Labour MPs: Working for the labour force

With all this debate about the Wage Credit Scheme, minimum wage and other labour-related issues, I was curious to find out what the Labour MPs had to say during the budget debate. These are some of the highlights:

1.       Zainal Sapari, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, on the Wage Credit Scheme:

Zainal wants companies to leverage on WCS to offer higher wage increases or more bonuses to their low wage workers.

He said that Government should lead by example and give higher performance bonus to low wage workers in the civil service. He proposed for low wage workers earning below $1,900 to be given a much higher performance bonus rate than compared to those at the executive levels.

There is the concern that, yes, service providers want to provide better wages to staff… and all service buyers want to offer a better tender amount, but not at the expense of losing business and the competitive edge.

The Progressive Wage Model will help low wage workers obtain salary increases based on a wage ladder concept – meaning they up-skills, improve productivity and get ahead in their jobs – thereby earning better salaries over time.

He proposed that Government make licensing, and the implementation of a Progressive Wage Model in this licensing, a requirement for companies to operate in sectors like cleaning, landscape, and security, where there are many low wage workers.

Our thoughts: It’s true. Why would a company pay more for a cleaning contractor? Let’s be honest, do the companies care about how much you pay your workers? We don’t live in an ideal world. While the WCS may work for some sectors, he was right in pointing out that it’s not a silver bullet to solve the bigger problem at hand. His suggestion to mandate PWM sounds reasonable, especially in sectors where WCS may be even detrimental to the survival of such businesses.

 2.       Patrick Tay, MP for Nee Soon GRC, on helping PMEs:

Tay was concerned with the high volume of PMEs who are FTs in certain sectors and industries.

He shared about how he met a mature PME in his fifties who was retrenched and replaced by an FT on expat package.

He advocated  that Government raise the S-pass minimum salary to $2,200 and making the EP criteria stricter to protect the jobs and livelihood of our junior to mid-level PMEs, which include many middle income households.

He was also glad that Government has taken NTUC’s call for labour market testing as well as having a Foreign PME Dependency Ratio. The Labour Market Test is for companies to prove that they have done all they can to ensure that no Singaporean can be found to fill a particular job vacancy before they are allowed to employ an FT, something already practiced in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (the foreign PME dependency ratio is for particular sectors and industries with a high number of foreign PMEs).

Tay was pleasantly surprised that the Wage Credit Scheme has been extended to those who earn up to $4,000 per month as he felt it will benefit junior to mid-level PMEs, including PMEs entering the workforce earning between $2,000 and $4,000 per month.

Our thoughts: Tay basically had a field day in Parliament as the policies he had been advocating have taken shape. It is important that Parliament also focuses on PME-specific issues also. People tend to forget that the “sandwiched class” needs an advocate too, so this is great!

3.       Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State for PMO, on assisting mature workers:

Heng said that the employment rate of workers aged 55 to 64 increased from 56.2% in 2007 to 64% in 2012.

He felt this was good as Singapore cannot depend on a free flow of cheaper foreign manpower forever. If that persists, he believed the pay of our low-wage workers would never increase, and our middle-income PMEs will also face unfair competition from FTs.

He asked that tripartite discussions kick off the extension of the re-employment age band from the current (62 to 65) to (62 to 67) to address the needs of the tight labour market.

Heng wants policies that enable workplace healthcare cost-sharing and insurance arrangements to ensure mature workers are more affordable and equitable to both workers and employers.

He felt more can be done to motivate and assist older workers in staying healthy through policy and funding.

Our thoughts: For one, it’s encouraging to see older workers re-joining the workforce and contributing positively to keep the economy afloat. While it may seem that older people just want to live off pensions and enjoy a laidback life in their ‘twilight years’, there are actually many who still want to work to feel useful in society. Obviously, it’s one thing to ask of older workers to keep working, but it takes a collective effort that should be led by the G to ensure that older workers have the means to be in good health in order to be productive workers.

  1. @Alvin

    Re: old workers, it’s one thing to opt to work of your own free will, it’s another to work out of desperation. The former is very fulfilling, the latter makes people frustrated with life (AFAIK based on what people tell me about psychology research). I’m not sure how we can change people’s attitudes towards these things – obviously the low satisfaction with jobs here in Singapore shows that this attitude is well alive, and maybe even growing – but if we force people to work in their old age out of desperation, you can be sure our old folks won’t be a happy bunch.

    Re: PWM or other government labour related things – I just want to say that our local labour guys have a track record of making all the right sounds while actual conditions reflect nothing of the sort. Reading the CNA article – I see a lot of lofty aspirations, but no concrete targets again. Frankly, I expect more wayang. I hope very much to be disappointed.

    I think some of our problems in Singapore are much deeper than can be fixed by some quick fixes in skills upgrading, wage adjustments, etc. One thing is satisfaction with work – too many Singaporeans don’t enjoy that. Perhaps that is a corollary of intense capitalism and competition (the opportunity cost of pursuing passions, dreams, leisure is too high). I can entirely see why lots of people would choose to reside somewhere else than Singapore. The other thing is the way our civil service has become seriously wayang. Partly it’s because our leadership can’t afford to admit mistakes – the closest they come are some vague apologies during elections, or when talking about “safe” topics in the 1980s (Stop at Two?). So – two cultural problems here for Singapore, which I suggest lie at the root of many frustrations and dis-satisfactions with life here. Not so easy to fix, eh?

  2. Hi eremarf,

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    With regard to your first point, what I’ve experienced through my observations both at home and abroad and speaking with people in general, more often than not senior citizens actually do want to work and contribute to the economy if they are able to, health-wise. It gives them that sense of fulfilment you were talking about. For the older workers working out of desperation, that’s an unfortunate outcome of the system and this also happens in other developed economies. That’s why I think it’s important to continue creating employment opportunities for mature workers so that they can live independently even in old age.

    As for PWM, while many details still need to be worked out, it’s a step in the right direction IMHO. There are many other factors to take into consideration if you wanted to look at the macro issues. However, the focus of my article was to take a look only at what’s being done to help workers in Singapore.

    Thanks for your insights though, it’s great to hear you’re also passionate about these issues. :D

    – AL

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