospitality. The staff were “very cooperative”, engaging him directly and immediately. It was more intimate, and human, compared to just email correspondence.

Another example: The programme management office, which is responsible for the various study programmes, work in the GB building because that’s where most of the classes are held, and students can have easy access to them. And if there are evening classes, the office remains open way past its closing time for the students. Sometimes even coming down on the weekends, on their own accord, if there are classes.

LSBF has been in Singapore for only six years. It registered as a Private Educational Institute (PEI) in 2011. In spite of its young age, there are over 10,000 full-time and part-time students. It provides 55 different courses ranging from preparatory courses to post-graduate and masters courses. These are in various fields like hospitality, logistics, and business among others.

But this is not enough. LSBF is looking to do even better. As Mr Govind said to his staff at the workplan seminar: “If you think you’ve already achieved, you will fail miserably… the focus [is] on quality, quality, quality.” And quality can always be improved.

 

This article is the first of a three-part series in collaboration with LSBF.

 

Featured image from LSBF.

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by Suhaile Md

MORE jobs are always welcome news. On Feb 8, over 2,300 jobs were on offer at the two-day career fair held at Changi Airport. Running concurrently, to complement the physical fair, was the Virtual Career Fair (VCF) which will be online till Feb 22.

The VCF is meant to “complement” the physical fair and it would allow “individuals to apply for jobs and speak to hiring employers virtually, at the jobseekers’ convenience”, said the G and the labour movement in a joint-statement (Feb 8). They are the organisers of the fair.

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What’s it like to use the VCF?

Here’s the short version:

The Good

  • The website layout is intuitive and easy to navigate.
  • You can book a half-hour career coaching session delivered over the phone or live chat.
  • You can chat with prospective employers.
  • There are over 19,000 jobs available.

The Bad

  • You will be redirected to the Jobs Bank site, where you have to sign in again, if you want to apply for a job.
  • Key information like salary range and working hours are not mentioned on the VCF. For that, you have to go to the Jobs Bank site.
  • Prospective employers were not available for a chat when TMG went online.

And here’s the detailed version, with pictures!

 

The layout

 

Home page of VCF. To sign up, click the link on the top right. Image is a screenshot of https://adaptandgrow.seemecv.com/.

It’s catchy, and intuitive. The categories are self-explanatory. No job experience? Check out the “Fresh Entrants” section. If you’re well into your working life and looking for a change, go for the “Mid-Careerists” section. In either section, you can look for jobs according to functions like marketing or finance. Last we checked (Feb 16), there were over 4,000 jobs each for fresh entrants and mid-entrants.

Change the variables to fit your needs. Image is a screenshot from VCF portal.
Change the variables to fit your needs. Image is a screenshot from VCF portal.

You can toggle between the options to fit your needs. There are multiple positions like entry level, senior management and non-executive. Employment types also range from temporary, to flexi work, and the usual part-time and full-time options as well.

If you un-click the “Jobs from Career Fair @ Changi Airport”, a wider range of jobs will appear. There were 41 job categories to choose from, each with its own icon. For example, if you’re looking for an admin job, click on the blue icon with the paper clip (shown above).

If you missed the physical career fair, you can click on “Career Fair @ Changi Airport” and it brings you to the booths that were present there.

Some of the booths. Scroll down for more. Image is a screenshot of the portal.
Some of the booths. Scroll down for more. Image is a screenshot of the portal.

There are over 40 companies on the portal. From housekeeping at Crowne Plaza Hotel, to human resources at Singapore Airlines, to engineering at Indeco Engineers, there’s a wide range of jobs for everyone.

If the options and the jobs categories look familiar, it’s because the jobs on VCF are drawn from the Jobs Bank (read more here). Click on a job you wish to apply and it will redirect you to the original job posting on the Jobs Bank site.

Redirect to JobsBank

 

You have to use your SingPass to log into Jobs Bank to apply for the job. If you don’t have an existing Jobs Bank account, you will need to fill in the usual details like your NRIC number, employment status and so on before you can continue.

