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Selling Tissue At Food Centres – The Next Industry In Singapore To Face Foreign Competition

Competition is rising even in the least expected industry.

Last week, we read in the Sunday Times that the latest industry facing stiff competition from “foreign talents” for jobs is the tissue-packet-selling industry at food centres and coffeeshops.

We thought the report was interesting and taught us a few things. It reminds us that any “profitable business” is always susceptible to new entrants in the market. And believe it or not, indicators reported by the Sunday Times suggested that selling tissue paper is far more lucrative than most of us realize.

A job that that pays a decent salary. 

According to the article, people selling packets of tissue paper can earn anywhere from $20 to $100 day for a few hours of work. If we take the average value ($60) and assume 3 hours of work each day, the salary per hour works out to be a very decent $20.

A seller could expect to make about $1,440 for 24 working days of 3 hours per day each month. Not too bad, especially when you consider that there isn’t really much economic value created compared to other jobs such as a cleaner or a security guard.

Singapore, an open economy

Our government never fails to remind us that Singapore is an open economy. And part and parcel of being an open economy includes a very open labour market. To ensure we retain our competitiveness, we are always taught to be cheaper, faster and better, and that applies to everything, including selling packets tissue paper.

A more able-bodied foreigner who can cover ground more quickly would be able to reach out to more patrons at food centres and coffeeshops, thus, increasing their revenue. And because people are unlikely to make multiple purchases of tissue packets, this appears to be one of those finite, first-come-first-serve market.

Taking care of our elderly

We respect and empathise with the elderly in our society who are working hard to provide for themselves and their dependents in some cases, especially in our increasingly expensive country. Having to walk around for a few hours each day while lugging around huge plastic bag full of packets of tissue paper is not easy for some of the elderly people selling them. Doing so at an old age and possibly, with disabilities, makes it so much harder.

Being “self-employed”, these elderly citizens have no access to the type of Human Resources perks that the rest of us take for granted. No paid medical leaves when they are ill, no annual leave entitlements and no medical coverage.

And now, foreign competitors vying with them in the industry.

What can be done?

Even if they want to, it is difficult for any government legislation to help these elderly folks who are in the business. This is because sellers are required to have a license to sell tissue paper.

According to NEA, only 11 such licenses have been granted to sell packets of tissue paper. As such, we think it is safe to assume that foreigner or not, most of the sellers plying their trade are doing so illegally anyway.

Because most are plying their trade illegally, there isn’t much the government can do to help them. We believe that the government’s requirement for licenses to be applied for is to protect the local citizens, and maybe even, to render them further assistance via referring them to social welfare groups.

However, most do not do so, and are thus, left to fend on their own.

Singaporeans can do our parts by helping locals. By simply not purchasing packets of tissue paper from non-locals or able bodied people, we can ensure that only the most needy are able to sell their packets. We can also inform local sellers about the need to apply and get a license from the NEA so that they can continue plying their trade legally, and at the same time, get access to further social help if they are in hardship.

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