Source : mom.gov.sg

Is MOM behaving like a start up to ask for companies to take on risk and invest resources for a duty that it is supposed to fulfill in the first place?

This post first appeared as a comment on Channel News Asia in response to the clarification post made by Ministry of Manpower on its Facebook. The MOM post was made after criticisms emerged online against its call for partners to develop a mobile app for foreign workers (FW), saying that it was equivalent to “asking for free labour”.

by Erwin Tan

Think about this. We work hard to earn money for survival and pay taxes to fund the government and statboards to run and structure society, this becomes an self-reinforcing loop.

Is what MOM doing, an intelligent structuring to get businesses (which are essentially tax paying entities) to take on risk and invest resources for unknown and unlikely “reward” of which TRADITIONALLY should be a paid service from the start? Are they building a positive loop or sabotaging this mutual loop, tilting risk and responsibility that should be borne by the stat board to startup and businesses which are already facing strong competitive forces both locally and international.

It’s like HDB telling Developers… “Hey, I won’t pay u for constructing the HDBs… but you know what? You can charge my citizens what you want… you can advertise space on the facade of HDBs”. This is of course an exaggeration… but it’s an extrapolation of the principles that MOM is practising.

Startups does this sort of stuff. Often offering employees with little to no pay with the lure of potential extraordinary windfall. They cap their downside to build up the upside. But is MOM a startup? And what are the objective opportunities of the upside?

This sort of behaviour is happening more and more often throughout government… remember the “unlimited change” saga? Photography competition run by SLA which EVERY Submission can be used by SLA as it pleases. These cited examples are but the tip of the iceberg. If one can just take the time to scroll through Gebiz to see the number of unfair terms and conditions stipulated in Government contracts.

Response by MOM

MOM wrote on its Facebook note,

This call for partners was conducted half a year ago, in Jan 2017. MOM had called for partners who have existing mobile apps serving FWs or who wish to develop one to make use of our content and research findings to better target their app at FWs in Singapore. The aim is to complement our existing outreach efforts to help FWs know more about Singapore’s employment laws, social norms as well as FW-related events.

We had opted for a collaborative model to achieve win-win outcomes. MOM will provide the app developer with the insights from our usability study and design-research findings based on a prototype app, allow the use of MOM content and provide support to market the app to the FW community through our various outreach platforms.

Partners would have full flexibility to continue to provide a suite of other services, including retail services, advertorials and promotions, that can be monetised. In addition, the rights, as well as Foreground and Background IP of the mobile app, continue to be owned by the partners, not by MOM.

We have since signed an MOU with two partners in June 2017 who wish to develop the mobile apps. We understand that the mobile apps will be ready by the end of the year. The apps will be named by the two partners who are the owners of the app. These are not exclusive partnership arrangements and we would welcome any other interested parties to contact MOM.

How much is the foreign worker levy collected each year and what is it used for?

On 12 November 2013, then-MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked the Acting Minister for Manpower in a written question about the amounts of foreign worker levies collected and workfare income supplement disbursed respectively for the past two years; and whether the foreign worker levies have funded the workfare income supplement to benefit Singaporean workers.

In response, then Acting Minister for Manpower, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin replied: The total foreign worker levies collected were S$2.5 billion for the Financial Year 2011 and S$1.9 billion for the Financial Year 2010. Similar to other sources of Government revenue, the foreign worker levies are not ringfenced for any specific purposes. All Government revenue collected would go into the Consolidated Fund used to fund Government expenditures in general. This includes the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme which the Government introduced in 2007 to supplement the income and CPF savings of older low-wage workers while encouraging work. For work done in 2010 and 2011, about S$400 million has been given out in WIS for each work year.

Editor’s note – It is unknown how much foreign worker levies collected are now for the past few years as this information is not publicly accessible, but one thing is for sure is that it is much more than what was collected in 2011. So why is MOM not asking for the money collected from the employment of foreign workers to be used on the development of the mobile apps meant for foreign workers?