Blue-collar blues

Blue-collar occupations have always been somewhat devalued in Singapore. Uniformed work, when compared to cushy desk jobs, has suffered from a negative image, as if the people doing these jobs weren’t capable of doing better jobs or as if their contribution to society wasn’t important.

Need some proof? Simply read some of the articles on why some Singaporean women consider blue-collar workers to be “beneath them”…

Obviously these people don’t know what they’re talking about: many blue-collar jobs are pretty well paid. Sure, the job itself may not be conducted in an air-conditioned office, but that doesn’t mean it’s less valuable.

Nowadays many taxi drivers used to be bankers and real-estate agents used to be lawyers. Many people who have gone through such career changes will attest to the fact that they’re making a lot more money now than they used to, and with half the pressure!

Even they will admit that their new job is far less glamorous, but it sure “pays the bills”!

It seems that the college degree (that money can sometimes buy) no longer guarantees success.

Even degree holders aren’t immune to layoffs and the starting pay for graduates have begun paling compared to certain menial jobs.

This isn’t as pronounced in Singapore as abroad yet though, where the trend for years has witnessed an increasing appreciation for manual labourers.

In Australia, for example, a mover I know operates alone can charge $100 AUD an hour for his moving services. He uses a few nifty devices (levers and trolleys and such) for making his work easy and has strength enough to efficiently move a 3-bedroom apartment’s contents in half a day all by himself.

He works 3 days a week and spends the rest of his time swimming or at the gym. I remember musing that he earned more than a graduate would at a bank—for the first 3 years at least. He also seemed really happy with his career.

Contrast this to movers in Singapore who appear to have rather thankless jobs—they earn a fraction of the money and put in a lot more hours. Compared to their Japanese counterparts who exhibit an inordinate level of pride and skill in their work (as the Japanese are wont to do), movers in Singapore may still have plenty of room to grow.

 Also, as of last year, blue-collar workers have been identified as Australia’s “new rich”. The miners, tradesmen and construction workers of Australia have surpassed their white-collared peers in terms of earning power, making a weekly average of $1229 AUD—a record $144 more than desk-bound workers!

I guess all this has a lot to do with personal pride, job satisfaction, respect, and the like. Window cleaning for instance most likely makes the top 10 list of thankless jobs here. After all, we’ve seen our share of uniformed men on suspended platforms risking their lives for spotless windows. Considering the literal job hazard they face, these men receive far less gratitude than they are owed—not to mention monetary compensation!

In the US, however, some remarkable window washers manage to not only be good at what they do, they also derive joy and meaning from their mundane cleaning tasks. Some of them even dress up as superheroes to bring smiles to the faces of convalescing children in the hospital they work at.

In Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam appealed to the greater population this time last year with regard to treating blue collar jobs with respect, “We cannot just be a society of real estate agents, insurance agents, bankers and office workers. The most advanced societies don’t run that way.”— how true!

Here are some other interesting thoughts on the local white and blue collar situation. While things are not ideal, it really just means that plenty of improvements can be made.

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