SOME form of minimum wage might attract more people to work in the local hospitality industry, Mr Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of well-known hospitality group, Banyan Tree Holdings, has suggested.
He threw up the idea as he addressed concerns about low wages in the sector at a hospitality and tourism conference yesterday at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), attended by about 250 of its students.
Mr Ho said it might be helpful if industry players could agree on a wage structure for certain areas of the hospitality sector.
Speaking to reporters later, Mr Ho said: "The hospitality industry is not a terribly attractive one right now for rank and file people and that is probably because of the low wages and low productivity. We do have a problem here."
He said there was a need to look at the sub-sectors of the hospitality industry to see whether there are pockets of low wage that are unnaturally low, like what was done in the cleaning industry.
A wage ladder was introduced last year for cleaners, with basic monthly pay from $1,000.
In 2012, The Sunday Times reported that salaries for full-time food and beverage service crew can be from $1,000 to more than $2,000, depending on experience.
But Mr Ho also cautioned that "you do not just bump up wages without increasing productivity".
Technology can help improve efficiency, but its use in the hospitality industry remains low here compared to countries such as China, added Mr Ho, whose company runs hotels, resorts, spas and golf courses in 26 countries.
"Not long ago, I was in a remote part of China and I went to some little chain restaurant there. They already had no more cashiers - every single wait staff was using a portable device to give customers their cheque.
"I do not know many restaurants in Singapore which do that, most of them still use a cashier."
Based on his personal experience with Singaporeans in China and other countries, Mr Ho found that they sometimes do not measure up to foreigners in terms ofsocial skills.
"Their training in management and in the skills of hospitality is quite high, but what is lacking is some of the emotional intelligence to deal with culturally complex situations.
"I have also found to my disappointment that sometimes the perseverance of the Singaporean young managers is not high enough," he added.
In response, Mr Kevin Wee, senior lecturer of the poly's school of business management, feels the issue here may be about how employers have to adapt to the new generation of Singaporean workers.
"Last time, people would just accept things and do it, but people are more sophisticated now, they need to know the reason why they are doing things," he said.
While the hospitality sector here faces many challenges, enrolment for NYP's hospitality and tourism management diploma has actually doubled over the years. When introduced in 2006, it had 75 to 90 students. This has doubled to around 150 to 180 per batch since 2010.
Some students from NYP's hospitality and tourism management diploma course are not deterred by the relatively low wages.
Final-year student Jarrett Ng, 20, who did a six-month internship at Marina Bay Sands last year, said he wants to work in this field because he enjoys talking to people. "My concern is not really about the money right now. I think $1,500 or above per month is reasonable. I love interacting with people from all over the world - you do not get to do that if you work in an office."