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Ob - View on Mrt Breakdown

In: Business and Management

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PART A
View on MRT Breakdown
The SBS Transit North-East Line 10 hour’s breakdown on 15 March 2012 is a severe issue that affects thousands living in Singapore. We feel that this is understandable as breakdowns would definitely occur even though it had brought about inconvenience to the commuters. This issue will not only affect ones judgment on SBS Transit Link, as well as the government’s ability to cope with the situation. However, SBS Transit Link had worked well together with the government to cope with this issue in a smooth manner by providing free bus services for those who were affected. Also, alerting passengers about this issue through media and the internet was successful. Through the study of Organizational Behaviour (OB), we are able to understand how situation like this would impact the organization and at the same time understand the actions and attitudes of people in the organization who are handling this issue.
Possible causes of behavior
Individual Level – Perception
Through this video, we have seen many different points of views from the commuters and the SBS Transit Link staffs. The two concepts that we applied to this case study are Factors influencing perception and Perception errors when judging this matter.
Factors influencing perception: * The Perceiver
The perceiver is an individual who loos at a target and attempts to interpret what he or she sees. The perceiver for this case is the commuters. Interpretation of this breakdown is being influenced by characteristics such as attitudes, expectations and past experiences. Different perceiver would have different perceptions about the break down. For example, commuters with positive attitude would think that a break down is inevitable and is totally acceptable. They would also feel that SBS Transit Link had already provided good services in alerting the public. However, commuters with negative attitude towards the matter will think that this is unacceptable and that SBS Transit Link did not provide enough ways to curb with the problem. Therefore, different people would have different perceptions on this situation.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 1 Paragraph 17 &23)

* The Target
The target is the one who is being perceived by others. The target for this case is the SBS Transit Link. Some characteristics of the target can cause the perceiver to be selective in their perception. For example, due to characteristics such like repetition, the number of breakdowns had caused commuters to be doubtful of the train service’s reliability. Another characteristic is novelty and familiarity. There are new ways of alerting the public like notifications from the phone application and social media platform such as Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, such characteristics can cause us to be selective in our perception towards this incident as the new ways of alerting the commuters would be noticed. * The Situation
The situation in which we see the event is also important. The time at which we see an object or event can influence attention, such as location, light or heat. For this instance, the MRT breakdown that lasted for a whole 10 hours was worsen as the incident involved the peak hours, where the traffic is the highest. Affected commuters were frustrated because they were unable to reach their destination on time. Conversely, when the train is functioning as usual, the commuters would not be frustrated because they are able to travel smoothly. Therefore, the situation is very important as it can affect the commuters differently at different timing and therefore, creating different perceptions.
Perception errors: * Selective Perception
Selective Perception allows us to spread read something, but not without the risk of drawing an inaccurate picture. We see what we want to see, we draw unwarranted conclusions from an ambiguous situation. Human can break down so do machines. However, commuters assumed that the SBS Transit Link are public transport thus it should not have any break down. From the video, a woman said, ‘When I was going out to the gym, it was already disrupted. When I was at the gym at about 10 plus, they say that it was still down. And now, it’s still down!’ She is unsatisfied with the hours of train disruption while the engineers were already busy repairing the damage of occur. Ignoring the fact that public transports are heavily utilized every day and break downs are inevitable.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 1 Paragraph 20&23&27)

