An article on Today “low-wage workers working like ‘slaves’, says labour MP”, dated 14 February seems to have twisted the headline of the Member of Parliament’s blogpost.
In it, he said: “when the circumstances of being poor force you to ‘work till you die’, that means you have become beholden to those circumstances – a form of slavery in itself.”
He did not refer to the low-wage workers as slaves, but the act of taking advantage of the workers by the “unscrupulous employers, who exploit this group’s ignorance of their employment rights“, as “slavery of the poor“.
It is also not the first time in which he has used the term “slavery of the poor”.
In the 2012 Budget debate, he said the practice of cheap sourcing ad led to to the salaries of the low-wage workers being cut, and that such “gross injustice and slavery of the poor must stop“.
Again, in 2016, he said in another blogpost that he was shocked to learn that cleaners at that time were paid $600 a month. He said: “To me, this amounted to slavery of the most vulnerable and it must end.”
He has been known to be a fierce fighter of the low-wage workers in Parliament and has been voicing out support for actions to be taken to better the lives of this vulnerable group of workers.
NTUC, together with its tripartite partners introduced the Progressive Wage Models for the Cleaning, Security and Landscaping Sectors – traditionally low-wage sectors.
And the results have shown the efficacy of the scheme. From 2012 to 2017, the wages of the 20th percentile show the largest increase.
Today’s article also saw Zainal clarify that “his choice of words was partly meant to draw attention to the situation and raise public awareness“.
“they unfortunately have to take what is given to them, they are not in any bargaining position.” – Zainal Sapari
The point is, he was reiterating a point that many of these workers do not have a free rein to decide what can or cannot do, and also their employment rights.
In no way, was he trying to refer to low-wage workers as “slaves”, as what the writer of Today’s article alluded.