March 30, 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

WHICH has the better mutton murtabak, Zam Zam or Victory? Well, it depends on you. No, it’s not a cop-out. If you prefer it thick and crispy, go with Victory. If you prefer your meat to be savoury and like a more chewy dough, go with Zam Zam. It’s a matter of personal taste, really.

Prices for the mutton murtabak range from $6 to $17 depending on the portion size. The $6 dish is sufficient for most people, but if you’re feeling peckish, go ahead with the $8 portion like TMG did when it visited the shops last week. Be warned though, you can forget about supper if you have the larger portion for dinner.

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Here’s the low down on the murtabaks: Which do you prefer?

Zam Zam Restaurant

Murtabak from Singapore Zam Zam! Photo by Md Suhaile.
 Mutton murtabak ($8) and Teh Tarik ($1.20) from Singapore Zam Zam! Photo by Suhaile Md.

Cost: $6, $8, $9,  $12, $14, $17 for mutton Murtabak, depending on portion size. Teh tarik for $1.20. Curry and cucumber slices come with the dish.

Flavour: More savoury, stronger taste of spices.

Texture: Chewy dough with relatively juicy meat. Not crispy.

Variety: Chicken murtabak from $6 to $15, sardine murtabak from $5 to $12, and beef murtabak from $5 to $16.

The $8 murtabak at Zam Zam is actually folded to fit on the plate. So while it’s thinner than the Victory version, it makes up for it in width. Juicy meat with chewy dough ensures that the taste of spice lingers in your mouth.

 

Victory Restaurant

Murtabak from Victory! Photo by Md Suhaile.
Mutton murtabak ($8) and Teh Tarik ($1.20) from Victory! Photo by Md Suhaile.

Cost: $6, $8, $9,  $12, $14, $17 for mutton Murtabak, depending on portion size. Teh tarik for $1.20. Curry and cucumber slices come with the dish.

Flavour: Less savoury, tastes of spices slightly muted.

Texture: Both dough and meat are dry and crispy.

Variety: Chicken murtabak from $6 to $16, sardine murtabak from $5 to $11, and beef murtabak from $5 to $16.

Both the meat and dough are crisp and dry. So the taste of spices, while distinct, is still muted when compared to the Zam Zam version.

 

Read our other piece on the restaurant battle: The two kings of murtabak in Kampong Glam

 

 

Featured image Singapore Zam Zam by Flickr user Jnzl’s PhotosCC BY-SA 2.0

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by Suhaile Md

I’LL be there for you… if you pay me $1,000.

Finally, the much-ballyhooed Central Perk Cafe has opened in Singapore and fans of the American sitcom, Friends, of which the cafe is a big part of, can’t wait to get their first brew.

Since its launch last Saturday (Nov 26), business has been “not too bad”, said owner Mr Lim Jit Min, who himself is a fan of the TV show which ran for 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004.

“Sales [have] been phenomenal.”

The cafe’s customers might be enjoying a welcome buzz from the coffee – but it’s Mr Lim himself who has been in the soup over his decision to charge $1,000 for a membership that offers perks such as free coffee and priority queues.

Mr Lim, who left his job as a headhunter in a recruitment agency earlier this year, sat up straight and leaned forward when we asked about the membership fee at an interview with TMG last week before its official opening.

Was he expecting that kind of response? “Definitely,” he said. “Most of these people are here to look for a bargain.”

 

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Read the Facebook announcement and comments here.

 

Wait, what?

Exactly. Mr Lim has no time for bargain hunters. If you’re a real fan, you’ll fork out the money, even if you’re like Rachel, whose first job was a waitress at the cafe, or a struggling actor like Joey.

The point of the membership scheme was to “find vested fans in our business”, he said. He cited the examples of fans who were wiling to buy the membership as a show of support for a fellow fan – even though it was uncertain if the cafe would ever exist. There were others who provided “support that’s worth way over a $1,000”, like free office space.

He argued that if someone was willing to commit that much with little certainty, it “shows that you really have a very strong connection to it”. And that “these are the people that I really consider members of my Central Perk Cafe. I’m not here to try and sell a bargain or a loyalty card like what the traditional cafes are doing,” he said.