* Halo Effect
Halo effect is when we draw a general impression about something based on a single characteristic. Commuters have a bad impression of Singapore Transport, SBS Transit Link, due to the continuous MRT break down time to time. These commuters perceived that the quality experienced on buses and trains have worsened. Due to the disappointment from the public transport, the commuters draw a bad impression of Singapore’s public transport based on one aspect, breaking down consistently.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 1 Paragraph 23)
Group Level - Conflict Management
Potential causes of conflict
It is pertinent at this point to examine some of the potential causes of conflict as while not all conflict is necessarily harmful, yet its potential cost is too great to be ignored. The potential causes of this SBS Transit Link conflict are personality differences and failure to communicate.
Personality differences create potential for conflict as each of us has a different personality. As such, each of us has a tendency to think and act differently. In this SBS Transit Link conflict, different commuters have different thinking about the conflict. Some commuters are able to understand the reason for the break down but some just make a fuss out of it. From the video, we can see that most of the commuters can understand the reason for the break down. However, there is a handful of them seems to be unsatisfied with SBS Transit Linkand blamed themfor causing the inconvenience. This causes the unsatisfied and upset commuters to make a fuss out of it. Thus, the differences in personality will lead to commuters acting and thinking differently towards the conflict.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 3 Line 1 to Line 2)
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 4 Paragraph 13&14)
Next, failure to communicate can cause a conflict due to such misinterpretation (misunderstanding). Sometimes people think that they have communicated when they have transmitted words. It may be heard but people may not understand the meaning of it and this gives rise to a failure in communication SBS Transit Link needs to better communicate other options, such as paid buses that are able to send them to their destination as fast as the train could. They need to communicate to the commuters that there are also free buses that could send them to their desired train station whenever there is a break down in the MRT. The commuters are unaware of the free buses service. Additionally, SBS Transit Link needs to communicate with the commuters about the reasons for the break down. The commuters may misinterpret that the break down are caused by the SBS Transit Link. Hence, failure to communicate will cause a conflict due to misinterpretation.
Therefore, the personality differences of the commuters cause the conflict between the commuters and SBS Transit Link due to the different thinking and acting of the individuals. The failure to communicate well with commuters will lead to misunderstanding causes a conflict.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 12)
Kenneth Thomas Conflict Management Strategies
One’s reaction to conflict is dependent upon 2 factors: assertiveness and co-cooperativeness. The SBS Transit Link uses the Collaboration Strategy.
Collaboration is a strategy that is both high in co-operative and assertive. It is to attempt to satisfy everyone by working through differences and seek for solutions that result in gains for all concerned. By accepting other party’s needs while asserting their own needs, which leads to a win-win situation.
Application
* To find an integrative solution when conflicting concerns are too important to be compromised. * To combine different ideas from people who has different perspectives. * Lastly to gain commitment through the development of consensus
This concept are related to the SBS Transit Link breakdown video as in order to satisfy the requirements of passengers who are involved in the breakdown, the SBS Transit Link took a few measures and provides solutions to the problem. Firstly, SBS transit Link works with SMRT to help assist commuters in planning their alternative routes. SMRT staff also prepared signboards for commuters to inform of the breakdown and always on call to answer commuters’ question. SMRT helps commuters that are affected by the breakdown are also helping passengers of their own. By doing this way, the commuters will be able to get to their destination which is satisfying their needs while asserting the SBS Transit Link's own needs. Secondly, SBS Transit Link together with Singapore Police Force ensures the safety of commuters. Police force main reason is to maintain peace and safety amongst commuters, whereas SBS Transit Link hopes to help commuters get to their destination as quickly as possible, so as to satisfy the commuter’s needs. With everything in order, this will become a win-win situation.(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 2 Paragraph 21 Line 1 to Line 2)
Organisation level - Organisation Systems variable
Work stress
Experiencing stress at work is inevitable. The environment, organizational and individual factor causes the work stress of employee in SBS Transit Link. “Every problem has a solution”, organizational and individual approaches are strategies usable to reduce stress in employees.
Sources/causes
First of all, environment factor is one of the sources for work stress.Firstly, working in a different environment can cause work stress. Being appointed to do a different job from their everyday job will make a difference in their stress level. They might not be used to handling demanding request, tyrannical customers, and crowds. The differences in the working environment such as noise level and amount of people they meet in a day will also affect their stress level. Also, without the companion of familiar colleague might cause them to be more nervous than usual. Secondly, technological uncertainties cause confusion among commuters. The train service was expected to resume on 12pm. However it was extended to 2pm for the engineers needed more time to reconnect the snapped power cable. It was then being extended till further notice after they found a new problem. Employees face work stress as they have to manage the media and angry commuters. In conclusion, environment factor is a reason for birth of work stress.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 4 Paragraph 3 & 4)
Next, organizational factor is one of the sources for work stress.Firstly, ineffective communication between the leader and employees causes work stress. In this breakdown incident, commuters were allowed to board any bus from the bus stops at affected stations for free. However, many of the commuters do not know about it. This causes work stress for the employees as they will have difficulties answering commuters question regarding free bus ride. Moreover, they were unable to provide this alternative solution for commuter to get to their workplace quickly. MrLui stated that, ‘I see those buses passing by, quite empty, not many people even rushing to board those buses at all.’ To add on, bus drivers were unaware that commuters were allowed to ride the bus for free until SBS Transit Link official inform them. This shows that ineffective communication causes work stress for bus drivers. It is work stress to them and would feel burdened because they were unaware of the free bus ride. They would have thought that the responsibility of the ‘fare lost’ will fall on them. Secondly, leadership style of the leader can cause stress. The SBS Transit Linkemployees require a leader that is of high task and high relationship. The employees were motivated in assisting the affected commuters, such as giving them directions. However, they were not capable to fully carry out their job. Because employees were not aware of the free bus ride, the commuters were not advised to the shortest route.In conclusion, organizational factor is a source of work stress.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 11) (Refer to Appendix Part A Article 4 Paragraph 20)
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 7)
Last of all, individual factor is one of the sources for work stress.Firstly, SBS Transit Link goodwill ambassadors are employees that’s being appointed temporarily immediately after SMRT breakdown. Not only do they have to be responsible for their own job description, they also have to be responsible for commuters’ safety and help them with directory and other routes for their unfinished journey. Having the role of goodwill ambassador might be too stressful and overwhelming for them. They could have failed to understand the expectations of leaders and thus, experience a role conflict. Secondly, SBS Transit Link employees face work stress due to personality problems. Employees that are more reserved and shy, introvert, may feel that handling customer service is too much for them. This might cause them to be anxious and not knowing how to help the commuters.In conclusion, individual factor is a cause of work stress.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 4 Paragraph 10)
Strategies to reduce stress
First of all,SBS Transit Link can implement individual approaches. SBS Transit Link can provide counseling programs to employees that require help. Therefore, employees are able to get better solution to their problems. On the other hand, SBS Transit Linkare able to know more and listen to employees’ main concern. Thus, they will be able to control the situations better internally within the organization. Secondly, SBS Transit Link can implement time management to help employees with the problem of time shortage. Employees can then be more organized by following the structure of time management and increase their work efficiency. In conclusion, individual approaches are strategies to reduce stress.
Next, SMRT can implement organizational approaches.SBS Transit Link can improve personnel selection and job placement. By choosing individuals with internal locus of control can better control chaotic situation. They believe that their perception of life control their behaviour. And their behavior affects their performance. They are responsible for their own doing and would blame themselves for unfortunate outcome. Thus, selecting individuals with high internal locus of control during personnel selection is a wiser choice as they are more aware of their own actions and would act with consideration. They will also serve the commuters better in order to reach high performance target of their own. Secondly, increase physical exercise within SBS Transit Link. SBS Transit Link can engage with employees by encouraging them to participate in giving feedbacks about SBS Transit Link. Or employees participate in giving suggestions to improve current SBS Transit Link’s service or employees’ working environment. In conclusion, organizational approaches are also strategies to reduce stress.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 5)
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 6)
Effects on employee performance
Work stress will decrease job satisfaction of employees’ and causes an increase in abseentism, staff turnover and decrease productivity and efficiency of employees. However, applicable amount of stress in appropriate period of time enables higher employee performance.

Organisational culture
Organisational culture is a common perception held by members. This system of shared meaning is a set of key characteristics that organization values.
Strong cultures are core values that are both intensely held and widely shared. It can help to increase behavioral consistency and is the acceptance of shared meaning that helps increase commitment to values and agreement amongst employees. This help to build loyalty, group commitment and cohesiveness.
From this video, I could deduce that SBS Transit Link have a customer-responsiveculture. It is low in formalization, with the freedom to meet the demand of customer. They have to have good human skills to communicate with commuters.SBS Transit Link main concern when breakdown occurs is to minimize the impact of breakdown.Customers are most concern with making it to their destination on time. By ensuring that commuters can reach their destination as quickly as possible, the impact will be smaller. It also shows that SBS Transit Link is customer responsive.Another customers’ response was to receive SMRT breakdown alert via messages. With that, SBS Transit Link implemented the messaging system to allow customer to plan their alternative route beforehand.
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 4 Paragraph 13)
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 4 Paragraph 17)
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 2)
(Refer to Appendix Part A Article 3 Paragraph 9 L1)

What does cultures do?
Culture define boundary, create the differences between organizations. It conveys a sense of identity for organization member, and facilitates commitment to something larger then one’s individual self-interest. It also shapes the attitude of employees and provides a set of rules for employees to follow. Furthermore, it enhances stability of social system and serves as sense making. Hiring employees with value don’t align with those of organization are likely to lead employees who lack motivation and commitment; it will lead to higher turnover rate. Thus it is important to hire individuals with attitudes and behavior suitable for the organization’s culture.
SBS Transit Linkhave a strong culture that have a great influence on the behavior of employees. Employees accept the core values of SBS Transit Link and have a great commitment in the values and agree to what SBS Transit Link wants. This can build cohesiveness among employees and lead to low staff turnover and abseentism, and thus able to manage the breakdown aftermath more efficiently.
Can culture be a liability?
Culture can be a liability due to barrier to change, barrier to diversity and barrier to acquisitions and mergers.
First of all, culture can be a barrier to change, when shared values are not in agreement. The behavior of the organization is consistent. When the environment starts to change, entrench culture is not appropriate for the organization. It is tough for the culture to change according to the environment.
Next, culture can be a barrier to diversity, when employees could not accept the differences that are not like the majority. Organisation however has to spend huge effort for the employee to conform if they want to show diversity.
Last but not least, culture can be a barrier to acquisitions and mergers. Organisation merger have high risk of failure and require lots of money to develop a new image for the merged company.

