Labour: Is McDonalds getting desperate?

 

I don’t have a photo to show, but today I observed McDonald’s on a recruitment exercise near the wet market in my neighbourhood. In all my 30 years of residence here, I have never seen a recruitment exercise – let alone one organised by a fast food giant, held in so deep a heartland.

This is a clear sign pointing to labour restrictions at work. And if McDonalds has trouble seeking manpower, I feel a sense of sympathy for the other SMEs. Especially for the very small operations.

But isn’t this a situation which we wished for?

During the elections of 2011, the anti-foreigner sentiment ran strong. The landmark comment was probably this: “Now every time I take the train, it feels like I’m in a different country,” went the rhetoric by NSP candidate, Nicole Seah.

To have an almost 40% foreigner composition in Singapore, is politically distasteful. To the common man, it raises questions of equality, fairness and social justice. It has bred contempt and caused suspicion whether or not one was selected for a job was made on the grounds of nationality.

From day one, the choices made by this Government was one of tough love. If it was good or necessary for the country, a piece of policy would be passed regardless of political consequence. But short are the days that the PAP can continue to practice this. The feelings of the people are now carefully considered.

Strong economics raises the wealth of a country’s citizens. However the ordinary Singaporean has a love-hate relationship with the GDP metric. You cannot expect uncle and aunty to understand the gains strong economics brings about. To a man drawing a regular wage, GDP numbers are meaningless to him.

Each time growth was declared, people groaned as businesses cheered. To the people, high GDP is synonymous with more traffic jams, inflation and more foreigners.

It didn’t take very long before in the minds of people, a “business-friendly” government morphed into a “pro-business” government. As a consequence, votes for the ruling party plunged.

The Party is taking steps to have this repaired. The package for doing this is a multi pronged weapon designed to curb foreign employment directly, aid to businesses and the raising of wages for the Singaporean core.

This includes:

  • Labour restriction policies (including a Singapore to foreigner dependency ratio),
  • A Fair Considerations Framework (essentially a labour market testing tool),
  • Funding, such as the Inclusive Growth Programme (a fund that finances purchases for productivity gains that result in wages for employees)
  • Closed door talks with CEOs, persuading them to re-design their HR strategies,
  • Programmes such as WorkFare to aid low waged Singaporeans and to encourage older, able and willing workers to return to paid employment,
  • Various other payouts direct from the Government for direct salary improvements

To the business owner however, this is no small tap on the brakes. We have read reports that hiring has become a nightmare and it is today, an employee’s market. Small businesses, businesses unable to reinvent themselves and bosses with no other strategy apart from low costs are seeing themselves shutting down.

Singapore is still a good business environment. It still has a lot to offer, although low-cost is not one of them anymore. I personally think this is good for us. We don’t just want employers, we want employers that know how to do business, how to care and share the fruits of profit with their employees.

Some business groups are crying doomsday, but last week’s GDP announcement of an on-year 5.1% growth has shown that they need not piss in their pants – yet.

For McDonalds, I hope they have plans to redesign their business. I’m quite sure they know how to raise profit through good products, marketing, productivity and value, rather than just take the disappointing route of price increase.

And seeing that they’re proactively coming out to do hiring gives me faith that they will do the smart thing.

 

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About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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