Do Low Wage Workers Get Enough Help?


In recent years, many have questioned how much help low wage workers get, if any at all.

I came across this FB post of a friend who shared how being poor had initially taken a toll on his dreams and family relationships.

Irwan is a sole breadwinner with a family of 3 school-going children.

Earning an income of less than $2,000 a month with previous jobs in the outsourcing industry meant that his income could fluctuate, and he had lower CPF savings than a worker earning the median income of $3,250 (MOM, 2013).

His situation caused his family to be denied multiple BTO applications by HDB. He mentioned that reasons given were because his income was relatively unstable and he had insufficient CPF savings to be eligible.

With no place to call their own, Irwan’s family had to sleep in the living rooms of their parents’ flats. At first he stayed in his parents’ flat with his brother’s family till lack of space and conflict forced them to move to his wife’s parents’ flat, which was no better as she had 3 brothers staying under the same roof.

Irwan worked long hours and had little time for his family.

His wife often cried due to pressure from their parents to move out, but multiple BTO rejections smashed their hopes of homeownership again and again. On top of all these, his family faced financial difficulties and relationship with his wife and children was strained.

Irwan had dreams. Not lofty ones of cars or club memberships,  but a humble dream. A dream so simple many of us take for granted: to have a blissful life with his family, where they live happily together in their own flat. One where he gets to spend quality time with his loved ones without having to work endless hours to make ends meet.

After facing a pay cut of $500 in his last job in the outsourced industry, Irwan found a new job in a unionized company.

He summoned up the courage to write to Dr Khaw Boon Wan about his difficulty in getting a flat. To his surprise, Dr Khaw’s secretary called him to arrange a meeting with Dr Khaw about his housing issues. Six months later, Irwan collected his keys to a 2 room BTO.

His unwillingness to give in to despair made him braver in chasing after things he really wanted for his family, which is a job that gives better work-life balance and a place to call their own.

Low wage workers like him need to know that the system is not failing or dismissing them, but if they fight at it, they will see the fruits of their labour and not be turned away without alternatives simply because they “don’t qualify”.

It should not be the case where the poor only receive assistance after writing in to the ministers, but this should begin at the first points of contact.

Are our government agencies and stat boards adequately equipped to ensure hardworking Singaporeans like Irwan do not fall through the cracks? Are civil servants who process similar cases given proper support from the higher rungs to do their job well?

Perhaps we should look deeper than broad-ranging policies, down to the humble front-line customer service officer who face many complaints and abuses from the public which may distract them from real cases like Irwan’s.







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