Last Thursday (15 October), Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Sengkang GRC, Jamus Lim has joined a heated debate over a minimum wage that sparked in Parliament between MP from People’s Action Party (PAP) and WP.
During the debate, the MPs have raised arguments that whether academic studies done on minimum wage are relevant.
Criticising WP’s proposal of setting up a universal minimum wage of $1,300 could lead to unemployment, PAP’s MP for Tampines GRC Koh Poh Koon argued that the tripartite partners already look at data in their discussions, but the practical considerations of implementing minimum wage may be challenging.
“Research, reams and reams of data and research is good, but in practice, it’s always harder to do because there are practical considerations,” Dr Koh said.
He also brought up Hokkien idioms used by a union member to illustrate this and the colloquial wisdom lying behind these phrases.
To this, Associate Professor Lim noted that WP’s proposal is based on studies that show that a minimum wage does not lead to an increase in unemployment, and is not based on “folksy wisdom and beliefs of labour union leaders”.
“With all due respect, as much as it will be lovely to always rely on folksy wisdom and beliefs by labour union leaders, at the same time, it’s important to realise that when we talk about studies that show that the minimum wage does not lead to any appreciable increase in unemployment, this is based on careful consideration and not just beliefs.”
However, the term of “folksy” that used by Assoc Prof Lim in Parliament appears to have triggered strong response from some of the union leaders as they felt that his remark “belittling the work of unionists”.
Policy should be formulated on the basis of data-driven empirical evidence, says Jamus Lim
In response, Assoc Prof Lim took to his Facebook page on Saturday (17 October) to make a clarification about his argument over the basis for minimum wage policy.
He clarified that his argument on “folksy wisdom” was about the beliefs held by some union leaders about the minimum wage, as cited by Dr Koh.
He continued, “While there is a role for opinion based on personal experience, policy should be formulated on the basis of data-driven empirical evidence. It is important not conflate the two, by using an opinion to refute a study.”
Although “most of the unions have had symbiotic ties to the PAP for decades”, Assoc Prof Lim however stressed that there are many areas where he respect the views of union leaders, such as their empathetic representation of workers under their charge, their ability to negotiate with business owners, and their hard work in support of workers’ rights.
“My disagreement in this instance in no way diminishes my regard for unionists in these other ways, nor does it take away from my appreciation of their work in the past,” he noted.