Solutions to minimize impact of MRT break down
Firstly, SBS Transit Link can minimize the impact of such incidents in the future by having a manager that has leadership style with high task and high relationship dimension. As the employees are willing but unable to manage the situation well, leader has to have selling style. With specific instruction allocated to each department, SBS Transit Linkemployees will be able to better understand their roles and mission. Additionally, leaders reinforce at employees’ enthusiasm and willingness to perform well. Therefore, the structure ofSBS Transit Link would be well-organised, leading the team to be successful and enjoy cohesiveness.
Secondly, after specific instruction given to departments, SBS Transit Linkcan improve the communication and companionate between employees by having training course for employees specialized for breakdown incident. Therefore, employees would be more familiar with the procedures when a breakdown occurs.This is to ensure there is no communication barrier between employees and can attain higher job efficiency and effectiveness.With no miscommunication, they could save times in asking and clarifying with each other. As such, words could be pass around employees more accurately. To add on, breakdown could be handle more systematically and safely. Communication also clears doubts of employees and employees’ human skills.
In conclusion, they can in turn solve problems such as unclear signboards instruction and better communication of the free bus ride arrangement to commuters and employees. Also, these make sure that employees are informed of the updated details of breakdown.

PART B
Article Analysis 1
Title of the Article: Carrot often works better than stick
Date of the Article: 09 Nov 2012
Source of the Article: The Business Times
Topic: Behaviour Modification
Summary
In this article, Lam Chuan’s supplier is facing overwhelming of job load but he refused to reject all this business offers as he find that it is rather unpleasant to do so. It is to a point whereby his business has been taking up too much business offers and they were unable to produce the work. In order to correct the problem, the business development manager, Mr Yeo came out with a system to record what everyone is doing and how they are doing it. Through the usage of the system, it can easily help the management to identify the amount of order being processed. However, the senior production floor supervisors and some were quite redundant and uncooperative to follow the rule of using the system which frustrates Mr Yeo. In order to get the worker to use the system, for every amount of order that is being processed they will be given a certain amount of incentives. Overtime, this have helps to increase Lam Chuan’s efficiency in producing more output.
OB concepts applied- The Learning Theory, Schedules of Positive Reinforcement Through applying the OB concepts we can learn that a positive behaviour can be incurred in employees as long as there are positive or negative reinforcements. The schedules of reinforcing are very important too. This is because too if it is implemented too frequently or easily, employees tend to take things for granted. Therefore, through applying OB concepts, we can know which are the most suitable reinforcements and its schedules that can produce the best results. * The Learning Theory
In this article, The Learning Theory is applied whereby the behaviour would produce consequences which then caused the future behaviour to be shaped by its consequences by what will happened to the individual afterwards, as such, it is a learning through either a positive or negative reinforcement. This can allow the tendency of repeating behaviour depending on the presence of reinforcement. As such whenever the workers uses the system to key in the order, it helps them to easily track the amount of order they are handling and this can help to increase their productivity at work. As the number of work they are able to produce increase, it can allow them to get a sum of monetary awards which will motivate them to do more. This behaviour is learnt through positive reinforcement which will encourage them to use it constantly and the tendency of them using the system to key in the orders is thus higher due to the presence of monetary rewards.
(Refer to Appendix Part B Article 1 Paragraph 16 – Line 1 to Line 4) * Schedules of Positive Reinforcement- Intermittent Reinforcement
The second concept that is applied in this article is the Schedules of Positive Reinforcement which refers to what reinforces are used, when and at what frequency. Intermittent (Partial) Reinforcement is usually used to reinforce a desired behaviour often enough to make the behaviour worth repeating. It is use to ensure the high usage of the system to track the orders. To ensure the use of the system, Fixed Ratio Schedule is used. Fixed Ratio schedule refers to reinforcement is given after a fixed number of behaviours are being exhibited regardless of the time lapse between behaviour. This can be seen from the passage where Lam Chuan’s gave out monetary awards to its worker after they have performed an amount of works regardless of the time lapses and it resulted in many of workers earning up to $200 a month of extra incentives.
(Refer to Appendix Part B Article 1 Paragraph 16 – Line 2 to Line 3)
Conclusion
From this article analysis, we can conclude that the positive reinforcements are successfully implemented and the usage of intermittent reinforcement are the most suitable as it solves the problem of goods shortage.

Article Analysis 2
Title of the Article: SMRT explains bus drivers’ pay gap
Date of the Article: 29/11/2012
Source of the Article: My Paper (Page A4)
Topic: Motivation

