Firms hiring more ex-offenders, disabled

SINGAPORE - Car workshop TyreQueen found a novel way to beat the labour shortage: Hire ex-offenders.

When it opens at Bukit Timah's Turf City in September, all of its 10 workers trained to fit tyres onto customers' cars will be former prisoners.

They are a lifesaver for workshop owner Valerie Tan who was worried that she could not hire enough local workers due to a lack of labour.

So when a church friend with experience counselling ex-convicts suggested hiring them, she said "yes" immediately.

"Without them, I would not have been able to get the new business up and running since I started planning for it three months ago," said Ms Tan who recruited them this month.

She is not the only one turning to former offenders to cope in the tight labour market due to curbs on foreign worker numbers. More companies are now tapping these unlikely pools of workers - former prisoners, the disabled and students.

The trend does not surprise human resource analyst Martin Gabriel from HRMatters21: "In a way, this is how firms are forced to adapt with the local and foreign manpower pool drying up."

This is good news for ex-offenders, with the latest statistics showing that more are getting a second chance with a new job.

In the first six months of this year alone, 1,110 found jobs with help from Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, compared to 1,344 in 2009 and 1,637 in 2010, before the inflow of foreign workers was tightened.

Another group of workers - the disabled - also saw a spike in interest from employers.

Bizlink, a non-profit body which helps those with disabilities find work, said the number of firms hiring them is growing by 10 per cent annually. It now has 6,000 companies on its database.

At Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, about one in eight of its 270 employees has disabilities and the hotel plans to hire more. By 2016, they will form 20 per cent of the hotel's staff strength, said its general manager Jagdeep Thakral.

Students working part-time are also providing a lifeline for some restaurants.

When the House of Seafood opens its fourth branch at Tanjong Katong tomorrow, four of its 12 waiters on weekends will be part-timers, two of whom are students. These students who work during weekends fill the shortage of workers when the restaurant is the busiest, owner Francis Ng told The Straits Times.

Local manpower firm TCC Solutions also saw a surge in firms hiring students this year.

The number of firms that sought to hire student part-timers grew from about 100 last year to over 150 this year.

To meet the increase in demand, the agency added 2,000 students to expand its pool of part-timers to 7,500 this year, said its general manager Frey Ng.

Member of Parliament Denise Phua said it is a "good outcome" that firms are looking to hire more ex-offenders and workers with disabilities as fewer foreigners are allowed to work here, but these workers have to be treated well.

Employers should not "exploit them and treat them as lesser second-class employees simply because they are more vulnerable and perhaps less mobile due to their special backgrounds".

"They deserve the same opportunities in terms of pay, benefits and training as typical employees."

Bosses such as TyreQueen's Ms Tan agreed. "They will be trained and paid market rate, which can be more than $2,000 each month including commission," she said.

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