“I’m not here to try and sell a bargain or a loyalty card like what the traditional cafes are doing”

To the critics, added Mr Lim: “As a business, I appreciate that you’re a fan but probably you’re not what we are looking out for as a member.” He reckons that out of a 100 fans “maybe only one will” fit the bill to be a member.

The cafe is open to the wider public. It’s just that members get certain privileges, Mr Lim pointed out.

The benefits for now, among others, include table reservations, event bookings and priority queues where members can bring up to five guests at a time. The iconic orange couch which is the centrepiece of the entire set can only be reserved by members as well. Members also get up to six – oversized, like it is in the show – cups of coffee on the house, daily.

Which, as Mr Lim pointed out, is priced at $8 a cup and so, worth over $17,000 a year.

Central Perk Cafe has sold 100 memberships so far and it intends to cap the number somewhere between 300 and 500. The price by the way, will likely be increased to $2,000 a year starting from Jan 2017. More benefits will be added as well.

Mr Lim was coy about money matters like costs and investments when asked. However, a New Paper report in June stated that the total costs were expected to be around $500,000 and that he was trying to raise $51,000 on the crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo. The Straits Times later reported in October that over $5,000 was raised on the platform.

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The replica of the set in Central Perk SG.

 

The show he has loved for nearly half his life. 

The 28-year-old started watching Friends when he was 15. As much as he enjoyed it then, it was during his national service years that he really “fell in love with it” he said at the interview with TMG last week. The two years he spent in the Army was a “difficult time… and just watching Friends, re-watching the seasons would cheer me up”.

Friends follows the lives of its six main characters who are in their mid to late 20s and are, well, friends. Central Perk Cafe was their go-to place to hang out. It may be a sitcom but it’s not short of drama: Romance, career, marriage, divorce, family… the show has it all.

Who’s your favourite character?

“Ross! Ross is a very big geek, like myself. I love Pokemon, I still play it. It’s [Pokemon] something I fell in love with and just never grew out of. And I can relate that to Ross’ passion for dinosaurs. He made a career out of it [his passion]. He’s also very charming and appealing. And he dated Rachel so… ”

Why this and not a Pokemon cafe?

“I was contemplating whether to open a Pokemon cafe or a Friends cafe… but the whole experience [of Friends] was closer to my heart.”

The idea to open a cafe was something Mr Lim “always wanted”, a desire that grew particularly after he came across a Central Perk Cafe on a trip to China about six years back. Mr Lim said that the Chinese can be “very aloof” but when he walked into the cafe, it was “magical”. He could “just connect with people” and start conversations with strangers. It was an experience he “wanted to bring back to Singapore”.

Finally, earlier this year, he took the plunge. Mr Lim left his job of two years at a recruitment agency in April. By June, he had pulled together investors and launched the campaign on Indiegogo to gauge market demand. And by August, they got the premises in Central Mall, at the junction of Magazine Road and Havelock Road.

Central Perk Cafe SG is the “only one outside of the United States, licensed by Warner Brothers”, said Mr Lim. The one that he saw in China was an “imitation”. Recreating the cafe set from the show, down to the last detail, required “careful observation of the TV show” and reference to “high resolution style guides from Warner Brothers”.

friends

From left to right: Phoebe, Joey, Monica, Ross, Rachel and Chandler
Image friends by Flickr user Geoffrey Chandler. (CC BY 2.0)

 

Besides the cafe set itself, there are the character corners. For example, Monica’s love for cooking naturally meant her corner is a kitchen. The cafe also has functional replicas of Chandler’s pac-man machine and the foosball set he used to play with Joey.

The iconic stage where Phoebe sang her own quirky songs, like smelly cat, has an actual keyboard and guitar. There will be live performances with “independent and original music, not covers” to stay true to Phoebe’s independent spirit.

The food and drinks follow the Friends theme. The Phoebe coffee blend for instance has a nutty flavour to reflect her quirky nature. But it does not come cheap. The six speciality coffee blends created to represent the characters cost $8 each. An espresso goes for $4. As for food, the cheapest main, a 300g turkey dish, costs $36. Salads will set you back about $12.

