Ullah Jafar

It starts with a simple question to a worker coming by TWC2’s Cuff Road Project: “Of all bosses you worked for, got good boss?”

Jafar, who has worked in five different companies and for five corresponding bosses, replies firmly, “Ya, have”.

It is a surprising, yet at the same time, a heart-warming reply. Having been a volunteer for three months, I have dealt with issues that were, in contrast to his answer, frankly discouraging and disappointing. But I guess in the darkness, light always prevails.

I decide to expand on the topic. It should be interesting to see what qualities workers consider when they say their boss is good or bad. Along the way, I find out that they define “boss” as the one who directly controls their pay and work schedule, so it may not necessarily refer to the owner of the company.

I ask Jafar, “So, why do you think that boss was good?”

“That boss,” says Jafar, was an 80 year-old Chinese man named Mr Ong. Jafar enthuses that this boss always gave him his salary on time, paid his salary correctly, progressively increased his pay, gave annual bonuses, and distributed red packets (containing about $20) each Chinese New Year. Also importantly, “his talking is nicely to me”.

Not a very high bar for winning the opinion of workers, I think to myself.

Work-life balance

I ask a few more workers if they had good bosses and what they thought of them. One of them replies, “Yes, I have a very good boss now!”

His face beams with delight as he speaks. What a strange feeling – an overwhelming sensation of joy! His name is Dubel, and he works for a maintenance company. Dubel describes his bosses as an old Chinese couple in their 70s, and he has been working for them for five months.

Without any prompting, Dubel excitedly checks off his reasons for liking them: salary paid promptly, occasional treats to McDonald’s, placed in airconditioned accommodation, strict 9-6 working hours, weekends to himself. This is the first for me – a migrant worker who enjoys work-life balance! I ask Dubel how his bosses interact with him and his colleagues. He replies, “If we make mistake, of course they scolding, but after that no more, they speak OK OK to us.”

If there are similarities in the characteristics of “good bosses” that we can draw from the stories of Jafar and Dubel, old Chinese bosses is not one to be singled out (although it is undeniably striking). But what we can see is that being a good boss for the migrant workers is not a tall order, and it is one that every Singaporean would expect: one that pays consistently; one that treats his subordinates with respect; one that directs and supervises with reasonable judgment and wisdom.

It should also be a no-brainer that workers’ morale is directly proportional to productivity and excellence at work, so one should see that being a good boss is a matter of self-interest too.

Dubel and Jafar take their leave to go get their dinner. I finish up my notes from the interviews. The glow sticks with me for a while more, for it is a delight to hear that we have such bosses in Singapore. More, we hope, will one day follow suit.

Jafar = 13167. For Dubel, see email thread Good Boss Story, 14 May 2024