Working overseas can mean little say in payment

Updated: 2012-12-12 09:58

By Hu Yongqi and Yang Wanli (China Daily)

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Improved training

The strike was called because of an "unequal increase in pay", according to a forum posting by one of the workers. The incident occurred after drivers from Malaysia were given a monthly increase of S$275, while the Chinese drivers were given S$100. However, the transit company insisted, "the existing compensation and contract terms are fair".

The transit company said employees were hired under different terms. Singaporeans, permanent residents of the country and Malaysian employees were hired on permanent contracts, while Chinese employees were hired on two-year contracts, renewable after completion of their tenure.

Working overseas can mean little say in payment

Workers gathered outside a dormitory area as negotiations with striking bus drivers took place inside the building on Nov 26. [Photo/Agencies]

The full monthly increase in salary would therefore be S$100, a 10 percent increase in starting pay for Chinese drivers, according to the transit company.

"When you take into account the provision of transport, accommodation and utilities that the company bears, your (the Chinese drivers) compensation terms, when compared with employees from Malaysia who are not provided with accommodation by the company, are fair and equitable. Our Malaysian employees either go back to their homes in Malaysia after work, or rent their own accommodation," it said.

On Dec 9, Teo Chee Hean, Singapore's deputy prime minister and minister for home affairs, told the Lianhe Zaobao newspaper that the strike showed the country relied heavily on foreign workers, but that it would cost more to recruit Singaporeans into the service industries. However, Teo also said employees must use lawful and appropriate channels to express their grievances or join a trade union to resolve disputes.

As the Strait Times reported on Dec 4, almost 80 percent of 313 randomly polled Singaporeans aged 15 and older said the transport operator should bear some of the responsibility for not managing the grievances of its bus drivers effectively, while 74 percent said the Chinese bus drivers should have gone through the proper channels to air their grievances.

Some 78 percent of those polled also agreed that if the bus drivers from China were found to have breached Singaporean law, they should be punished to the full extent of the law. Singapore has zero tolerance of illegal strikes.

Despite all the complaints from overseas labor, such as Yang, Singapore remains the top destination for Chinese working overseas. More than 80 percent of the 2,000 residents in overseas employment from Dingzhou, Hebei province, are trying to make their fortunes in Singapore, according to the Dingzhou Bureau of Civil Affairs.

"About 20 years ago, African countries were the most desirable places for Chinese to work. But because robberies affected them a lot on that continent, Southeast Asian nations gradually gained popularity among our clients," said Zhen Xinguang, manager of the Dingzhou branch of Jianghai International Economic and Technical Cooperation Co.

Zhen's company recruits about 100 workers, including carpenters and drivers, for Singaporean employers every month.

"After six months training at a vocational school in the city of Baoding in our province, all applicants have to take an exam to determine if they have the correct skills for the job," said the company. "Each person has two chances to pass the exam and, if successful, they are then recommended for work in Singapore. Therefore, most of the training focuses on technical aspects."

Zhen said teachers at the training school don't provide information on the laws or political structures of the host countries because there isn't time to do so. He added that as most of the recruits were only educated to middle- or high-school level, they were not interested in learning about the regulations.

"As long as you can pass the exam, you can just pay a fee of 3,000 yuan and skip the courses, " said Gao Congmin, another agency staff member in Dingzhou, who had been enrolling workers for Singaporean companies for 10 years.