Summary
This article talks about the recent SMRT strike that was carried out by Chinese bus drivers due to the unfair treatments. Chinese bus drivers were employed under different contractual terms and receive lower pay as compared to the Malaysian bus drivers. Also, the poor living conditions SMRT provided for them. Those Chinese bus drivers that took part in this illegal strike had breached the law and hence will be dealt with. SMRT explained themselves about the unfair wages, poor living conditions and the different terms to get employed as compared to Malaysians. SMRT stated that they already planned to make improvements, but they could have done it more swiftly. Drivers now receive increment in their starting pay as part of their on-going salary review.
OB concepts applied – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, Equity Theory
These OB concepts can be used to analyse the reasons why such incidents would happen. Therefore, SMRT can eradicate the problem and prevent it from happening again. * Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theories- Physiological needs
Maslow Hierarchy of Needs Theories is the five needs that people have which can only happen one at a time. It consists of the physiological, safety, social/belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation needs. However in this article, it is the physiological needs that have not been met. Physiological need is the basic human needs like food, water and shelter. It is the same as the existence needs in Alderfer’s ERG Theory.
In this article, the Chinese bus driver’s physiological needs were not met. They complained about the unfair wages and poor living conditions provided by SMRT. Therefore it actually ‘motivated’ the Chinese bus drivers to go on strike so that they can have better living conditions as it is really important to them.
As result, this physiological need is one of the reasons why Chinese bus drivers went on the strike even though it is illegal.
(Refer to Appendix Part B Article 2 Paragraph 2 – Line 1 to Line 2) * Equity Theory
Equity Theory focuses on individual’s perception of how fairly they are treated as compared to others. People evaluate equity by the ratio of outcomes to inputs. Outcomes of a job include salary, recognition, benefits and promotion. While inputs include education, experience, effort and ability. Inequity exists when the ration of outcomes to inputs are different.
The inputs of the bus driving jobs are the same for the Chinese bus driver and the Malaysian bus drivers. For example, the efforts put into the job. However, the outcomes are not the same. Chinese drivers received $200 less as compared to the Malaysians drivers. This is also because of they are employed under different contractual terms. Hence, since the inputs are the same, the Chinese drivers expect the same outcome. However, they did not receive a fair treatment.
As a result, this might result in the Chinese bus drivers trying to reduce inequity either through changing their outcomes, like for this instance, asking or protesting for higher pay and better living conditions. They can also choose to change their inputs, by not going to work, or leaving the job.
(Refer to Appendix Part B Article 2 Paragraph 2 – Line 4 to Line 9)
Conclusion
From this analysis we can learn that even such small things that we are not aware of could cause so much unhappiness and even motivated the people in the wrong way to do whatever it takes to obtain what they need. People would stand up for themselves if such needs are not met and or there is unfairness, which could lead to such serious consequences.

Article Analysis 3
Title of Article: Iskandar: A win-win deal for Singapore and Malaysia
Date of Article: 11/12/2012
Source of Article: The Straits Times (Page A19)
Topic: Conflict Management
Summary
This article is talking about the warming relations between Singapore and Malaysia. Although there is some tension between both countries, some leaders in Malaysia have always seen Singapore as their “small brother”. Singapore has many areas of disputes with Malaysia especially on the territorials, like the railway land, southern Johor or known as the development of Iskandar. Even though the relations between Singapore and Malaysia are warmed up now, there is always a risk that political tensions will rise again and affect the economic relations once again. As both parties try their best to keep the good relationship, conflicts are still inevitable.
OB concepts applied – Kenneth Thomas Conflict Management Strategies, Types of Conflict in the Organisation, Potential Causes of Conflict
OB concepts can be used to analyse this situation from the type to reasons to the strategies used to solve the conflict. As it is crucial to maintain good relations between both countries, OB concepts can help us to identify what kind of strategies is suitable and more importantly, know the cause. Therefore, the conflict can be solved and prevent any negative consequences.
Types of Conflict in the Organisation- Conflict between Organisations * Conflict between organisations
The type of conflict between Singapore and Malaysia is conflict between organisations. Conflict can arise between organisations when different organisations have incompatible or opposing goals thus leading to tension and opposition of forces. For example, the development of Iskandar, Singapore and Malaysia might have different goals for it. The different goals can result in serious conflict between both countries.
(Refer to Appendix Part B Article 3 Paragraph 17 Line 1 to Line 2)
Potential Cause of Conflict – Competition for scarce resources, Personality Differences * Competition for scarce resources
It is human nature to want more. No matter how much resources are there, it will never be enough to meet the needs of humans. Everybody wants a “bigger slice of pie” but there are not enough for everybody. Thus, it will cause a conflict to arise. For this instance, as the amount of territory is fixed and limited, and both Singapore and Malaysia wants it, it will cause tensions as both of them wants more than what they have already. Therefore, this causes conflict as they both have to compete over the scarce resources.
Kenneth Thomas Conflict Management Strategies- Compromise * Compromise
Compromise is mildly assertive and cooperative. This approach seeks partial satisfaction of everyone through exchange and sacrifice. It is a situation whereby both parties are willing to give up something. They would settle for acceptable solution rather than optimal resolution. This can be seen from this case as Singapore and Malaysia tries to give in to each other. Normally, there are no clear outcomes. However, for this case, it is a win-win situation. For the case of the southern Johor, if both countries give in to each other, Singapore can continue to be the hub for commercial and financial development, while southern Johor can be an area of high-quality living for Singaporeans. This would be a win-win situation because Johor will get to benefit from the influx of people, talent and capital while Singapore benefit from the high-quality livings there.
Win-win situation is the best outcome one can get because the parties involved have confronted the issues and used the problem solving methods to reconcile the differences they had. This conflict management of collaboration is problem-solving which have the best outcome.
Conclusion
From this article analysis, we can know how important conflict management is. As conflicts are inevitable due to different perceptions or personalities both parties have, it is important to solve them properly. If conflicts are not resolved peacefully, it can lead to negative and serious consequences.

Appendixes
PART A

Article 1 http://newslink.asiaone.com/user/OrderArticleRequest.action?order=&_sourcePage=%2FWEB-INF%2Fjsp%2Fuser%2Fsearch_type_result.jsp&month=04&year=2012&date=10&docLanguage=en&documentId=nica_NP_2012_23724006 Public transport No.1 issue? Section: | News | By: | LEDIATI TAN | Publication: | The New Paper 10/04/2012 | Page: | 6,7 | No. of words: | 1017 |

Parliament

Minister addresses train disruptions for a third time

ledtan@sph.com.sg

THE public transport system may have overtaken public housing as Singaporeans' No. 1 target of unhappiness.

That was one Member of Parliament's (MP) view, after public transport concerns dominated the one-day sitting of Parliament.

Yesterday was the third time that Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew had spoken on the issue of train disruption in Parliament since the two major train service disruptions on Dec 15 and 17 last year.

And the topic will be in the spotlight again soon, at next Monday's public hearings by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) which would look into those two incidents.

Nominated MP (NMP) RamasamyDhinakaran had started the ball rolling on the issue of train disruptions in Parliament yesterday when he filed a question asking MrLui to provide details on the resources spent on preventive maintenance of the rail track and tunnel for the North-East Line (NEL) in the past five years.

This followed last month's 10-hour disruption on the NEL which affected some 90,000 commuters.

MrLui replied that NEL's operator, SBS Transit, spent about $16 million between 2007 and last year on preventive maintenance for the rail tracks, tunnels and overhead power supply lines of the NEL.

He added that SBS Transit has an in-house team of about 470 staff dedicated to the maintenance of the line.