Watch our video of the cafe here:

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Suhaile Md

SEXUAL intimacy can be risky for a healthy person if his or her partner is HIV-positive. Abstinence can be harder than it seems, and condoms are not 100 per cent safe. Which is why the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pill, Truvada, can help fight against the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The pill, if taken daily, will protect the uninfected partners of HIV-positive persons from infection.

Good thing then that the pills will be available at more places. The DSC Clinic and National University Hospital will be offering the pills as early as next year. Currently, Tan Tock Seng Hospital and some private clinics offer the pills.

While the PrEP pills are helpful, they are not magic pills that will solve all the world’s HIV related problems. Here are five myths and misconceptions people may have.

 

1. PrEP is a vaccine

PrEP is not a vaccine. Vaccines train the body’s immune system to be stronger until it’s capable of fighting off virus’ by itself. So once vaccinated, your body will not require the vaccine anymore.

That is not the case for PrEP. The drug must be in your bloodstream to be able to fight off a HIV infection. Once the drug leaves your body, you are vulnerable to HIV.

 

2. Pop the pill before sex and you’re safe

That’s not how it works.

It takes time for the pills to work into your bloodstream. Which is why doctors recommend a pill a day dosage of PrEP. According to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, to get the maximum protection from PrEP, users should be on the pill for at least 20 continuous days before having sex.

 

3. PrEP will cure HIV and AIDS

Sorry to say so, but no, PrEP will not cure HIV or AIDS.  PrEP is a preventive measure. Which is why it will not work for an infected person – the virus has already set in. As its name suggests, the pill only works pre-exposure.

There is no known cure for HIV or AIDS. The best shot a patient has is to go for antiretroviral therapy drugs. Such drugs will slow down the spread of HIV and hence delay the weakening of the body’s immune system. This will extend the life expectancy of a patient.

 

4. I use PrEP so it’s safe for me to ditch condoms and have sex willy nilly!

Not a good idea.

First, PrEP pills are not 100 per cent effective. Even if the daily dose of a pill a day is taken, the chances of HIV infection are reduced up to 92 per cent. Not 100 per cent. So there’s always that chance that it will not work. Which is why doctors see PrEP as complements to existing measures, like condoms, to stem the tide of HIV infections – not standalone measures.

Second, PrEP does not protect you from other sexually transmitted infections like herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

 

5. Everyone should use PrEP just to be safe

Wrong. PrEP is targeted only at people who are at high risk of infections.

This includes drug users who risk an exchanging of bodily fluids every time they share used needles and uninfected persons with HIV positive partners. If you’re in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, why would you need the pill?

Besides, there are some side effects like headache, loss of appetite, and vomiting during the first month of taking the pills.

 

You can read our other story on the PrEP pill here.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Suhaile Md

FROM early next year, the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Clinic (DSC Clinic) will offer the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pill Truvada. If taken daily, it can keep an uninfected person safe from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) even if he is exposed to HIV – from an infected partner, for example.

It’s welcome news for people at risk of contracting HIV, and the DSC will be one of only a handful of places in Singapore where the drug is available. They are Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), and some private clinics. The National University Hospital (NUH) also began offering PrEP from October this year.

Currently, one pill costs about $30 at TTSH – no word yet on how much it will cost to get it from the DSC, however. When asked, Dr Tan Weisheng, the clinic’s consultant and deputy head, said the price was “not firmed up yet”. He also said the pills would be available in the first quarter of next year.

To get the Truvada pills at the DSC Clinic, individuals “will first have to register at the clinic and be screened by a doctor to see if they are suitable to take PrEP,” said Dr Tan. Patients will also undergo counselling and “reinforcement on safe sex and condom use” to minimise their risk of contracting HIV.

Those at risk are recommended to take a pill a day. PrEP complements existing measures of HIV prevention like “safe sex education” and regular use of condoms, said Dr Tan. The pills must be consumed for “two to three weeks before he or she is considered protected”.

The presence of Truvada in the bloodstream prevents HIV from setting in and curbs the virus’ spread in the body. According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), taking PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infections by up to 92 per cent. But only if consistently taken.

If left untreated HIV can cause the deadly disease, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Over a million people died from AIDS related illnesses last year and about 36.7 million people suffer from HIV, according to the World Health Organisation. World AIDS Day is held on Dec 1 every year to pay tribute to those who have died as well as to raise awareness of HIV.

