Wednesday, March 27, 2013

1342. Seamstresses in Myanmar

tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)TOA PAYOH VETS

Date:   28 March, 2013  
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs & rabbits
Seamstresses from Myanmar
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
Date:   28 March, 2013 
Be Kind To Pets
Veterinary Education
Project 2010-0129
Yesterday, March 27, 2013, I visited Khin Khin who operates a licensed employment agent as I have had known her and her husband for more than 20 years. 

Times are very hard for employment agencies as the Singapore Government has sharply cut down the quota of foreign workers for all employers. Many employment agencies have closed down in her building and in other parts of Singapore. Many retail operations including restaurants and cafes that are more reliant on foreign workers have to close down or stop expanding. Even the Housing & Development Board's construction of new HDB apartments is delayed by several months.   

Khin Khin said she would close shop at the expiry of the lease in December 2014 as she had fewer successful closing. "Can I close earlier?" she had asked me. "Yes, if you continue paying the office rental of $1,600 per month from March to December 2014." I said. "All businesses have ups and downs. It is up to the owner to persevere. If every start up business is successful, everybody will start their own business. Why be an employee?

"In this difficult time when others are closing down, you should be around and be well organised. You need to know how to manage the employment agency business. You have a special advantage over Singaporeans as you can speak the Myanmar language and English. So, you have many Myanmar prospects as they prefer their own agent who can communicate with them. But you are unable to connect them to Singaporean employers."

Employment agencies supply maids too and they are numerous in the past 3 years as Singapore was very welcoming of the foreign workers contributing to an economic boom. However, the locals become dissatisfied as they lose bargaining power in getting well paid and not working long hours as much as 10 hours a day. Not all foreign workers will tolerate the long hours too as I could see from the new prospective job applicants at Khin Khin Employment Agency. Some will change employers to get shorter hours and seek help from Khin Khin. One Filipino worker change employer for higher pay but soon find out that the hours are not short. So she resigned as she wanted Sundays off. Soon her one-month extension of stay after termination of her "S" Pass expired and she had to go back to the Philippines as she could not find an employer. Many employers with "S" Pass quotas get their applications rejected as the MOM deemed that the quality of the prospective hires is not up to standard or for some reason. Such rejections have become very common nowadays. In this way, the foreign worker population is reduced to resolve the problem of overcrowding in subway trains and public places upsetting the locals.

The way I see it, such policies are good for the small companies with lower overheads, such as that of Khin Khin who focuses on Myanmar workers. "You can upgrade to a higher quality of workers desired by Singaporeans," I said. "You can expand to include workers other countries."

It is easier said than done. For example, there is a demand for male "maids" to help the aging men with strokes. There is a demand for nurses but this is a world wide demand. Can she provide such workers? Many start ups don't last 5 years. Some don't even last 1 year but Khin Khin had gone past one year. It is best for her to be well organised and do marketing to survive. It will not be easy but it can be done as she has this special niche - a knowledge of the Myanmar language and English. She can be a bridge for Myanmar businesses which are now booming in Yangon and needs services in Singapore. So much to do if she knows how to do it.     

There was a Myanmar maid who visited her office yesterday but she was not in as she was coughing. This maid had a job with an English family through Khin Khin employment agency. This was a personable girl who understands and speaks good English. "How come you know how to speak good English?" I asked her. She had worked for a Singaporean family earlier. The English employer likes her very much. Her Thai maid had walked into Khin Khin's office and asked for a maid subject to being paid a commission on success. So this was how the Myanmar girl in her mid 20s got a job.

"Are there many seamstresses in your village in Myanmar?" I asked her and showed her one "Alteration Shop" near Khin Khin's office in the office building to ensure that she knew what I meant. "So many," she said. I was looking for a seamstress to make some uniforms and operating clothes.  "My mother makes the dresses for me," she said. I thought her mum is a seamstress but she is a secondary school teacher employed by the Myanmar government . "How much does a teacher earn per month?" I asked her. "One Lak," she said. "One Lak" is the figure of 10,000 kyats. Something similar to the Chinese of "One Mum" which is equivalent to $10,000. Dividing "One Lak" by 700, it is equivalent to S$420.

"So you are earning more than her!" I said and she smiled. The English employer pays her at least $450 per month with 4 days off per month. The Singaporean employer in general prefers the maid not to take a day off per week and pays the $20/day compensation. Some Singaporean employers allow one day off per month. 4 days off are important for workers in my opinion. It is to refresh their minds and to meet their country folks. Unfortunately some become pregnant and that is where the employer thinks that he has to pay $5,000 penalty to the MOM.

On the subject of seamstresses, a prospective candidate came looking for a better job than being a maid. She wanted to earn more than a maid and she has a degree from Myanmar University. "It is very difficult for a maid to get a 'S' Pass," Khin Khin said to me. I don't agree with her as such ex-maids will have a better knowledge of Singapore's culture and can understand English. It may be MOM's policy to reject maids applying  for 'S' Passes but I don't know what MOM officers think.

This slim lady wore a peaked cap, dressed in black blouse with sequins and a white jacket. She took off her peak cap and Khin Khin asked me to contact a Singaporean lady who could be interested in employing her as a maid and to do some sewing. "You had your own sewing shop in Myanmar for 10 years," I confirmed with her. "Did you sew dresses for fashion departments in Yangon?"

"No," she said.
"They don't do such things in Yangon," Khin Khin who had arrived at 4.30 pm said. "The best way to test her skills in sewing is to ask her to make a dress for the prospective employer."
I phoned the prospective employer and left a message for her to call me. Many people are such that they don't return calls unless they require something from you. So, I had not received any return calls.
To test her skills, the seamstresses need a sewing machine and so Khin Khin went to the neighbour to ask how much they will charge for her to sew a dress.

"$20 for renting her equipment for her to sew a dress" she told me. "Sewing machine and threads and scissors. The neighbour wants to rent half of my office as she intends to close her shop. No business at all. She wants to sell her sewing machine to me for $400. Actually I have a good Japanese sewing machine in Yangon. For rental, I can partition half of my office."

I can understand that Khin Khin is also trying to cut costs as she would get $800/month. Office rentals are high in Singapore compared to other countries like Malaysia.

"You don't rent to anybody esp. trading and sewing shops," I advised. "Your office is so small at around 300 sq ft. Prospects need to come in to discuss with you and you will not have space for them. It gives a poor impression too."

So Khin Khin shelved the idea again. The solution is to get more cases closed, not to rent out half the small office! This solution applies to all businesses including veterinary practices.
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