Employers in heartland urged to hire people with disabilities

President Halimah Yacob flanked by Thong Siek Food Industry deputy chief operating officer Lim Xiao Fei (left) and Mr Neo Kah Kiat, founder, chairman and chief executive of Neo Group, at the Thong Siek Food Industry facility yesterday. Thong Siek is
President Halimah Yacob flanked by Thong Siek Food Industry deputy chief operating officer Lim Xiao Fei (left) and Mr Neo Kah Kiat, founder, chairman and chief executive of Neo Group, at the Thong Siek Food Industry facility yesterday. Thong Siek is part of Neo Group. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

More employers in the heartland should look into providing job opportunities for persons with disabilities, President Halimah Yacob said yesterday.

This would allow them to overcome constraints such as long commutes or issues with taking public transport, so they can seek jobs and become meaningfully employed, she added.

Madam Halimah encouraged more employers in Housing Board estates, and not just those in industrial areas, to look at processes and redesign jobs to make them more accessible to those with disabilities.

"These are small steps, but they go a long way in creating a fairer society," she said.

Madam Halimah was speaking after a visit to Thong Siek Food Industry's facility in Senoko Way, in Woodlands, where she was led on a tour of its manufacturing processes for food items such as fishballs, fishcakes and crabsticks.

The company has tapped technology to improve its productivity and efficiency, such as using QR codes to track the amount of raw material in the inventory as well as machines to automate some work processes like vacuum packing.

Thong Siek is one of 144 companies that have signed the President's Challenge Enabling Employment Pledge so far.

The pledge signifies a commitment to providing more training and employment opportunities to persons with disabilities.

Madam Halimah also stressed the importance of having a culture in the workplace where co-workers and management support staff with disabilities, pointing out Thong Siek as a good example.

"I think that is really very encouraging, I hope more employers will do that so we build a truly inclusive workplace that will contribute towards a very inclusive Singapore," she said.

Madam Halimah spoke to several of the staff who have disabilities, including 26-year-old Chan Wei Ling, a production operator who has mild autism and who was the company's first person with disability to be hired two years ago.

The company now employs five persons with disabilities between the ages of 20 and 26, who all have mild autism, among its production staff of 120.

Their duties include packing yong tau foo pieces and picking out defective items such as irregularly shaped fishballs.

Ms Chan said she enjoyed the job as it allowed her to interact with her friends at work, and she enjoyed picking up new skills.

When she began her role packing 10 assorted yong tau foo pieces into a package, Ms Chan could correctly place only one or two pieces. With time and training, she can now confidently pack all 10 pieces accurately, said Thong Siek deputy chief operating officer Lim Xiao Fei.

The company plans to hire 10 more persons with disabilities by the end of this year, said Ms Lim.

The turnover rate for persons with disabilities is lower than those of other workers, she added.

"It's a very stable workforce so we want to continue to grow this workforce in our production (staff)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2021, with the headline 'Employers in heartland urged to hire people with disabilities'. Subscribe