Workers’ Party (WP) politician, Jamus Lim (Lim), has clarified the use of the words “folksy wisdom” in Parliament.
“To be clear, my statement was about the beliefs held by some union leaders about the minimum wage, as cited by National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon. While there is a role for opinion based on personal experience, I maintain that good policy should be formulated on the basis of data-driven empirical evidence. It is important not to conflate the two – that is, using an opinion to refute a study.“
For those unaware, Lim, who is an elected member of parliament (MP) for Sengkang GRC had used the term to hammer home the WP’s point on the necessity of a minimum wage policy in Singapore saying that the 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”.
Instead of focusing on the merits of the WP’s arguments, some have chosen to only focus on his turn of phrase to take things personally – former president of the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU), Nasordin B. Mohd Hashim (who wrote to ST Forum to criticise Lim for belittling union leaders (‘Forum: Jamus Lim’s remarks belittle work of unionists‘), being one of them).
Yet, why are these critics refusing to see the bigger picture? No one is saying that the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) does not work. Neither is anyone saying that it was a bad policy. All that is being suggested is that we need to consider a more holistic approach. Times have changed and things continue to evolve. What’s wrong with considering changes? We would have a serious problem in policy making in this country if any suggestion for change is taken so badly.
By fixating on a turn of phrase and making that the focus of discussion rather than the policy itself is a missed opportunity.
The minimum salary of $1300 is not high – far from it. It is quite literally the bare minimum to live a basic comfortable life in Singapore. Upskilling concerns as raised by National Trades Union Congress Deputy Secretary-General Koh Poh Koon are separate issues. Why can’t elements of the PWM (such as the upskilling ones) work in conjunction with a base minimum wage?
Looking at Koh’s argument against a minimum wage (him saying that it could create a “political auction“) is also a strange argument for a union chief. Unless he is speaking as someone wearing two hats trying to balance the two (he is also MP for Tampines GRC). Should a union chief really be allowed to be an MP too? Doesn’t this sound like a conflict of interest?
Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong had earlier in the year exhorted the WP to come up with alternative policies. It now has. But instead of arguing on the merits of the policy, argument is now centred around figures of speech, thereby missing the forest for the trees.