Employers, change for your low-wage workers’ sake!

If you do not know by now, Singapore’s economy and employment landscape is undergoing a change.


With the global economy slowing down, authorities and analysts have been calling on businesses and employers to change the way they operate and how they engage employees.


In his maiden Budget, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat introduced measures to help Low Wage Workers in the form of enhancements to the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) amongst other initiatives and measures.

From January 2017, the qualifying income ceiling will be raised and the payouts increased. The qualifying criteria for WIS will also be simplified. Workers will receive monthly payouts instead of quarterly.


But more than this, Labour Movement Member of Parliament Zainal Sapari thinks that there needs to be a longer-term solution to help low-wage workers.

He highlighted during the debate on the Budget in Parliament how workers in the low-wage sectors have been facing stagnating or little wage increases over the years. This would mean that the real income of these workers are in actual fact declining.

What these workers really need is some form of annual increase in wages that is sustainable. What’s more, this same group of workers often find difficulty in attending training and skills upgrading courses either due to a lack of motivation because of their age or other difficulties.

As such, Mr Zainal, who is also NTUC’s Assistant Secretary General, reiterated his call for the legislation of the National Wage Council’s (NWC) recommendations, the payment of the 13th month bonus and the giving out of annual increments for workers within the cleaning, security and landscape sectors.

Often, unfair contracts for outsourced services cause workers to suffer. Service providers not only find ways to cut corners, but also find difficulty in embarking on productivity efforts.

“While I am calling for contracts to be of longer duration, I would like to discourage the practice of having an Option to Extend at the same terms and conditions,” he said. This, he said causes the wages of low-wage workers to stagnate if there is no variation in the contract price.

But merely paying workers more is not a sustainable way to go. Surely, other factors such as improving productivity and work processes come into play to accompany increases in remuneration.

Hence, industry transformation as one of the key highlights of this years’s Budget is quite the way to go for employers to pay more wages sustainably.

Mr Zainal added that for industry transformation to happen in the clean, green and safe sectors, 4 Ms are needed:

  • Mindset change – encourage a productivity mindset in designing buildings at the outset; encourage longer-term service contracts to incentivise greater adoption of technology.
  • Methods change – Concerted efforts must be made to explore the potential of aggregating demand for services.
  • Man – Through SkillsFuture, employees can be better trained to leverage on technology.
  • Machine – Investments in training and machines will be less risky and bring greater productivity.


Indeed, there has to be more concerted plans and efforts to change the lives of these low-wage workers through more than one way.


“Bolder steps to negotiate the glaring disparities between low-wage workers and the majority of the Singaporean workforce”, as Mr Zainal puts it.

After all, the old adage goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

Image Credits: Channel NewsAsia, Channel NewsAsia, Channel NewsAsia.

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Arthur Lee

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