He also assured the House that SBS Transit had a regular maintenance regime in place, including nightly checks of the tunnels and tracks where components exhibiting signs of defect or wear-and-tear are replaced immediately.

A specialised engineering vehicle known as a Multi-Function Vehicle (MFV) is also deployed monthly to detect track faults for corrective maintenance, and six-monthly tunnel inspections are also conducted to check for cracks and leaks.

Other transport-related issues also came up in Parliament yesterday.

What more can be done

MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah, had asked if the amount of resources put into preventive maintenance of the rail system was adequate and what more could be done to address the unhappiness among commuters to the recent breakdowns in train service.

NMP TeoSiongSeng asked if the Transport Ministry had conducted a comprehensive manpower study to ascertain the total projected demand for bus drivers, as Singapore prepares to ramp up the number of public buses on its roads.

MrLui said that we would need about 1,600 more bus drivers because it takes an average of about two bus drivers to operate a bus throughout the day.

He added that the two public transport operators (PTOs) would have to decide how to improve the employment terms of bus drivers to attract and retain manpower and the Government would not micro-manage such matters.

The minister repeated a position put forward before – that Singapore's train system is generally comparable to, if not better than, many other countries in terms of availability and service standards.

MrLui had said this previously in Parliament in response to a question from Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC), who had asked how Singapore's MRT system compared to other cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and London.

But he also stressed in Parliament yesterday that train disruptions were "unavoidable" and will occur from time to time as our current rail system is heavily utilised.

Defining major disruptions as those that last more than 30 minutes, MrLui added: "We will try and minimise as much as possible the major disruptions and to keep them in check.

"But I think it is unavoidable that a system that is as heavily utilised as ours is today will not face any disruptions.

"Every day, there are about 2.7 million passenger trips. We are running thousands of train trips for more than 18 hours a day. And I dare say that there is no way you can prevent disruptions from occurring.

"What you try to do is that you minimise the major disruptions and if they do take place, you then have an incident management plan in place that will then try to ameliorate (or to lessen) the effects on the commuters."

But would such an explanation fly with disgruntled commuters?

Judging from online reactions posted last night, MrLui's comments did not go down well with netizens who questioned why train breakdowns were "unavoidable".

When contacted later, Ms Lee told The New Paper that although incidents of train breakdownoverseas may be common, Singapore enjoyed very efficient train service for many years until last year's major train disruptions.

The MP said: "Any breakdown, whether major or not, causes inconvenience to people. We need to make public transport more reliable and to cut down the disruptions to as little as possible.

"Of course, I don't expect no breakdowns at all. But instead of leaving it to SMRT and SBS Transit, the public expects the Ministry (of Transport) to put pressure on the PTOs.

"The public would like to see extra measures to minimise, as much as possible, majorbreakdowns."

Hot button

Ms Lee observed that the transport issue had now become a hot button topic on the ground, and it was "even hotter than housing".

MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC ZaqyMohamad raised concerns about the training given to foreign bus drivers after last week's fatal accident involving a SBS Transit bus driver in Sengkang.

Currently, about 61 per cent of bus drivers are locals or permanent residents while about 26 per cent are Malaysians and about 13 per cent are from China, said MrLui.

While saddened by the accident in Sengkang, he added: "Regardless whether it is a local driver or foreign driver, I think it is something that we want to very much avoid as much possible."

The more important thing, he said, was to ensure that every driver is adequately trained and appropriately qualified, regardless of nationality.

And if they come from abroad, it is important that they are given the kind of orientation that would help familiarise them with the peculiarities of the system in Singapore, he added.

Article 2
Title of the Article: No abnormality found so far: SBS Transit
Date of the Article: 16 March 2012
Source of the Article: Channel NewsAsia
Topic: Behaviour Modification

SECTION: SINGAPORE NEWS

LENGTH: 569 words
SINGAPORE: The 10-hour disruption on the North East Line on Thursday has not affected initial plans to boost train frequencies to take effect on Monday.
Transport operator SBS Transit told Channel NewsAsia that plans to add 60 more train trips per week during the shoulder of morning peak hours remain unchanged.
Meanwhile it has conducted checks on more than half of the 40-kilometre track before train services began on Friday and has not found any abnormality so far.
SBS Transit said it was only able to inspect 23 kilometres of the 40-km track after a four-hour check, which ended at 4.40am Friday. This was because the checks were thorough and intensive.
It will continue to check on the other 17 kilometres of track on Friday night after train service hours, and expects to complete the inspection before the start of train service on Saturday morning.
SBS Transit said its checks found no abnormality on the north-bound tunnel from HarbourFront to Woodleigh stations, and the south-bound tunnel from Punggol to Boon Keng stations.
Thursday's breakdown was traced to a pair of broken stainless steel cables located near the Outram Park station.
During Friday's inspections, ten SBS Transit engineers and six Land Transport Authority (LTA) officers worked in parallel teams to conduct visual checks on the condition of the stainless steel cables which are connected to a weight to keep overhead cables taut.
The counterweights were also checked for signs of abnormal height. At each weight system, engineers also carried out a close inspection of the system's assembly. There are a total of 182 weight systems on the North East Line.
SBS Transit said it will continue to monitor the system closely.
As part of investigations, the broken cables will undergo laboratory tests. But questions remain over what caused the cables to snap.
When asked if SBS Transit has been asked to boost security in the wake of the incident, LTA gave the assurance that only authorised personnel can access the tunnels and this strict regime will continue.
LTA added it expects its investigations into Thursday's disruption to take a few months.
Meantime, it does not expect the incident to affect the planned additional trips on the North East Line from next week. Commuters welcomed the announcement.
"Especially in Sengkang and Punggol, more and more people are moving in, so I think there's the real need for increasing the frequency," said a commuter.
Still, there are lingering concerns over Thursday's incident.
Not many knew that all regular buses at designated bus stops along the affected route would be free to commuters during a train service disruption.
"I thought I saw a bit of confusion; people were asking for directions," said a commuter.
"I had no idea about the alternative routes...I always take this route, so I find it very inconvenient for me to find any other alternative," said another.
"The signs are too small...people cannot see them. They might think that (during) the train disruption, they still need to pay for the bus services. That's why they take the free shuttle bus,"said a third commuter. The other transport operator SMRT - which has also been plagued by train disruptions in recent months - said its free bus services will be activated during delays that last more than an hour.
SMRT is also preparing signs that will have information on the bus services available and the MRT stations the buses will go to.

