...supported by a grant from enterprise development agency Spring Singapore. Mr Lim, who was given a tour of Ruyi's kitchen at...
Mr Png Cheong Boon, chief executive of Spring Singapore, said such innovation will also make work 'more meaningful...
BUSINESSES facing a short supply of workers should increase output through innovation - just like the restaurant which uses robot woks.
That was the message from labour chief Lim Swee Say yesterday.
Instead of being too dependent on unskilled foreign workers in the tight labour market, they should follow the example of Chinese fast-food chain Ruyi and explore new ways of increasing production with fewer workers, he said.
The Straits Times reported yesterday how the $18,000 robot woks fry rice and noodles using a mechanical arm that stirs the food while the wok automatically gyrates to toss the ingredients.
Another chain, Lerk Thai, will start using one at its Bedok Point branch when it opens this month.
Speaking during a visit to a Ruyi restaurant, National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Mr Lim said such innovations will help 'maximise economic gain, minimise social cost and sustain wage increase for workers'.
His comments follow the Government's tightening of foreign worker flow into the country in recent months and social discontent voiced during last year's recession towards the foreign workers influx.
They also echo the Economic Strategies Committee's recommendation earlier this year that improvements in productivity should account for two-thirds of gross domestic product growth over the next 10 years. Mr Lim said: 'The food service industry in Singapore today employs more than 80,000 workers but in terms of the output productivity, it is only about one-third of the national average so there is still a lot it can do.'
The value-added per worker for the food and beverage sector is $22,300, while the national average is $89,800.
To reduce manpower and increase efficiency, Ruyi, which has outlets in Resorts World Sentosa and Changi Airport Terminal 1, began using automated cooking equipment earlier this year. It spent about $200,000 per outlet to bring in four types of kitchen appliances from Japan, including the robot woks. Each outlet has two.
Ruyi's semi-automated kitchen has reduced the number of workers per outlet from 20 to 14 and cut the food preparation time for a bowl of noodles, for example, from eight minutes to two minutes.
Part of its technology investment cost was supported by a grant from enterprise development agency Spring Singapore. Mr Lim, who was given a tour of Ruyi's kitchen at Resorts World Sentosa, donned an apron to 'cook' fried rice by adding ingredients to the robot wok. He later ate some, and said it tasted 'good'.
He added that workers should not worry about losing their jobs to machines.
'We are not talking about using fewer workers to produce the same output but rather, we are talking about using more workers to produce even more output. So with all this use of technology, we can grow the economic pie even faster than the growth of the workforce.'
Mr Png Cheong Boon, chief executive of Spring Singapore, said such innovation will also make work 'more meaningful and less strenuous'.