Closer to home, the Ministry of Health reports that there are 7,140 residents here who suffer from HIV, of whom 1,816 have passed away. About 450 new cases of HIV have been diagnosed every year since 2008.

Added Dr Tan: “I would just say that PrEP is a safe and effective means of HIV prevention, but should be combined with condom use.”

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system of a person. If the immune system becomes too weak, AIDS may develop. Such patients are more susceptible to sicknesses like Pneumonia and Tuberculosis. But not all who contract HIV will eventually have AIDS.

While HIV and AIDS cannot be cured, antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs can delay the viral growth and improve life expectancy. The virus is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids like blood and semen.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Suhaile Md

UBER or Grab? Choosing which private car service these days has less to do with service and more with the size of their coupon discounts.

At least, that’s what it seems from the various cash coupons being offered by both companies over the past few months. Even ComfortDelGro, Singapore’s largest taxi service company, who’s never really been big on coupons, is following suit.

This week (Nov 21), Grab offered 50 per cent off rides between 10am to 5pm. As for Uber, users pay the usual fare for the first trip but get $5 off their subsequent five rides between Nov 21 and Nov 25.

Such ad-hoc offers have been going on for the past few months and usually, a promotional code is required to unlock them. Often, they are in the form of $3 to $5 discounts per ride for limited periods and applicable to the first 1,000 to 5,000 customers.

Sometimes Uber and Grab have contests thrown in as well. Last month, Uber riders stood to win free access to Halloween parties while Grab users had a shot at winning a pair of tickets to the Women’s Tennis Association finals in Singapore.

All these are in addition to the perennial referral promotions offered by both companies. New users to Grab get $8 credited to them while they earn a further $8 per referral. For Uber, it’s $20 and $10 respectively. Users can only use the money on future rides though.

The success of ride-hailing apps depends on the size of its network of drivers and passengers, said Assistant Professor Yang Nan of the National University of Singapore’s Business school. He said in an interview with The Straits Times: “An app that’s falling behind in the competition for riders or an app that just enters the market would only deliver worse rider experience with lower vehicle availability and longer waiting time.”

So the competition for a larger customer base is what the coupons are all about. Timing matters as well. Because the earlier you start, the better your chances of securing a larger slice of the market. It’s tough to fight for the streets of Singapore. And there have been casualties.

British ride-hailing platform, Hailo, left the Singapore scene last week after spending little over two years here, to focus on the European market. It had partnered SMRT and started in Singapore on October 2014. This, nearly a year and a half after Uber and Grab entered Singapore in early 2013. Another British firm, Karhoo, entered Singapore late last year but never got around to getting drivers on the road. It announced its closure here on Nov 8.

The incumbents are not taking it lying down.

SMRT’s plans with Hailo did not turn out as planned. But of the remaining six operators here, four have partnered Grab. TransCab, Premier taxi, HDT taxi, and Prime taxi formed exclusive partnerships with Grab since September this year. And already, discount coupons worth $3 to $5 have come into play. But it can only be redeemed if booked through the Grab app.

Singapore’s largest taxi company ComfortDelGro, which operates both CityCab and Comfort taxis, has similar offers for passengers who use its own app. And it’s more generous: Commuters get $5 – $10 off per ride compared to the usual $3-$5 discounts offered by Grab and Uber. More recently, between Nov 16 and Nov 22, the first 1,000 passengers per day got $8 off their taxi fare.

Over half of ComfortDelgro’s 30 million bookings in the past year were made on its app. Which means on average, over 82,000 bookings are made per day via the app. While it’s unclear how many bookings Uber and Grab fulfil a day, ComfortDelGro’s numbers are nothing to sneeze at.

Nonetheless, when you think of booking a ride online, you think of Uber and Grab. “I will check both [Uber and Grab] apps before booking and choose the cheaper option,” said Mr Fahad Ibn Azam. And with all the coupon giveaways recently, “I have been using Grab quite exclusively” in the past few weeks even though “I started with Uber”, added the 27-year old engineer. He uses the service about “two to three times a week”.

