Increasing low wages: no longer a choice

A recent article on the NWC’s latest wage guidelines went completely unnoticed among those who, like me, closely follow labour and social affairs in Singapore. I thought it would be good to highlight how important this headline is for all the efforts and initiatives currently taking form to champion better wages in Singapore.

To be honest, after the guidelines were released, I had some reservations on the real impact they would have. As in previous years, the guidelines are not legally binding, and the NWC has no power to make employers implement its recommendations.

Given the fact that very few non-unionised companies adopted last year’s recommendations for a $50 wage hike, what were the odds of things being different this year, right?

That’s why this happy piece of news really brought back my optimism!

Especially in the case of cleaners, who are essentially an outsourced workforce, the proposition to create a mandatory licensing requirement beginning in 2014 could set many hearts at ease. The minimum increment of $60 for workers earning up to $1,000 a month would help some 69,000 cleaners cope with the pace of inflation, whose median wage is currently only $815.

NTUC’s plans, however, remain “subject to us convincing our tripartite partners”, who don’t seem too keen on being forced to abide by such guidelines.

Taking cue from the labour movement’s announcement, heads of associations in the security industry (another low-wage sector) expressed concern that similar requirements would soon be imposed on them.

T. Mogan, President of the Security Association of Singapore is one of them, and his worry is that a mandatory pay rise would put additional strain on companies, especially since basic pay in the security sector is exponentially enhanced by long overtime hours: “There is a possibility that they will try,” president of the Association of Certified Security Agencies, Robert Wiener was quoted as saying.

Indeed, according to Lim Swee Say, Secretary General of NTUC, “Once the cleaners are put on this track, we believe that it will actually encourage other sectors to do likewise—whether it’s the security sector or landscaping and so on.”

During the “I Care for My Cleaners” launch event, NTUC’s Unit for Contract and Casual Workers Director Zainal Sapari said that the campaign aimed to “encourage employers to also give recognition to other low-wage worker groups”. “To me, how we treat our cleaners and others in the service industry is a reflection of how gracious and civic-minded we are as an individual and as a society.” — How true!

Maybe if more people thought like Mr Sapari compulsory wage increases wouldn’t be necessary. What we really need to do is to make jobs easier, safer and smarter… and also pressure the companies to pay higher through the sharing of cost savings.

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