He told me that he purposely came over to Singapore for a week of holiday after his business seminar in Australia. He felt extremely safe here, not like other South East Asian countries or the United States. He further revealed that whenever he takes taxis in New York, there is a 95% chance that the cabby is a new immigrant, who hardly speaks English but it's a reverse here. Life is easy for N.Y. cabbies, he said, as they do not have to ply the streets for 6-8 hours a day and most of the time they sit around waiting for a call booking. Then, without his asking, I began to ran a brief commentary of the reality of taxi business and life of a cabby here for his understanding.
I told him that all taxi drivers here are Singaporeans, as taxi vocational license is be given to Singapore citizen only. I don't know of any other jobs here that has this requirement, where foreigners are not allowed to take up this vocation. Even in strategically important agencies like Temasek Holding, which is responsible for investing billion of dollars of public money, it does not require Singapore citizenship for their Number 1 position. Therefore, either taxi driving is the most privileged job in Singapore or it's the last resort for redundant Singaporean workers. Of course, the former is not true.
I think the over 100,000 Singaporean with vocational taxi license, are all eligible voters. This large number of voters together with their family members, are politically important to the incumbent government and cannot be taken lightly. To lose the astronomical number of cabbies votes is suicidal and therefore, they must be pampered and their vocation protected at all costs, not like some profession with small numbers. Ironically, most cabbies never have good words for the PAP. I'm sure their votes are likewise.
On the ground and in reality, driving a taxi in Singapore is usually the last resort when a person can't find another suitable job because of old age or after retrenchment. It's not a glamorous or ultra lucrative job. More than half the earnings of a taxi driver goes to the taxi companies as rental and fuel. A taxi driver do not enjoy things like paid annual leave or holidays. Apart from this setback, this is the only job I know where you had to pay for not working.
A typical taxi driver, drives for 10 hours a day and earns about $12 an hour. There is no medical benefits, no CPF and no pension.....Yet you can find plenty of taxi drivers here with a diploma or university education. The taxi companies do all they can to get every taxi rented out to drivers, regardless of the demand on the street. As long as rentals are collected promptly, they do not care how the drivers survive. Can you blame them? No. All companies operate to seek maximum profit, just like the way the PAP runs this place - ("PAP familiar slogon -Where the Money Comes From?"). So every year, SMRT and COMFORT report double digit earnings growth, just like the PAP with impressive GNP.
Now, my point is, Singaporeans are lucky to have some well educated cabbies. Presently, the minimum academic qualification to become a taxi driver here is a Cambridge University "O" level certificate as advertised by Comfort. In many countries, educated citizens are employed as "professionals" in various organizations. But in Singapore, PAP helps all companies with supply of plentiful cheap foreign talents to help fill those "professional" positions, so educated Singaporeans can be freed up to work as cabbies.
In the early seventies, it was usually the illiterate or jobless desperado who drives taxis. But nowadays, more educated and younger Singaporean are becoming cabbies, ladies included. The large influx of foreign talents had taken many jobs which otherwise educated Singaporean can do and surely not because a joker says that a cabby earns $7k a month. I think many jobs in the IT industries, banking & financial sectors, nursing, sales & marketing, just to name a few, are filled by cheap FT, leaving educated Singaporean with few career choices but to consider taxi driving as a viable career. This is really pathetic for Singaporean for many obvious reasons but on the other hand, it's better to be a cabby than jobless, though one has a diploma in hand, right?.
If you visit the National Museum, there is a video of a very young Lee Kuan Yew speaking to a large crowd at a rally in the 1960s. Half way through the speech, he pointed to a young boy in the audience and said "Look at this young boy, he needs an education ...otherwise he will grow up to be a taxi driver". Ironically, today we have highly educated taxi drivers forced to drive taxis due to structural unemployment as PMETs are pushed out of professional jobs by the large influx of foreigners.
Consequently, Singapore is now a First World country with the unique distinction of having a large contingent of educated taxi drivers with at least a secondary school or diploma education. Our Best Airport in the world is now served by an army of most educated taxi drivers in the world. Perhaps this is an achievement that PAP should glorify and boast to the rest of the world too.
At the end of my conversation with my NZ passenger, I nevertheless, expressed my gratitude to this Government for protecting my vocation by not allowing foreigners to drive cabs or else I would probably be collecting cardboard boxes or drinks cans to buy my two meals in this 6th most expensive country in the world. A lot people in their late 50s or early 60s are not quite ready for retirement yet, many find difficulty in getting employment with a reasonable pay because sadly, even simple jobs like cleaners, security guards and traffic warrants are sourced to cheaper foreigners.….So, what suitable jobs are left for old, retrenched and educated Singaporean, like myself? Tell that to your MP and you'll probably get a motherboard and template answers!.
My passenger was impressed with my commentary and allowed me to have a photo shot of him for this posting. Unfortunately, he left without a tip for me except my sour throat.