Grab user Ms Baey Shi Chen doesn’t see herself switching over to Uber. “I already use a service that works”, said the teacher. Similarly, when Uber user Ms Tiffany Tan was asked if she had used Grab before, she replied: “I didn’t see the need to try as I am happy with using Uber.”

Both Uber and Grab have their fans but there’s also the price conscious consumer who goes for the most savings. The incumbent ComfortDelGro cannot be dismissed as well. So secure your seat belts, the tremendous taxi showdown’s in town.

 

Additional reporting by Vanessa Wu

Featured image by Natassya Siregar.

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by Suhaile Md

We interviewed Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and head of the labour movement, on the profound changes affecting the job market and the NTUC’s role in the new economy. This is the second of three parts. Read the first part here.

JUNE is usually the month to look forward to for freelance netball coach, Mr Justin Teh. The month-long school holiday meant his charges could train without the worries of a classroom weighing them down. A golden opportunity for growth.

But there was that time when his plans for player development gave way to disappointment. The school cut his time from four weeks to two. He was lucky. Some coaches have their time trimmed to zero and their income for the month disappears.

Said Mr Teh: “This throws the freelancer off. Because you committed to certain expenditure, certain payments that you have and suddenly you’re robbed of an income that you thought you were going to have in the future.”

Factor in the year-end holidays plus exam periods and a 12-month contract for $12,000 could well be worth only $9,000. Trouble is, the terms of their contracts allow this. Schools are the primary sources of income for them, so freelance coaches have little say when thrashing out contractual terms.

Unlike the usual employer-employee relationship where a worker has one contract with one company, freelancers have to consider multiple contracts with multiple companies. For that one person, “where got time, where got energy, where got capacity,” asked Mr Chan Chun Sing. Basically, there’s an “asymmetry in the capability and resources,” he added.

Freelancers have to consider multiple contracts with multiple companies. For that one person, “where got time, where got energy, where got capacity,” asked Mr Chan Chun Sing.

Which is why the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) set up the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit about two years back. It was around this time that Mr Teh decided to approach the NTUC to help set up the Sports Coaches Association (SCA). The SCA was officially registered in March 2015.

There were only 10 members at the start. Now there are 200. The vast majority (70 per cent) earn at least 80 per cent of their income through freelancing. Membership fees are relatively low – $117 a year – for the benefits: Death and permanent disability insurance coverage and discounts at medical clinics among other things. Besides these benefits, SCA also arranges for members to attend workshops like income tax filing, and sports-related legal education.

It is “tough” to grow the membership base, said Mr Teh. Freelance coaches “don’t even know we exist”. Those who do know, are “skeptical” about a young association. Some don’t even see the need for the SCA. Well, not until they run into problems themselves at least.

Freelancing covers an endless spectrum of services, from bookkeeping to writing, photography, and driving to name a few. The freedom to pick up jobs as and when, and to do it within a person’s free time is appealing to many. Some pick up extra income while others do this full-time. Full-time freelancers keen to accumulate as many contracts as possible might pass over the benefits applicable to those in a normal employment structure, such as medical benefits.

But Mr Chan wondered if they could answer questions like what would be the competitive rate for service? Or what terms and conditions should be attached to a contract.

For example, is insurance covered? Who’s liable to what extent on matters of safety? Different clients can have different contracts with different terms. “One pay me if I sprain my [right] ankle, the other one pay me only if I sprain my left ankle… very difficult,” he said.

Furthermore they “must know what are some of the basic things” to plan for in the long term, like retirement, medical and insurance.

A relatively new phenomenon has entered the picture: the rise of the gig or share economy which has resulted in an overturning of the employer-employee relationship. Should someone doing courier/delivery service for an online platform or driving an Uber taxi be defined under a contract of service or contract for service?

The United Kingdom “recently passed rules that uber must treat [drivers] as employees” and Canada ruled that while Uber drivers were not employees, they “must pay some equivalent social security” to its drivers. This is so that Uber as a company does not “externalise the social cost,” said Mr Chan.

This concern of externality echoed Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s view at a forum last month. He said that while it provided jobs, such a model “serves the interest of the company because they’re really pushing risk onto the contract worker” and it was not a good social model. Read more about the pros and cons of the gig economy here. 

