Thursday, 18 December 2014

Guidelines on issuing written Key Employment Terms for workers released

The guidelines were formulated to help small and medium-sized enterprises prepare for issuing employment terms in writing, before this is legally mandated by 2016, says the Manpower Ministry.
Channel NewsAsia, 16 Dec 2014

A set of guidelines for employers to include Key Employment Terms (KET) in a written document to be issued to workers was released on Tuesday (Dec 16). This is to help employers prepare for the fact that this workplace practice will be mandatory in the first half of 2016.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), or tripartite partners, agreed that the provision of KETs such as salary and main job duties and responsibilities, in writing is a "good employment practice". Itemising payslips will also be mandated in tandem with written KETs, the MOM press release noted.

The guidelines state that employees who have a continuous employment of at least 14 days should be provided with KETs in writing before work commences, or no later than 14 days after the start of employment.

Where possible, employers are encouraged to obtain employees' written acknowledgement to the KETs, and to communicate any changes to the terms to employees in advance so they understand and accept the changes, according to the press release.

"This assures employees of their regular income and main employment benefits, and helps to prevent or resolve employment disputes that may arise," MOM stated.

NTU team's 'smart' window scores a first in energy use

Invention generates its own electricity, helps save power
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

THIS is a window that can block out sunlight by day and charge your mobile phone by night without requiring an external power source.

In a first, scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have invented a "smart" window which can act as a rechargeable battery as well as darken or brighten a space without the need for an external power source.

Instead, the window is powered by a chemical reaction between dissolved oxygen in the electrolyte and a pigment called Blue Prussian, which gives the glass its blue tint.

The window, which took lead scientist Sun Xiaowei and four other scientists from NTU four years to develop, was recently featured in peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications.

The self-powered window contains liquid electrolyte held between two glass sheets that make up one window. The liquid electrolyte acts as a conduit for ions to pass from one glass sheet to the other so as to generate electricity.

One sheet is coated with the blue pigment while the other is attached to a thin strip of aluminium foil. Both sheets are connected by electrical cables to form an electrical circuit.

At night, the window can function as a battery. The electricity can be used to charge low-powered devices, such as mobile phones or LED lights, by connecting a cable to the window.

Talks have begun with companies to commercialise the product, said Prof Sun from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at NTU, adding that commercialisation can take two years.

"Our technology is very attractive as a zero-sum consumption smart window," said Prof Sun. "Building owners and even common households can reap energy savings right from the outset and over the long term."

How NEA ensures food handlers uphold good hygiene standards

WE THANK Mr Titus Reinarled Rozario for his feedback ("Food hygiene: Get eateries to clean up their act"; Dec 6).

We agree with him that food handlers need to be aware of, and practise, good hygiene habits to ensure that the food they prepare and serve is safe for consumption.

Licensees and operators of food retail outlets also have the legal and moral responsibility to put in place systems and processes to ensure high hygiene standards are observed by their food handlers at all times.

All food handlers are required to undergo mandatory basic food hygiene training before they are registered, and to undertake refresher training five years after completing their Basic Food Hygiene Course, and subsequently at 10-year intervals. More importantly, food handlers should apply what they have learnt from formal training in their daily practice.

Beyond formal training, licensees should constantly remind their food handlers of good hygiene practices through daily supervision and guidance.

Larger food establishments, such as restaurants and caterers, are required to appoint trained food hygiene officers to oversee and conduct audits on food preparation activities within their premises, so that food handlers remain vigilant and exercise good food hygiene practices at all times.

National Environment Agency (NEA) officers conduct regular inspections of food outlets to ensure compliance with our hygiene standards.

More attention is paid to poorer performing outlets and those deemed to pose higher risks should there be any fault in their processes, such as caterers. These are checked once a month.

Other premises are checked less frequently but minimally once every six months. During these inspections, our officers also educate and remind licensees and food handlers of proper food and personal hygiene practices.

The NEA takes enforcement action against errant operators who flout hygiene regulations. Licensees who are convicted of hygiene lapses may be liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 and may have their licences suspended. So far this year, the NEA has suspended 58 licences.

Members of the public who notice any potential hygiene lapses that merit investigation are encouraged to contact NEA on 1800-225-5638 or via the MyENV app.

