vendredi, mars 24, 2006

Times are Bad

Times are bad. And I'm not just parroting the others.

I was thinking of my Malay Nanny this morning. A few years back, when times were better, she lived in a big 5-room HDB* flat with her younger daughter's family, equipped with computer with broadband Internet access, big Plasma TV and new handmade curtains every Hari Raya.

2 years ago, they downgraded to a smaller flat, the TV disappeared and so did the curtains. Apparently her son-in-law had been retrenched for a 2nd time in just a few years and was having difficulty finding another job.

At around the same time, my brother-in-law was unfairly fired by his boss. Because a younger, more ambitious and cheaper alternative had turned up in the company. But he was fortunate to be very good in his job and had no difficulty finding another one quickly, only that the salary is now no longer as good as before and he has to travel a lot more for the job. In Singapore where we have no unemployment benefits, nobody sits around waiting for a better job to turn up in any case.

And even my dada was not spared. Also around the same time, the Government came up with a new law requiring all Chinese Medical Practitioners to register themselves and pass a Test before they would be allowed to practise their trade.

The idea was sound. There were many Quacks in the trade. It was therefore time that the profession be controlled, practices verified and standards improved. But the problem was that the Profession is a very vast one. And unlike Western medicine, there was normally no formal education available and Practitioners like my dada learnt their trade from another Practitioner, in his case his own father. What kind of a Test would be a fair one?

The Test in question contained 3 parts : General Theory of Chinese Medicine (I often wonder how they managed out of the blue to come out with this), Practical, followed by Accupuncture.

If I could sit the test for dada I would have done it. After all the exams I've sat for in my life, what is another one, right? Especially since the Test was supposed to be just a ''formality'', there was a course (must pay for it, of course, nothing is free in Singapore) you could take to help you prepare for it and the questions would come with multiple-choice answers.

The problem with dada is that he is neither Chinese nor English educated. He just had not had much formal education. Times were different then. You were not educated not because you were stupid, but because you didn't get the chance to be educated. And if you see how well my siblings and myself did in school, you know that the parents could not have been stupid if genes were to have any role to play in the progeny's intelligence.

So the idea of sitting for a written Test freaked dada out. And the Practical part was out of the question since he had never been trained for interviews and orals and I think he must be ashamed of his lack of eloquence. He had probably never gone for a job interview in his life either. But the best was the Accupuncture part of the Test. Dada had never practised Accupuncture in his life and never would. How and why was he to be tested on the subject? And if the Test was just a formality, did it mean that if I should prepare and pass it I could thereafter practise Chinese Medecine?

The result was that my dada was forced at the age of 57 to retire and sit at home, do nothing earn nothing. You cannot get someone who had not been trained to do anything else, who had spent at least 30 years of his life in one trade to suddenly find another job. Not at his age especially. And it would be unimaginable to have him take orders at MacDonald's or clean toilets in Changi Airport. Please note that this is a guy who :

  1. Used to treat patients who came to him from father/mother to son/daughter and so on;
  2. Treated even Western doctors themselves;
  3. Once healed a man who was told by Western doctors that his limb would have to be amputated and who out of desperation came to see my dada;
  4. Single-handedly brought up 3 children, fed, clothed and have them educated. I, for example, had never needed to work during my school holidays or out of it for that matter.

In any case, he never had the foresight to own his practice, preferring to rent, foolishly thinking he could do this forever. We must learn from his mistakes. For of course 2 years ago the Government decided to demolish the building where he had his practice, so even if he could continue practising today, dada would never have been able to afford to buy or to rent a new bureau. You just need to see the coffee shop near my parents' HDB flat to understand this. The stalls and the coffee shop itself kept changing hands. Impossible to sell enough noodles or economical rice to keep up with the astronomical rents.

And last week I got my mom on the phone. The neighbour who babysits my sister's daughters has just sold her flat and bought a smaller one. Her husband, a former delivery man, had hurt his hands one after another on the job and was fired by his boss. The guy found another job, but his hands didn't hold out and he's out of work again. In Western Europe, he would not only get to keep his job, but would have to be compensated by his company for getting hurt while doing his job. Professional Job Hasard. And if he wanted to fight his case, a free legal service comprised of independent labour law experts would have been available to help him.

In the past, losing one's job was not really a big deal because you could usually find a similar one quickly. But times are no longer the same and the wait between the last job and the new one lengthens with time and with age. I am all for liberal labour laws not loaded down with benefits that would be difficult to withdraw thereafter, but it would be good to limit firing without valid reason, lack of compensation for work-related accidents, badly-thought out new laws that cause formally self-sufficient workers to be unemployed and dependent on their children today.

The other end of the spectrum, in France at this very moment, mutiny is in the pipelines because the Government has come out with a new employment law that makes it easier for companies to hire and fire new employees below the age of 26 without reason within the 1st 2 years.

I think that it is about time that employment laws change in France. The French have been hiding behind social laws that penalise both employers and finally employees for too long. There is not enough new job creation, resignations and retirements are often not being replaced and every day existing jobs are being lost to countries with cheaper operations and more flexible labour laws.

But the 2-year trying out period is a bad idea because you are not in Singapore where if no bank wishes to loan you money or flat owners rent you a flat because you do not have a confirmed work contract, you could always stay with mom and dad. They should just make it easier for employers to hire and fire but keep the trying-out period the same as before i.e. 1 or 3 months. And nowhere in this world is firing for no good reason ever a good thing.

It costs quite a bit for employers to hire or to fire in the 1st place. So there should be no reason why anybody would fire an employee just because he no longer likes his face. So, if you are good in your job and the cost to keep you in the company is coherent vis-à-vis the employment market, the company will normally keep you; You are no good and/or too ''expensive'', well, you get fired. And when you are young, you bounce back much better then older employees. I am absolutely no Economist, but I somehow believe that market forces normally settle things some way and human forces tamper (but not too much) to limit the worst effects both ways.

Sigh... so you see, whether in the East or the West, times are bad. Even China with its economic boom is no model to be envied when you look at its industrial and ecological disasters (and its millions of far-away villagers dying of AIDs, malnutrition and/or neglect). And we do not even want to start looking at Africa because it would have been even more demoralising.

I do not know if I should spend more nowadays to help stimulate the economy, or spend less to prepare for the bad times. Should I indulge my children while I still could, or should I prepare them in advance for bleaker days? Such a change from my own time, when we moved out of our dirty and haunted (maybe I can write a blog on our ghost stories) 3-room flat to a new and bigger flat, to new and bigger schools, to new and better TV sets... always looking forward to newer and better times.

While waiting to find out, I should seek solace in my food. Feed the stomach and feed the blog.

Times are bad
And we are sad
Jobs are rare
And nobody cares

Right or Left
North or South
Deep is the cleft
Shallow's the pouch

If you have a job
And want to stay on Top
Just work your ass off
And remember to suck up to the Boss.

PS : At least cheap poetry is free.

*Housing Development Board : The organisation that builds public housing in Singapore. 80% of Singaporeans live in a HDB flat.

Aucun commentaire: