Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cheap foreign workers in F&B sector must end

28th February 2013

TungLok Group executive chairman said doing business in Singapore is a waste of time says TungLok Group executive chairman, Andrew Tjioe.

The Strait Times reported a news through Asiaone highlighting how restricting foreign manpower into Singapore is killing businesses (No more new TungLok restaurants, 26 Feb).

It reported that to cope with the manpower shortage, the TungLok Group closed its casual restaurant Lao Beijing at Tiong Bahru Plaza last December. In fact, the restaurant even put up a sign on the shutters: We regret to inform that Lao Beijing at Tiong Bahru Plaza will cease operations with effect from Dec 26 due to severe manpower shortage.

Mr Andrew Tjioe, executive chairman of TungLok Group of 25 restaurants islandwide, said that he and his team did the calculations and decided that it made more sense to close the Tiong Bahru restaurant and re-deploy the 16 staff to his other restaurants. He said one factor is due to lack of manpower. Other factors include rising rentals. He did not breakdown the weightage but one can assume that lack of manpower matters more since the group bothers to put up the sign at the Tiong Bahru restaurant, saying they are ceasing operations due to severe manpower shortage. He said, It was better to pull the staff over so that we would be able to operate our new restaurants TungLok Xihe and Modern Asian Diner at The Grandstand than to continue at Tiong Bahru Plaza. So I decided to close.

The average spending at Lao Beijing was about $20 to $25 a person, but at the two new mid- to upper-mid-tiered restaurants, the average spending is about $30 to $35 for lunch, and $50 to $55 for dinner.

He said even with a workforce of 700-strong, the group is still 20% short of staff. And with the MOM revised new dependency ratio kicking in next year, the group may find itself with about 30 foreigners too many if it does not increase the hiring of Singaporeans.

Mr Tjioe said that he doesn't have problems hiring staff for his restaurants in Jakarta and Beijing but hiring Singaporeans for the group's restaurants in Singapore is a problem. He said that he offered $1,800 for service staff in his restaurants in Singapore but only 1 took up from 20 applications from Singaporeans. It is not known how many hours the staff need to work for a salary of $1,800 or perhaps overtime pay is included in the $1,800 package. He said perhaps he shouldn't be wasting his time doing business in Singapore. He said, "We have been doing business overseas anyway but perhaps now, that is the way to go to spend more time exploring overseas markets than wasting time here. I will not be opening any more restaurants for a while. I have to stop, not because there are no opportunities but primarily because of the labour shortage. The market can definitely afford to have more restaurants.

So, perhaps restricting the growth of cheap foreign labour in Singapore is not killing businesses but rather slowing business expansion. What is the point of expanding businesses based on cheap labour? Is this sustainable in a first world country? If slavery was enacted like in America in the 17th century, these towkays would be most happy since no pay was needed just enough food to sustain the person to ensure he or she had the energy to work. What is then the point of building a humongous business empire based on slaves? Would the owner be proud of this or perhaps he only cared about his dollars and cents?

Perhaps it's time for business owners to remember that running a business is not just about making money alone. It is also about carrying a corporate social responsibility to ensure that workers earn a descent salary to live a descent life in our society.

Workers should not be seen merely as digits. They are our fellow humans living together in our society.

Ex-PAP MPs and Ministers on the Board of Directors of TungLok Group Interestingly, the following ex-PAP MPs and Ministers are Directors on the Board of TungLok Group:

DR TAN ENG LIANG was appointed as an Independent Director on 1 March 2001 and was last reappointed on 29 July 2011. He is the Chairman of the Audit Committee and also a Member of the Nominating Committee and Remuneration Committee. Dr Tan was a Member of Parliament from 1972 to 1980, the Senior Minister of State for National Development from 1975 to 1978 and Senior Minister of State for Finance from 1978 to 1979. He also served as the Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore Quality & Reliability Association and the Singapore Sports Council. Dr Tan has a Doctorate from Oxford University, England. Dr Tan was awarded the Public Service Star (BBM), Public Service Star (BAR) and the Meritorious Service Medal by the Singapore Government.

DR KER SIN TZE was appointed as an Independent Director on 1 March 2001 and was last re-elected on 29 July 2011. He is the Chairman of the Nominating Committee, and also a Member of the Audit Committee and Remuneration Committee. Dr Ker is currently the Consul-General of Singapore Consulate in Hong Kong. In August 1991, Dr Ker was elected to Parliament. He resigned from Liang Court Pte Ltd and Superior Multi-Packaging Limited at the end of 1991 to take up his appointment as Minister of State for Information and the Arts and Minister of State for Education in January 1992. He served as a Member of Parliament during the period 1991 to 2001.

CHNG JIT KOON was appointed as an Independent Director on 20 December 2002 and was last re-appointed on 29 July 2011. He is the Chairman of the Remuneration Committee and is also a Member of the Audit Committee and the Nominating Committee. Mr Chng was a Member of Parliament from 1968 to 1996. He was holding the post of Senior Minister of State when he retired in January 1997. An appointed Justice of the Peace, Mr Chng currently serves in several community organizations.


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