Tony Teo
Director, Environmental Public Health Operations
National Environment Agency
ST Forum, 16 Dec 2014

At last, law against bus touts

From Jan 1, those caught touting face fine or jail
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2014

LIKE private car owners and taxi drivers, bus drivers will soon be governed by anti-touting laws.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced yesterday that from Jan 1, bus drivers caught touting for passengers face a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail term of up to three months.

The Straits Times understands the move follows complaints from the public as well as the transport industry. "The new regulations will serve as a strong deterrent... and support LTA's continued effort in protecting consumers from uninvited commercial solicitation," the LTA said.

Currently, there is no explicit law governing touting by bus drivers, although such laws have existed for private car owners and taxi drivers for years.

The news caught some industry players by surprise. Woodlands Transport general manager Roger Wong said: "I thought it has always been illegal to tout."

He said touts are often drivers of smaller buses. "It's usually the 10-seaters, operating at the airport and ferry terminals," he said. "It's hard to tout for passengers to fill a 40-seat bus."

Mr Wong said touting is undesirable because "there is a tendency to overcharge". "And when there are complaints, there is no clear recourse," he said.

Pakistan school attacked by Taliban

Massacre of the innocents
Taleban militants gun down 123 schoolchildren in Pakistan
The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

PESHAWAR - More than 120 students were mowed down by gunfire as Taleban militants unleashed a cold-blooded attack on an army-run school in this north-western Pakistani city.

Witnesses yesterday described how a huge blast shook the Army Public School and gunmen went from classroom to classroom, shooting students and staff.

The militants appeared intent on killing as many students as possible, instead of taking hostages - as was initially reported.

All six gunmen were eventually killed by the military, but not before the carnage had left 123 male students and nine staff dead. Another 114 people were injured.

The Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack as retaliation for a major military offensive in the region, saying militants had been ordered to shoot older students.

"We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families," said a Taleban spokesman. "We want them to feel the pain."

Many of the dead students were children of army personnel, whose fathers are involved in the offensive against militants.

The attack began at around 10.30am local time (1.30pm in Singapore) when some people were seen scaling the school wall.

"We thought it must be the children playing some game," said a school worker. "But then, we saw a lot of firearms with them."

The gunmen then went into the school's classrooms and laboratories, gunning down everyone before them.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sydney siege: Stern reminder of terror threat, say PM Lee and Singapore leaders

Framework for granting bail will be reviewed, says Law Minister
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

THE Sydney hostage crisis is a stern reminder that the threat of terrorism remains a real and present concern, Singapore's leaders said yesterday.

They also expressed sadness at the loss of innocent lives from the incident on Monday, in which a gunman took hostages at a cafe in the city centre. Two people and the gunman were killed, and at least four others were injured.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the incident is a lesson for Singapore to keep up its guard.

"Despite all our precautions, we can never completely rule out such an incident here," he wrote.

"If it ever happens, we need the cohesion and resilience to deal with it calmly and as one united people, and not let it divide or destroy our society."

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli also took to social media to comment on the 16-hour siege, which ended early yesterday morning after heavily armed security forces stormed the cafe.

PM Lee recalled a briefing that he held with local community and religious leaders on extremist terrorism last month, where they talked about how terrorism remains a live threat and the danger of self-radicalisation.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Law, noted that gunman Mon Haron Monis was out on bail while being accused of being an accessory to the murder of his former wife, and had a history of criminal offences.

This calls for a careful relook, he said. "I have asked MinLaw to review our framework for granting bail."

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Nine terror detainees still in custody

By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2014

THIRTEEN years ago, Singapore rounded up 13 men in its first terrorism-related detentions and foiled a Jemaah Islamiah (JI) plot to bomb key spots.

Today, just nine of the 66 men detained over the years for terrorism-related activities remain in custody, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told The Straits Times.

He gave this update in an interview where he touched on Singapore's rehabilitation efforts, which have attracted attention from several countries.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said Singapore will host an East Asia Summit symposium on de-radicalisation for experts to share best practices.

Mr Masagos attributes Singapore's success in rehabilitating most detainees to the efforts of the Muslim community.

A key player in it is the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), made up of Islamic religious teachers who voluntarily counsel detainees and others.

"If theirs was a salaried government job, the detainees may say, it's just a process... something the Government does anyway.

"But because the community came forward, showed their care and concern and engaged them, tried to convince them they had the wrong concepts, we have won them over," he said.

Most of the 66 detained under the Internal Security Act since 2002 were members of JI and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Among them are also self-radicalised individuals who made plans to travel to conflict zones, like Syria and Afghanistan.