Some Uber drivers, Mr Chan found out, did not realise that Uber pegs its prices to supply and demand. So a drivers income would vary week to week. But they “lock themselves into a fixed price [car] rental” at the start because they did not realise it before hand.

Like freelancers, those who are part of the share economy do not come under the protection of the Employment Act – they are not employees. So they have no health or retirement benefits.

“There’s nothing wrong with the gig economy so long as you’re disciplined enough to take care of yourself, your retirement,” he said. But the fact remains that plying their trade outside the cocoon of an organisation have little protection and not everyone is disciplined. “So you assume that most people can ka ki kor ka ki (be self-sufficient) but there will be some that society has to chip in and support.”

 “So you assume that most people can ka ki kor ka ki (be self-sufficient) but there will be some that society has to chip in and support.”

In the United States and Europe, between 20 and 30 per cent of workers do some form of freelance work according to a McKinsey report this year. In Singapore, 14 per cent of all resident workers are self-employed, said Manpower Minister Mr Lim Swee Say in Parliament on Feb 29.

Over half of the self-employed operate their own business or trade without any paid staff. While the world grapples with such changes, Mr Chan thinks that two steps must first be taken.

First is to get freelancers to come together and “share the information… where are the opportunities, what are the things to look out for,” what to do or not to do, said Mr Chan. The kinds of things they can take of care by themselves first. Educate each other on their legal rights, financial considerations and so on.

The second step can then come into play, where they can attend NTUC organised conferences, and seminars to “keep abreast” of issues as well as upgrade themselves. The NTUC’s Freelance and Self-Employed unit is already looking into this.

For Mr Teh, it is clear that the collective voice is louder than the lone shout. Mr Teh did not go anywhere with MOE when he aired his concerns to officials as a freelancer. But with the organisational clout of 200 coaches, the SCA is now in talks with MOE to address the issues and technicalities on freelance coach contracts.

Naturally, having a larger pool of members would be better. Added Mr Teh: “The hope is that coaches will come together, because there has been and there will be competition among coaches… but by coming together we can actually make the community better and make sports more vibrant.”

 

Read the other pieces from our interview with Chan Chun Sing:

1. Chan Chun Sing: Your job is NOT safe

3. Chan Chun Sing: It’s working people; not working class

 

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Suhaile Md

We interviewed Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and head of the labour movement, on the profound changes affecting the job market and the NTUC’s role in the new economy. This is the first of three parts.

YOU’LL be hearing this pretty often: Preparing tomorrow’s unemployed for tomorrow’s jobs. Sounds catchy but what does it mean?

Tomorrow’s unemployed does not refer to new job entrants. It refers to people who think they’re in a cushy job now. National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) chief Chan Chun Sing thinks today’s employed, including professionals, have to start asking themselves if they would still have a job tomorrow.

Like the accountant who knows only book-keeping, which can be done more cheaply elsewhere.

Or the sales assistant who can be replaced by an online ordering platform.

Or the real estate agent who finds that more people are buying and selling apartments on their own steam.

Maybe not hair-dressing, Mr Chan said semi-seriously. “How to cut hair through the Internet?” It is a service restricted by distance and geography.

So if you’re doing a job that is routine and can be traded through “the wire”, that is, done online by someone else or something else like a computer programme, you’ll be watching your wage being “competed downwards” and your job will eventually disappear.

So if you’re doing a job that is routine and can be traded online, your job will eventually disappear.

This isn’t far-fetched. Nearly 8,500 workers were retrenched in the first half of this year – the highest since the financial crisis in 2009. The number stood at 5,840 last year and 4,600 the year before for the same period.

Finding jobs soon after is not easy. Only 45 per cent of residents who lost their jobs in the first quarter were employed by the end of the second quarter in June.

The bulk (68.7 per cent) of the 4,800 who lost their jobs in the second quarter were professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET). Nearly 40 per cent were degree holders and 64 per cent were above 40 years old.

 

Guild the lily

It’s a knotty issue for the NTUC because the people most at risk belong to a category of workers who aren’t allowed to have union representation.

Which is why it has been offering associate memberships to professional associations. There are 40 such members so far, including the Youth Work Association (Singapore) and The Institute Of Internal Auditors Singapore .