But it’s worth it because unlike the VCF, key information like salary range, the number of vacancies, working hours and so on are stated on the Jobs Bank.

Look at the white column on the right. Image is a screenshot from JobsBank.gov.sg
Look at the white column on the right. Image is a screenshot from jobsbank.gov.sg.

Compare the Jobs Bank job description to the VCF one below.

Job description on the VCF
Job description on the VCF.

The Jobs Bank has nearly 60,000 jobs online at any one time (recall that VCF has only about 19,000). Furthermore, there are more options to toggle from when searching for jobs on the Jobs Bank.

Another draw of the Jobs Bank: You can search for jobs based on companies that are part of the professional conversion programmes (PCP), or P-max programme that the G has come up with to support mid-careerists looking for a career change. (Read more about the PCP here).

The search options on JobsBank.
The search options on Jobs Bank.

Which raises the question: Why should anyone use the VCF when the Jobs Bank is so much better?

The chat function

The great perk of the VCF is the chance to chat with employers, as well as a career coach. This is not available on the Jobs Bank and it would be more than enough reason to use the VCF.

Enter the “connect with a career coach” booth and click on the chat link. It leads to a scheduler where you can book half hour slots with a career coach from Workforce Singapore. You can then have a phone conversation with a coach who, among other things, will advise you on how to improve your resume, or interviewing skills, and give insights into the job market of the various sectors available on the VCF. Very useful!

Click on any of the 40-plus companies with a booth online, and you’ll enter a room that looks like this…

Click on the icon hovering over the table and chairs.
Click on the icon hovering over the table and chairs.

Enter the chatroom (the icon over the table) and you’ll see something like the following:

Time table of available times online.
Timetable of available times online.

The timetable shows the dates and times someone will be online from their company. Unfortunately, of the 40-plus companies, only three had such a timetable: SATS Ltd, Soup Restaurant Singapore Pte Ltd, and Plaza Premium Lounge Singapore Pte Ltd. Of the three, none of them were online when we checked twice on Thursday – once before lunch, and again later around 3.40pm. Actually, none of the companies were online at all.

Sadly, it was the same the next morning at 10am. A call to the helpline (found under the FAQ section) was fruitful. They were polite and apologetic, with an explanation of sorts: We “reminded the employers to go online… sometimes even if not reflected on the timetable, employers do have representatives online,” they said.

Poor chaps, they reminded the employers but still, no show. Except for SATS Pte Ltd. Kudos to them!

 A quicker way to see who's online would be to head to the networking lounge (the cup and saucer icon on the top right). But as you can see, only SATS turned up.
A quicker way to see who’s online would be to head to the networking lounge (the cup and saucer icon on the top right). But as you can see, only SATS turned up.

Unfortunately, multiple attempts to enter the chat room showed an error message. Bummer.

Error message when attempting to join chat room.
Error message when attempting to join chat room.

 

Turns out, the key attraction of the VCF – the chat function – was a downer. And the search functions, total number of jobs, and inclusion of important information like salary and working hours, are much better in the Jobs Bank.

To be fair, this is only the second time the VCF has gone live. The pilot VCF came online last September.

“We will continue to gather user feedback and refresh virtual resources in the virtual career fairs prototypes in the coming months,” said Mr Tan Choon Shian, Chief Executive of Workforce Singapore (WSG) on Feb 8 in a press statement introducing both the physical and virtual career fairs.

Let’s not forget the Jobs Bank was launched in 2014. Naturally, it would have added better functions over time.

Besides, the VCF is not duplicating efforts. Rather, it has built on the Jobs Bank database and has added value primarily through the chat function, for instance. Which frankly, if effectively executed, would have been invaluable. Maybe that’s something for VCF to look into and for us to look forward to next time?

 

Featured image by Pixabay user eak_kkk. (CC0 1.0)

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