With just nine men left in detention, and the others released after being assessed to have been rehabilitated, Mr Masagos said: "This is far, far better than any other outcome in any other country, where they try to address terrorism from a legal point of view, with detention, with incarceration, but no solution to resolving issues from within."

He also said the RRG continues to counsel the remaining nine in detention, some of whom lash out at the counsellors.

Rehiring age will be raised to 67 in 2 to 3 years

Forcing firms to change practices immediately may backfire, says minister
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2014

THE Government has opted to give time to companies to re-employ workers to age 67 because forcing them to do so immediately may end up backfiring, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

That is why changes in the law to raise the re-employment age to 67 will kick in only two to three years from now.

Currently, firms are required by the law to offer re-employment to eligible workers when they turn 62, up to the age of 65.

Mr Tan said not giving firms sufficient time to adapt may result in making older workers less employable.

"(Some) companies will feel that, well, if that's the case then I'd rather not take on someone at this age because, you know, these few years I will be tied down in a way where I'm not able to adjust," he added.

The minister made these comments in an interview to sum up the progress of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) this year and outline its plans going forward.

The Government has taken a gradual approach of raising the re-employment age to 67 - a goal which it first set in 1993.

But it was not until 2012 that the new Retirement and Re-employment Act allowed senior workers to be re-employed to the age of 65.

In the meantime, MOM wants to get firms ready for the change in legislation by encouraging them to voluntarily rehire older workers.

To achieve this goal, the ministry announced in September that it will offer firms incentives to voluntarily rehire older workers above the age of 65.

Mr Tan declined to give details of the incentives but said that they will be announced next year and backdated to Jan 1 next year.

"We believe that by actually setting the conditions in the next few years and then for the actual Retirement and Re-Employment Act to kick in to 67 a few years later, would on balance be the best approach," said the minister.

More CPF flexibility under study: Tan Chuan-Jin

Option of varying savings, payouts raised ahead of review panel's report
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2014

THERE could be more options for Central Provident Fund (CPF) members in deciding how much they want to save, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to retirement funding.

And driving the change is the focus on how much each individual needs, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

"When you are looking at different levels of payouts, there are different amounts that they need to save and they need to keep in their CPF," said Mr Tan, giving for the first time a hint of where the CPF review is heading.

Speaking to the media in a wide-ranging interview on manpower issues last week, Mr Tan said that the advisory panel set up by the Government in September to review the CPF should have its first set of recommendations ready by next month.

Ahead of the panel's report, Mr Tan said that its thinking behind the CPF has shifted from the current approach, where the Government stipulates one Minimum Sum for all members, which is now $155,000 but will go up to $161,000 in July.

"So I think we are looking at perhaps various options and then tying those options to the differing amounts that you need to accumulate," he said.

"We realised that that's the thing because actually people do have different needs and people are looking at different requirements."

The panel is also looking at how to prevent CPF payouts from being eroded by inflation, said Mr Tan. But he also warned that having too many options could over-complicate the CPF, already a complaint among many people.

Still, the panel is fully aware of the tensions over the CPF, with many people wanting more flexibility in using their savings.

"There are individuals who feel that this is my money and therefore why should I not be allowed to take it out," Mr Tan noted.

"But I think the idea really is to help provide every individual with at least a basic savings plan of sorts, to allow them to be able to sustain for the long term."

$10b in outstanding credit card loans by Xmas

But two in three customers still pay off debts in full every month
By Radha Basu, Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 14 Dec 2014

Paying with plastic has become so common that outstanding credit card loans are set to top $10 billion for the first time by Christmas, according to figures from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

Overall, unpaid balances were at $9.98 billion as at October, the latest month for which figures are available. That is a jump of more than 70 per cent from $5.8 billion for the same period in 2009, just five years ago.

December, with year-end festive shopping and holidays, has always been the month when people use their credit cards most.

Bad debts written off by banks this year rose by nearly 50 per cent to $225 million by October, compared with $152.9 million in the first 10 months of 2009.

And rollover balances - bills that are not paid in full - have also jumped 50 per cent to $5.4 billion over the same period. Several banks recently raised interest rates on credit card bills.

According to figures from Credit Bureau (Singapore), there were nearly 1.58 million credit card consumers as of October, up from 1.2 million in October 2009.

Around one in three cardholders - or nearly 540,000 people - were not paying their bills in full as of October.

And 3 per cent of cardholders - or around 47,000 people at last count - have debts exceeding a year's salary.