It is a return to the system of guilds, with an emphasis on getting the guilds to dive deep into their core-skill set – think T-shape – while amassing a breadth of “wrap around” skills so that they can offer more than the “standard package”.

This is why, he said, those employed by the Big Four accounting firms will have a secure job, because the companies offer a lot more than just book-keeping.

The smaller firms however don’t have the same breadth of services. “Today you cannot survive on the deep narrow skills, you must provide value added services”, he said. While the professional associations will help them develop the depth, NTUC helps to increase their breadth by connecting “professionals to professionals to widen their competencies”.

 

Lost in transition

The trouble is, while people can see the looming problem, not many think it will happen to them, said Mr Chan, referring to his discussions with real estate agents and accountants.

The real estate agent who told him his own job was secure thinks he can always post more pictures of his client’s house. But this middleman role will be beaten by the home owner who puts up a video or gives a virtual reality tour of his own home, Mr Chan noted.

If, however, he gives buyers and sellers value by offering them financial advice or helping them with their legal documentation, his job would have a better chance of survival. “The computer still cannot do all these kind of personal concierge kind of services”, said Mr Chan. In short, don’t be a “one-trick pony”.

Technological disruptions are changing the nature of work and placing jobs on the global door-step. It means that working people will have to keep thinking about whether they have the skills to expand their job scope or change line – and at a more rapid place.

Mr Chan praised the cultural mindset of the Germans and the Swiss who take stock of their skills every few years because they want to stay employed.

Here, SkillsFuture and the various G initiatives like professional conversion programmes (PCP), place and train, and so on, comes in.

A bus driver for instance, in anticipation of driverless buses, can enrol in courses and learn how to operate and manage bus scheduling systems. A sales person might want to pick up skills to operate an e-commerce platform. Even as front-line jobs vanished, new jobs are created at the other end of the supply chain, he said.

This is where “provision of information is important”, said Mr Chan. Singaporeans are “very clever”: Once they sense their jobs are threatened, they will look for opportunities. Inform them where and how they can be trained, they will go for it, he added.

There are practical difficulties, he admitted, for those with families. A person trying to move from one type of work to another must expect a bumpy ride. It would not be a straight-line progression with higher and higher salaries. Pay cuts must be expected during the transition.

 

Continuing education

Then there is the difficulty of predicting the types of new jobs that would be created.

While there used to be the Vocational and Industrial Training Board in the past to prepare a workforce for whatever the Economic Development Board has managed to bring on shore in terms of jobs, things are just happening so fast these days.

“Investment comes in, can start up in three months, six months” and waiting “two years” for workers to be trained is not feasible. There’s a need to “identify new industries, new skill sets, new businesses.”

Which is essentially what the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is addressing. Mr Chan is the deputy chair of the CFE. It looks into five broad areas: future corporate capabilities and innovation, future growth industries and market, future of connectivity, future city, and future jobs and skills.

So how do you prepare for this new economy where you will have multiple jobs in your career and you’re required to learn and relearn? Adopt the mindset of “continuing education” and not “compulsory education”, where you anticipate the next challenge and prepare for it.

“Why would today’s employed start to embrace this culture and say that… the kan cheong index better go up a bit. Tomorrow somebody might move my cheese,” he added.

 

Read the other pieces from our interview with Chan Chun Sing:

2. Chan Chun Sing: Making sure freelancers aren’t fleeced

3. Chan Chun Sing: It’s working people; not working class

 

 

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by Suhaile Md

THE Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will implement iris-cameras “progressively at land, air, and sea checkpoints over the next two years”, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr Desmond Lee in Parliament today (Nov 10).

Anyone holding either a blue or pink identity card (IC) will eventually have their iris scanned and recorded as part of the national registration process. So the next time you register or re-register for your IC, you will get scanned.

This is to enhance security measures, said the Jurong GRC MP, adding that current “personal identifiers” like fingerprints and photographs have weaknesses. How we look changes over time, for example. And fingerprints may fade or wear out so much so that machines are unable to scan it well enough for identification. The iris-scans are meant to complement these measures.

Parliamentarians like Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Leon Perera raised questions on when and how iris scans of every resident will be collected by the ICA.