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Article 3
Title of the Article: Response to breakdown better, but scope to do more
Date of the Article: 15 March 2012
Source of the Article: The Straits Times (Singapore)
Topic: Behaviour Modification

BYLINE: Jermyn Chow, Cherie Thio, Tham Yuen-C & Royston Sim

SECTION: PRIME NEWS

LENGTH: 476 words
COMMUTERS said yesterday's MRT disruption was generally better handled than the breakdowns in December last year.
What was done better this time

• Free shuttle buses at frequent intervals: They arrived every three to five minutes and cleared the crowds quickly from the affected stations. In some places after the morning peak hour, shuttle buses were waiting for commuters.
Health products seller Dennis Ong, 43, who was caught in the MRT breakdown on Dec 15 last year, rated yesterday's breakdown as far less serious and said it was better managed.
'With experience from the first time, it should be better. SBS Transit knew about this early and could prepare,' he said. 'But our train service is terrible. It must be improved.'

• Better human-traffic management: SBS Transit employees in neon-coloured vests were at almost every entrance or exit of the affected stations to direct commuters to pick-up points for the free shuttle buses, and to advise them on alternative transport routes.
One of these 'goodwill ambassadors' said he received a text message at 6.15am assigning him for duty at HarbourFront station. He and his colleagues knew what to do as they had gone through drills for a mock emergency last month.
Accounts executive Priscilla Ng, 39, who was headed to Orchard Road from HarbourFront station, said: 'It's good that every few steps I took, there was someone to give me clear instructions.'

• More frequent announcements: Announcements were made in English and Mandarin every two to three minutes along the North-East Line to spread the word about the disruption, and to inform commuters about bus bridging services. Announcements were also made in both languages on the other MRT lines.
Even so, some commuters on the unaffected lines said they found out only via text message and suggested that the frequency of announcements on those lines could be increased in future.

• Clearer and more visible signs: More signs were put up in stations and at gantries to inform commuters about the disruption and where to go for the bus rides. Housewife Irene Ong, 64, who boarded the bus at Chinatown station, said: 'We heard the news at home, so we came straight to the bus stop. I think the signs were pretty clear. We didn't get lost.'
SBS Transit and SMRT staff in sync: To complement the efforts of SBS Transit's staff on the ground, SMRT staff at interchange stations such as Dhoby Ghaut were seen directing affected commuters to bus bridging services and advising them on alternative transport routes.
What could have been better

• Reminders that all bus rides from affected stations were free: Some commuters did not know they could board any SMRT and SBS bus - and not just the shuttle buses - for free at affected stations during the breakdown. Bus drivers were also unaware until told by SBS officials not to charge commuters.

Article 4

Title of the Article: Thousands affected by NEL train disruption
Date of the Article: 15 March 2012
Source of the Article: Channel NewsAsia
Topic: Behaviour Modification

SECTION: SINGAPORE NEWS

LENGTH: 607 words
SINGAPORE: Thousands of commuters in Singapore woke up to another major train service disruption on Thursday, this time on the North East Line operated by SBS Transit.
Services between HarbourFront and DhobyGhaut stations were stopped early Thursday after a maintenance check uncovered two snapped power cables.
The problem was resolved at around 1pm. However, when SBS Transit tried running the whole system again, it uncovered an electrical insulation problem.
Services finally resumed at 4.35pm, some 10 hours after the disruption. An estimated 90,000 commuters were affected by the breakdown.
SBS Transit said it discovered at about 5am Thursday that overhead power cables just south of the Outram Park station had snapped.
SBS Transit started repair work immediately, but as extensive work had to be done, normal service operations at the five stations between DhobyGhaut and HarbourFront had to be disrupted.
It was the peak hour morning rush and there was a sense of urgency in the air.
Instead of a smooth ride to their destination, thousands found themselves disembarking at DhobyGhaut station.
By 9am, long snaking lines had formed, as affected commuters switched to the free shuttle buses provided.
Signs were put up around the station to guide commuters. Staff and "goodwill ambassadors" were also deployed to guide commuters to the free buses.
At any one time, there were at least five buses awaiting passengers.
It was a similar situation at HarbourFront station.
Most commuters told Channel NewsAsia that they heard about the breakdown from in-station and train announcements or from social media updates. But most of them said the best way to notify them is through SMS alerts on mobile phones.
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew was at the DhobyGhaut station to assess the situation.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, MrLui said that although SBS Transit managed to handle the situation in an orderly manner with frequent bridging bus services, commuters were not aware that they could make use of normal bus services which were also free.
In January, MrLui told Parliament that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is working with transport operators SMRT and SBS Transit to allow free travel on bus services that serve MRT stations where train services are disrupted.
The arrangement applies across both operators so that affected commuters can continue their journey on either operator's bus services for free, regardless of which MRT line is disrupted.
During Thursday's disruption, commuters could travel on either SBS Transit's 124 or SMRT's 190 services for free.
But MrLui observed that very few commuters were aware of this.
"Not many people were rushing to board those buses at all. So we need to do a better job to make sure that people know that there are other services that are also free that will help them to get to their destinations just as quickly," he said.
Meanwhile, SBS Transit's senior vice president for Corporate Communications, Ms Tammy Tan, apologised to all affected commuters and thanked them for their patience and understanding.
The North East Line is a 20-kilometre track with 16 stations which are all underground.
The line was opened on 20 June 2003 and is the first fully-automated heavy-rail system.
Unlike other lines which are powered by a third rail, the driver-less trains of the North East Line are powered by overhead catenary, which is a system of overhead cables.
The cables supply electricity to the trains.
The last major breakdown of the North East Line was in July 2006, which lasted some seven hours.
This was due to the loss of traction power resulting from the cut of electricity supply to the trains.

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PART B

Article 1
Title of the Article: Carrot often works better than stick
Date of the Article: 09 Nov 2012
Source of the Article: The Business Times
Topic: Behaviour Modification

Lam Chuan adopts new tracking system to recognise and reward employees' work

LAMINATES supplier Lam Chuan faced the happy problem of having too many jobs. But it was one that was fast turning unhappy. "Jobs were piling up on the production floor. We can't say no to new jobs because turning away business is very bad. So it reached a point where it was like indigestion: we just kept eating but were not producing," says business development manager Malvin Yeo, 36.

Customer satisfaction took a beating too. The 40-year-old company's service promise of a 24-hour turnaround was stretching to three days, and then four.

This was when Dr Yeo – who has a doctorate in marketing – realised that the firm had measures in place to punish for mistakes, but not ones to reward for good work. Lam Chuan was having trouble improving its quality or throughput, partly because it was now in the workers' interest to be slow – reducing errors and guaranteeing the need to run over-time and pocket the extra pay that comes with it.

