Let me start with… a story:
“There was once a man who had a vineyard that needed harvesting. At 6am, he went out into the town to hire labourers. He cried out to the town folks, “those of you who work for me will be paid $100 for the day’s work.” Now this was a good wage, and so some of the men followed him.
Later at 9am, he went into town again and saw more unemployed labourers, and so he hired those on the same terms.
At 5pm, he went into town and saw even more unemployed labourers who idled their time away, or were having a game of dice. He asked “why are you here?” To which they replied, “because no one is willing to hire us.” The man hired these labourers on the same terms.
When the harvest was complete, the foreman paid each man $100 just as he was promised. The men who began work at 6am grumbled, “Those who were hired last worked only for an hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
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This story of the 11th hour draws parallels with the conflict some 3rd generation Singaporeans have with new citizens. Fairness (or perception of unfairness) is the height of contention here. Some argue for a form of benefit in favour of 3rd generation Singaporeans over the new citizens.
What then, were the thoughts of the 2nd generation Singaporeans (the 12 noon and 3pm labourers) when online xenophobia raged? Some of them remembered their roots, and stood up against xenophobia, not just for their own sake but for the very reason that it is wrong.
For 3rd generation Singaporeans (the 6am labourers) our forefathers came to these shores many years ago. They have worked the land for 3 generations to make it what it is today. We perceive that in lieu of our longer hours committed to this land, we ought to be paid a better wage.
Today, our unhappiness isn’t only about foreigners and new citizens enjoying our standards of education, housing, healthcare, jobs and prosperity – it is about the perceived unfairness when we see them enjoying the fruits of our labour when they only began to work the land at the 11th hour.
The answer to this problem lies deeper in the story. When the man went out into the town at 12 noon, 3pm and 5pm, the workers sitting around town were unemployed and idle. They had no certainty of employment or when their next meal will be. The workers who begun work at the earliest hour, suffered no such uncertainty. And as for us, we have already won the embryonic lottery. Our forefathers enjoyed watching us grow up in an environment brimming with opportunities, with promises of a better future than they.
Reality of Competition
Competition is a bitch it is true. We hear of high unemployment rates in Europe and America. We know the rest of the world is also seeking better life, better jobs – maybe even looking for a stepping stone. It is the governments job to weed out who’s fit and who’s not, and to regulate their numbers. Competition is good, but not so much competition that it makes life depressingly unpleasant.
In an ideal world, the workforce would understand the importance of competition and embrace it wholeheartedly. It keeps labour on it’s toes, perform their best and deliver results. But we cannot be too dogmatic about it. Wives, parents, children – these are people that depend on breadwinners and when real jobs are threatened, there is a need to be sensitive to livelihoods. Balance between progress and reality must be performed carefully and pragmatically.
Reward for work
We do however, feel that life does not have to be as bitterly realistic as the story above. Depending on what jobs our seniors have taken on in their lives, appropriate corporate pensions, rewards and appreciative gestures are not too much to ask for. For the economically unproductive, uneducated and those who have made unfortunate choices in life, I believe that continued labour is inevitable, but there is nothing wrong with helping make life a little better for them – and in these areas, we believe this country can do more of.
There is a difference between the story told above, and real life. In the real world, the harvest is never finished, Singapore will never be “complete, we will never have “arrived”, we will always be work-in-progress.