Dec 5, 2012

Singapore - SingHealth reviews plans after illegal strike at SMRT

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SINGAPORE: SingHealth, the country's largest public healthcare cluster, said it is reviewing its business contingency plans in the wake of the strike by SMRT's China bus drivers last week.

SingHealth, which oversees two hospitals - Singapore General Hospital and KK Women's and Children's Hospital - as well as five national specialty centres and nine polyclinics, is also undertaking "further risk assessments", its Deputy Group Director of Strategic Human Resources Goh Leong Huat said. SingHealth did not give details of what these assessments will entail.

SingHealth, which employs over 16,000 staff, did not respond to queries on how many foreign staff it has on its books. However, Mr Goh said that SingHealth employs foreign staff "based on calibrated assessment and balance of the need for trained healthcare workers".

Several other companies contacted were cagey when asked if they are reviewing their plans in the wake of the illegal strike.

Some said they have adopted measures to ensure they keep a low reliance on foreign manpower.

SingPost said it has a pool of temporary workers who can be activated when needed and it also encourages retirees and housewives to join the organisation by offering them flexible hours, a spokesman said. Foreign workers account for 13 per cent of SingPost's workforce across all business units.

The Changi Airport Group (CAG), though, "does not stipulate a foreign-local employee ratio" in its contracts with airport partners.

"They are expected to manage their respective workforce, and are required to provide contingency plans to provide for sufficient manpower resources to cope with unexpected staffing shortfalls ... or to deal with peak periods at the airport," said a CAG spokesperson.

Last week's illegal strike, which involved 171 bus drivers from China upset over their pay raises, brought into focus the public transport operators' growing dependence on foreigners and further served as a reminder to all firms to reflect on their management practices.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, feels that, in an "ideal situation", companies should manage their reliance on foreign workers by spreading them evenly across business units.

But a better solution, he said, was to offer better terms to attract Singaporeans to go for those jobs in the areas of essential services but are currently taken up by foreign workers.

He highlighted two areas that companies should examine: Wages, which are not attractive enough, and working conditions.

"Wage equity is an issue," said Mr Zaqy. "Why do bus drivers earn less than, for instance, taxi drivers, when their jobs can be tougher? Working conditions can also be bad, with some of them working long hours."

He added that wage equity is probably something only "organisations offering essential services" should look into.

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