Collection will start next year but there is no need for a one-time nationwide exercise. Instead, ICA will be “limiting enrolment to existing interfaces”, replied Mr Lee. That is, it will update its records “as and when people make use of existing ICA services” to renew their passports or update their ICs, for example.

As for disabled residents who have difficulties leaving their homes, there are “ICA home-visit teams” who will facilitate the process. It’s an existing procedure, added Mr Lee.

And then there’s the question of data protection, raised by MPs Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC). Broadly speaking, Mr Lee said, the “physical and software measures” in place are in line with international standards. The data is “encrypted before storage”, and “only authorised ICA officers have access” to it.

The iris-scan technology has already been in use in countries like Germany and Netherlands since early 2000. The scan is a “contact-less” process, like “taking a photo… completed in seconds” and does not harm the eye, said Mr Lee.

Other countries that use the biometric eye-scanner include the United States, Britain and India.

 

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by Suhaile Md

HOPEFUL parents who have difficulty conceiving can take heart: You may have more options to increase your chances of having a healthy baby. The Ministry of Health (MOH) is reversing its position on genetic screening by setting up a trial which would start next year.

Called Pre-implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), the procedure has long been championed by doctors who believed it would increase the odds of a successful birth. Chromosomal abnormalities, which a PGS can detect, account for more than half the miscarriages that occur, reported The Straits Times.

A pilot three-year trial will start next year, said Minister for Health, Dr Amy Khor, in Parliament today (Nov 10), in response to questions raised on the subject.

This was previously not allowed by MOH due to its experimental nature. Its effectiveness was also “unclear”, she added.

However, recent developments in PGS in other countries has led MOH to review its position on the matter. Said Dr Khor: “In recent years, however, newer technologies for pre-implantation genetic screening have emerged and some jurisdictions have now allowed pre-implantation genetic screening.”

Countries where such screening is practised include the United States, Australia, and Malaysia.

Responding to parliamentarians Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), Dr Khor added that MOH is considering both the procedure’s clinical aspects as well as its “ethical implications”.

The ministry will do so by consulting “relevant stakeholders” as well as the public. Dr Khor made clear that PGS will not be used by couples to choose the gender of their baby.

Details are lacking for now. Matters like funding and eligibility criteria of those who can take part in the pilot project will be revealed closer to the start of the project, said Dr Khor.

 

 

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by Suhaile Md

BUKIT PANJANG residents can heave a sigh of relief: Even with all its operational hiccups, the LRT is here to stay. It will instead be “redesigned”, said Minister for Transport, Khaw Boon Wan, in Parliament today (Nov 9).

LRTs are designed for “straightforward” transit from point to point on “flat terrain” as is the case in Sentosa and Changi Airport. The line in Bukit Panjang though was “shoe-horned into a built up” town with “undulating” terrain, said Mr Khaw.

This caused two technical challenges. First, because the power rail requires three points of contact with the tram collector shoes, the undulating terrain and sharp bends made the rail more susceptible to power trips.

Second, trains leaving Bukit Panjang had to constantly switch tracks. This added stress to the signalling systems and power rails.

In the last three years, 60 per cent of the major disruptions were due to dislodged collector shoes and power trips.

The G is looking into redesigning the track layout and sourcing for new trains as well. In the interim, there will be measures in place to fulfil the transportation needs of the town.

Mr Khaw was responding to the MP Liang Eng Hwa’s question.

Mr Liang further asked if the G will consider running Bukit Panjang LRT as a separate entity, as a non-profit, as it seems SMRT might not be able to deal with it.

It’s a “rather unfair” comment, replied Mr Khaw. While he cannot speak for past management, in the last year that he has been working with SMRT, the current team is serious about addressing the issues, said the minister.

Nominated Member of Parliament Azmoon Ahmad asked if the initial investment into Bukit Panjang LRT had been recovered. The Bukit Panjang LRT has “always been loss making”, replied Mr Khaw.

But as a company, SMRT looked at it from an “overall systems point of view”. One must be “prepared” to invest in infrastructure.

Last year, there were 10 breakdowns lasting over half an hour on the Bukit Panjang LRT line. More recently in July this year, SMRT said 19 Bukit Panjang LRT trains had developed cracks over time. You can read more about the controversy over the LRT line here.

 

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