I saw Mr Chun twice this year – almost 6 months apart.
The first time I met him in Macdonald was early this year and the same desperate look never left his countenance when I saw him back again this week.
He communicated well in his accented English and in my two sessions with him, he has never used a word of Putonghua!
Mr Chun became a new citizen for almost a year now but soon after he traded his PRC China citizenship for a Singaporean one, he was made jobless. It was something that he didn’t hope for when he became a new citizen here.
He came over to Singapore on a EDB one-year attachment and has stayed here for the past ten years. He has a 15-year-old son staying with him.
They rented a room in a condominium and life was comfortable even though he does not have his own place.
He was accepted into the engineering PhD programme after his EDB attachment and he was paid an allowance of close to $2000 to study and work.
Moreover, it was also his dream to attain his engineering PhD abroad.
Three years into his study, he was accepted to work as a project officer with a local institution drawing close to $3000 while he wrapped up his study. He was working on a 2-year contractual research agreement then.
Things went pretty much downhill when he was asked to leave 18 months into his contract for work performance issue and disagreement with his PRC Chinese boss.
“It was a disputable decision,” Mr Chun confided in me.
“I also have no one to turn to and seek recourse.”
Mr Chun seldom mixed around and don’t have many friends that he can share his problem with.
I told him that the Employment Act here does not cover high ranking positions like PhD researchers.
However, a close colleague later managed to convince the same institution to hire him back for a project on a one-year contractual basis. His pay rose to $4000 as he has managed to earn his Phd in engineering after studying for 5 years here.
“After three months, I was asked to leave again,” Mr Chun told me as I gasped in shocked disbelief.
This was to be his second contractual termination – by the same institution.
“Did you screwed up again?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Gilbert” he told me sheepishly.
However, he managed to convince the management to allow him to stay on till the end of his one-year contract. They didn’t extend his contract after that and was let off.
Already jobless for six months now, Mr Chun amazingly has not being call up for a single interview so far during this period even though he has sent out 20 0ver emailed applications for research positions.
I asked whether the research institution has blacklisted him as most of the positions he applied for belong to government-linked companies and probably that’s why he didn’t receive any interview at all after the termination as they would have share information with one another.
“Its possible, especially if you have been terminated by the same company twice,” he told me as he tried to make light of his dicey situation.
“I also want the Singaporean government to take better care of new citizens.”
I began to listen raptly to what he has to say later.
“We became citizens so as to have a better livelihood here. We need to be given better opportunities as researchers in this country.”
Mr Chun told me that more than 80% of researchers he knew are foreigners and almost all his bosses he worked with previously came from PRC China. Ironically, the ones that fired him are also from his home land.
He told me that converting to Singaporean citizenship may be a mistake as the country seems to favour foreign talents more than local ones.
He also suspected that because he is a converted citizen, some of his foreign bosses may be wary that he could be a threat to their position.
As for Mr Chun’s future employment opportunities, he is already writing in to a few foreign research institutions and will make a move if they are willing to hire him.
Though he has some savings to fall back on, he felt that it won’t last him for more than 2-3 years.
It is also not too good if he enters into prolonged unemployment as a researcher and employers will ask him about the long absence from the workforce.
As our government now decides to convert at least 20,000 new citizens yearly to make up for the low birth rate here, more should be done to take care of their employment needs.
If not, the government will waste precious resources to convert foreign talents and later see them go off to other countries looking for work opportunities.
Written by: Gilbert Goh