Monday, August 28, 2006

Are singaporeans picky? or just a lack of desire to serve?

Interesting nugget today, told to me by the GM of a large hotel in Singapore.

1. new coffeeshop being renovated in hotel. Change of theme and style requires change of waiting staff as the original staff are cultured to the old setup.
2. ads go out for new staff in newspapers. Not enough locals respond. No staff hired. Countdown to new opening is ticking.
3. New ad goes out. Now offering 1 month's sign on bonus. basic pay just under 2k a month.
4. ZERO responses received by said hotel. Countdown continuing to new opening. still zero staff at the waiter level.

Now, this is a pretty good hotel by most measures, and most definitely no slouch when it comes to being willing to pay well for good help. The problem here is, they can't find good help!

As a foreign friend then commented - Chinese people do not like to serve. They only like money and power.
(now this may be stereotyping, but there probably is a big nugget of truth in that statement!)

Nestled within that stereotype are chinese post-colonial attitudes about servitude. Now there is a slight difference between modern day service industry and servitude (though one could also argue that one still has a choice in both colonial times and modern times as to where to work in the 'service' industry).

In colonial times, the chinese had to serve foreign masters. In modern times, they may still see waiting in hotels as 'serving' foreign masters. I guess this is one prejudice that we will have to overcome (if we can ever overcome our own 'inferiority' complex).

Now, last I checked (and I could be rather wrong), $2k a month wages is something that a university graduate might accept. It is more than what the average polytechnic grad could expect to get in their first year(?) while working for the government. Now with a 1 month signing bonus, I would also think that they would probably get good opportunities for wage incrases and year -end bonuses to encourage them to stay on (given the shortage of service staff hotels face all the time!).

This is not a WongKanSeng call for people to accept lower wages. The wages being ofered are more than sensible given that one doesn't need a huge amount of education to wait, just a pleasant attitude, genuine smile and interest in the customer's well-being. If I had fewer options, I would be considering such offers too.

One thing that the GM also mentioned, is that we do have 'quotas' that must be filled by Singaporeans. Now, we do not have a minimum wage system. Maybe that reduces the prestige of being a waiter (especially since there aren't enough big tippers for waiters to earn big bucks). On the other hand, basic economics teaches us that when there is a quota, and a lack of supply, wages would rise, because the companies must fill the quota.

Is this Singapore society's response to the lack of a minimum wage? refuse to work in the service sector until the wages are the equivalent of a lawyer or doctor? Maybe they will have to pay that much to get labour waiting on tables. Maybe that is one way to get to a lower GINI co-efficient. Or maybe I'm just rambling.

sigheth. As the GM said, and I wholeheartedly agree -good help is hard to find.
In the service sector, it seems, its even harder despite the market rate going up.

best wishes to my friend to find good help.



Anonymous Derek said...

woot. first comment!

4:16 AM  

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