"So I thought, we need a system to record exactly what everyone is doing and how they are doing. And they must not see that as a tracking device. They must see it, at the end of the day, as a means of recognising their work," he says.

However, when he first explained the idea of such a system to Lam Chuan's senior management – his father and uncle – back in 2008, they were not receptive. "I understand as well, to them it was, 'What are you talking about? We are fire-fighting every day to cope with these orders and you are trying to tell us to add to this with something way above?'," he says.

Then, applying for a government subsidy for his idea was not a priority for Dr Yeo, not till at a seminar, he happened to meet an officer from Spring Singapore who heard him out and thought the project was something the agency might support.

Along with the common wariness of having to "jump through many hoops" to tap on government funds, Lam Chuan's philosophy has always been that the company should only launch projects with innate value, that they would launch anyway. Any funding should be a bonus.

So for Dr Yeo, applying for the grant was less about the money. "It was more that if the government was willing to offer a grant, it'd be some kind of recognition that this was not a 'play-play' project. The government would not give a grant for something they did not see as promising I needed that to convince the directors," he says.

And the hoops were fewer and easier to jump through. The intimidating stack of application forms came only after Spring had expressed interest in a simple e-mail outline of the project, and Spring's officers guided them in filling it in. "It was a good push to accelerate things," says Dr Yeo.

Resistance

But convincing the top management turned out to be just the first step. After the new "management execution system" was designed, installed and implemented in June, other forms of resistance piled on.

The computerised system sounded excellent on paper. Previously, the production supervisor would manually jot down the dimensions and specifics of each piece of plywood being worked on, and keep track of orders on the production floor by filling in by hand a huge whiteboard.

With the new system, orders are keyed into the system once they come in and the progress of each job is tracked via scanned barcodes, making it clear who is working on an order at any point in time. The data also feeds through to produce an invoice, a vast improvement from the days when the accounts department had to sort out each bunch of scrap paper pasted on each order of plywood, deciphering handwritten notes to produce an invoice. "We introduce technology not to replacehumans but to handle the mundane, repetitive tasks, so that our workforce can take on more important roles and progress," says Dr Yeo.

But the long-time production floor supervisor did not take well to change. He refused to use the system, and continued to fill in the whiteboard, rendering the three brand new LCD screens redundant. It took three weeks to coax him round to the new way of doing things.

Workers too, were uncooperative about scanning barcodes. Again, this frustrated Dr Yeo's vision of collecting sufficient data to be able to identify where bottlenecks and hold-ups in the production process lie.

July passed and the senior management wanted to see results. So on Aug 1, Dr Yeo launched an incentive scheme pegging the amount of work each worker completes to monetary rewards. A leaderboard of the most productive workers is now also displayed on one of the LCD screens to motivate performance.

Results

The results finally started rolling in. By lunchtime of Aug 1, all were scanning barcodes diligently and offering feedback when the system was erroneous. From August to September, Lam Chuan's output jumped 15 per cent. And workers were each earning up to to $200 a month in extra incentives.

Lam Chuan hires 20 foreign workers at the moment and has hit its dependency ratio ceiling. Dr Yeo says that it would be "plain lie" to say that the hike in foreign worker levies has not had an impact. But Lam Chuan is keeping headcount steady. "We don't believe in getting rid of people just because it's more expensive. We need the manpower and so we want to bring in more work to justify the extra costs," he says.

Things are changing. "In the past, workers from China would come here to work and return after a few years. These days, we send them for courses, upgrade some of them from material handling to machine operators. We have job rotation so that everyone learns new skills," says Dr Yeo. And the new manufacturing execution system and accompanying HR policy tweaks to tie rewards to performance transparently have helped with this.

The greatest challenge for the furniture sector now, says Dr Yeo, is for companies to differentiate themselves from each other by means other than price. "Currently, everyone is using price. The competition is very tough, it's very cut-throat. . . When companies do that to each other, they are educating the buyer that that's a reasonable price to pay," he says. To rise above that, Lam Chuan has an agreement with an Italian brand it distributes: Lam Chuan comes up with its own designs and the laminates are produced in Italy. While this costs more, there are people who appreciate the quality, he says.

This series is a collaboration between The Business Times and the National Productivity & Continuing Education Council

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Article 2
Title of the Article: SMRT explains bus drivers’ pay gap

Date of the Article: 29/11/2012

Source of the Article: My Paper (Page A4)

Topic: Motivation

WAGE DISPUTE

A TOTAL of 20 SMRT bus drivers from China are currently assisting the police in investigations into possible breaches of the law, as a result of a strike on Monday and Tuesday.In a statement yesterday, the transport operator also said that all its bus services are running as scheduled and attendance of its drivers is "back to normal".SMRT had said that six of its drivers did not return to work yesterday, but investigations revealed that the group had valid reasons for being absent.

On Monday, 171 Chinese drivers did not report for work as they were unhappy with "unfair wages" and "poor living conditions". On Tuesday, 88 of them did not show up. The Government described the drivers' actions as an "illegal strike" on Tuesday, and said they would be dealt with if found to have broken the law.Addressing the drivers' concerns yesterday, SMRT explained that its Chinese bus drivers and those from Malaysia are employed under different terms. The Chinese are under two-year contracts while the Malaysians are permanent employees. While the starting pay for the Chinese drivers is $200 lower, they are provided with accommodation, utilities and daily transport to work.

In July, all SMRT drivers in permanent employment received an increment in their starting pay as part of an "on-going salary review".A special increment of $75 was also given to drivers from China, even though they were not entitled to it under contractual terms. Another round of salary adjustments for permanent employees was made last month.SMRT said: "Similarly, additional adjustment of $25 per month for (drivers) from China was finalised last week and we were in the process of communicating this."

The statement added that SMRT "pays competitive market wages", and that its remuneration packages for drivers from China and Malaysia are "equitable".Admitting that it could have taken swifter action to improve dormitory conditions, SMRT said fumigation works have been scheduled at the drivers' Woodlands dormitory, but have not been carried out yet. SMRT added that it has decided to provide alternative accommodation when the leases at the drivers' dormitories expire from early next year. http://newslink.asiaone.com/user/OrderArticleRequest.action?order=&_sourcePage=%2FWEB-INF%2Fjsp%2Fuser%2Fsearch_type_result.jsp&month=11&year=2012&date=29&docLanguage=en&documentId=nica_MY_2012_26275149 Article 3
Title of Article: Iskandar: A win-win deal for Singapore and Malaysia
Date of Article: 11/12/2012
Source of Article: The Straits Times (Page A19)
Topic: Conflict Management

EYE ON THE ECONOMY

WHEN Mr Keith Martin first took on the chief executive's role at Global Capital Development (GCD) two years ago, his first message to the management was: "We have to align ourselves to Singapore's growth."

