International Business & Economy While Union-MP makes frivolous comments about unemployed here, employees in Hong Kong...

While Union-MP makes frivolous comments about unemployed here, employees in Hong Kong are better protected

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By: Native Singaporean

I have been jobless for the past 6 months. I left my banking job in Hong Kong to return to Singapore for family reasons (so it was voluntary departure). I was initially confident of getting a job quickly after returning to Singapore and hence left my previous job in Hong Kong without securing one here as I also had pressing family issues to contend with.

I found the market situation now different from the past. I had been previously retrenched in 2009 but quite luckily managed to find another banking job within a month. This time, however, I have not been so lucky and have not been able to find any success so far, despite some interviews. Maybe it is the industry or maybe it is just the sign of the times.

During these past couple of months, I have had my ups and downs (mainly downs) as there is a constant pressure to secure a job and this has let to feelings of self doubt and affected my self esteem. You just wonder whether you are good enough anymore. But my situation is not as bad as many others.

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My other purpose of writing is to share with you some of my thoughts on recent government propaganda to promote cross training and up-skilling. Even MP Mr Patrick Tay of NTUC also weighed in on this issue and urged banking PMEs to be “second-skilling, deep-skilling, re-skilling, up-skilling and multi-skilling”. I just find such remarks frivolous.

The problem is not that PMEs are not keen to be multi-skilled or reluctant to be upgraded to other skills, the fact is that not many banks are willing to cross-train their staff as well as practical issues (as mentioned below) and banks are only keen to hire experienced staff which have the relevant work experience. This may be applicable to the other industry sectors as well.

You can just take a look at the job advertisements, almost every one requires the candidate to have had several years of practical experience. A newly cross trained banker would not have it. And so the HR would just not even shortlist the ex-corporate banker for a role as he or she does not possess the direct practical experience as required. So, instead of just training grants and incentives, can the government consider subsidising the salary of such candidates so that they can start as a junior level but at least not suffer a substantial pay cut (a parallel move).

Again, this is not the of an employee not having a mindset to cross train in other areas it is just an issue of livelihood. I just can’t believe how many times the Government gets it wrong.

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I also tried to apply for audit roles (I have an accounting background) within a bank but was told by headhunters that HR only consider those with relevant experience. Yes, there are many banking jobs available but they are mostly for and audit roles which hiring managers are only going to consider those with relevant experience. (On hindsight, maybe I should have started in this sector rather than front office roles). The pertinent question for banking (and non-banking) HR folks is whether they would be keen to hire a newly cross trained professionals for a totally different role in their organisation. To me, this is an issue of dollars and cents and subsidising the salary may just work.

There is also the issue of unfair dismissal and many complaints that TAFEP is all noise and no bite. Perhaps we should look at improving our Employment Act. Having returned from a working stint at a bank in Hong Kong and find that they tend to protect employees better than in Singapore. You may refer to the Hong Kong employment ordinance (http://www.labour.gov.hk/eng/public/ConciseGuide.htm) and make a comparison. Once you embed penalties for HR malpractices in the legislation, then you would be able to make some real enforcement actions.

If I am not wrong, the Singapore Employment Act covers employee drawing S$4,500 per month and below and many experienced staff working for banks in Singapore would be paid higher than this and hence would not be covered by the Act. There is no such distinction in Hong Kong; and also the rights of employees and practices of employers are defined within the ordinance. Perhaps we need to think about modelling closely to what Hong Kong has and despite having such pro-employee legislation, Hong Kong still remains attractive to many banks as a leading international financial hub. (Apologies if I am only referring to the banking sector as it is my only area of competence).

I have read many articles calling for restriction of influx of FTs and also complaints of the HR malpractices that many companies (and banks) have and asking TAFEP to wield a tougher approach as solutions to this problem. It is a complex issue but sacred cows need to be sacrificed along the way to ensure the protection of the Singaporean livelihood.

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