GCD is not a Singapore company. It is, in fact, the company tasked to develop Medini, one of the key development projects in Malaysia's Iskandar region in Johor Baru.Mr Martin sees Singapore as being a critical factor in Medini's success. "Medini can play a complementary role to many of the industries such as health and media that Singapore has developed."

Singapore is the single largest foreign investor in the Iskandar region, since it was launched by the Malaysian government in 2006.Singapore companies have set up more than 300 manufacturing projects in Iskandar, investing more than RM5 billion (S$2 billion) since its inception. This is about 13 per cent of the total RM37 billion invested in the region so far, as at September.

The Iskandar project consists of five zones in Johor Bahru, each focusing on various areas from creative media, to residential and industrial developments. Together, the total land is about three times the size of Singapore.But in a departure from past economic projects, Iskandar has positioned itself as being complementary rather than competitive to Singapore, its bustling neighbour down south.

This is in sharp contrast to projects like TanjongPelapas, a container port in Johor, which lured two of PSA's biggest customers, Danish Maersk and Taiwan's Evergreen Marine, over to its side back in 2002.

In the 1990s, Malaysia also launched the Multimedia Super Corridor, aimed at attracting high-technology firms to set up shop. Although it was never officially stated, the MSC competed directly with Singapore, which at the time was also trying to become South-east Asia's technology capital.

Warming relations
THE influx of capital and investments into Iskandar from Singapore is a result of two main factors.One is politics; more specifically, the warming of relations between Singapore and Malaysia.The relationship between both countries is a complex but interdependent one, since the day Singapore left Malaysia in 1965 to chart its own path in history.The relationship thus far has been one of "love-hate" with flare-ups and quarrels almost a normal occurrence.

Mr Lee YoongYoong, a research associate at the Institute of Policy Studies, said that some leaders in Malaysia have always seen Singapore as Malaysia's "small brother".But there has been a significant improvement in the relationship since former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stepped down in 2003, he said.

This improvement has also thus allowed for "more mature and rational policies and interactions on both sides," said Mr Manu Bhaskaran, an economist and partner at Centennial Group.The improvement in ties got a real boost in 2010, when the two countries settled a 20-year dispute over railway land.

In September that year, Singapore and Malaysia sealed a landmark land swap deal to settle the issue of Malayan railway land in Singapore, which has long affected bilateral ties.Prime Minister Lee HsienLoong set the tone for Singapore's attitude towards Iskandar, when he said in January this year that it was very much in Singapore's interest that Iskandar Malaysia prospers.

And just last week, Malaysian Prime Minister NajibRazak said "Singapore can continue as the hub for commercial and financial development, whereas southern Johor can be an area of high-quality living" for Singaporeans."This will be a win-win situation. Johor will benefit from the influx of people, talent and capital," he said.The warming of relations between both sides has been followed by a flood of investments into Iskandar by Singapore entities.

Billionaire Peter Lim has committed to more than RM13 billion worth of projects in Iskandar, including a new motorsports hub.Property developer Ascendas Land has also inked a deal with a unit of Malaysia's UEM Land to develop a technology park in Iskandar Malaysia in Johor worth $1.5 billion.But while ties may be warm now, there is always the risk that political tensions will rise again and affect the economic relationship.

As Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng noted: "Political uncertainties, especially with Malaysia's impending general election, may also have an impact." In April, two Singapore diplomats were accused of having participated in anti-government protests in Malaysia. While this was quickly sorted out, that event clearly showed that political tensions can rise quickly.Singapore firms could become easy targets should tensions break out and anti-Singapore sentiment rise in Malaysia.

Economic factors

WHILE warming relations have opened the gate for large investments into Iskandar, the real push factor for local firms is domestic cost and manpower pressures.Singapore's economy is undergoing a massive structural change as the Government embarks on a concerted push to raise productivity.A big part of this policy is aimed at weaning firms off cheap labour through tighter foreign worker policies. This has led to a tight labour market which has pushed wage costs up as well.

Companies are also struggling with the high costs of land, with industrial property prices rising 27 per cent in the first nine months of the year.Many companies need land and manpower that they cannot find here.Enter Iskandar, which has plenty of land and workers who are eager and hungry for jobs.As MrBhaskaran puts it, Iskandar is a "perfect foil for Singapore" as its hinterland.

What's more, proximity with land access is a huge benefit for firms still hoping to anchor their operations here, said Spire Research & Consulting chief executive officer Leon Perera.
"There are clearly some benefits – in areas where access to cheaper land, labour and/or raw materials may help anchor and enhance certain activities in Singapore," he said.This might even help solve the perennial problem of inflation.By moving some of the demands on these resources to Iskandar, resource constraints will be eased and this will help combat inflation, said MrBhaskaran.

Competition rising

BUT the region is also unlikely to stay stagnant and want to play second fiddle to Singapore forever. Iskandar will one day also want to attract the same type of investments that Singapore gets.In other words, while the talk now is about mutual cooperation, the day will come when competition becomes the name of the game.

"Difference in strategic objectives between Malaysia and Singapore with respect to the development of Iskandar could lead to conflicts further down the road," said Mr Kit.But this will probably not happen any time soon.Singapore clearly has built a niche in areas such as finance, tourism and biomedical manufacturing and is a global leader in many areas.

Iskandar is starting out and is just finding its footing in areas such as media, general business services and logistics."Yes maybe in some years, a foreign bank might want to locate higher-value activities here,"saidMr Martin. “But, in the meantime, it's clear that both parties are benefiting. Singapore has access to a hinterland while Iskandar is growing."

In any case, both Mr Lee YoongYoong and MrBhaskaran believe there is nothing to fear from healthy competition. "Of course, they may compete against us now and in the future. What is the big deal? You mean we have not faced competition before?" said MrBhaskaran.
In the final analysis, Iskandar represents the type of ideal win-win partnership Singapore and Malaysia have both wanted but found hard to achieve.

In Iskandar, both countries are able to leverage on each other's strengths and mutually benefit from the project.Symbolically, it also reinforces the shared history and deep ties that both countries have with each other.Firms going into Iskandar would be wise to do so with their eyes open to the risks that may arise from investing in Iskandar, notwithstanding the proximity to their home base.

But as it stands, Iskandar remains a very good bet for Singapore firms which are coping with rising domestic costs at home, while aspiring to compete with the best in the region.
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