It is clear that the ruling Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) Government are against the implementation of a minimum wage as proposed by the Workers’ Party. (WP). Indeed, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Koh Poh Koon had cited reasons ranging from fears of political auctioneering (however remote and irrelevant) and lavished praise on the Progressive Wage Model as justification of why a minimum wage scheme is not required. Given that Koh wears two hats in seeming conflict, as both MP and a labour union leader, is he more interested in protecting his political position over the livelihood of workers?
Whatever the case, it seems clear that the PAP are more interested in preserving the status quo then engaging in an in depth look at how things in the labour market may have changed.
Yet the latest contribution by our Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo has to really take the cake. According to the Minister, the implementation of a minimum wage in Singapore to address concerns about inequality could ultimately lead to lower levels of employment and workers turning to illegal jobs!
If I understand this correctly (using an analogy), she is saying that bringing an umbrella out on a cloudy day could lead to you accidentally snapping it in your face as you try to use it when it rains.
But surely, despite the remote and speculative risk of you sustaining minor injuries while opening your umbrella in the wind, you should still bring it out if it looks like it is going to rain right? After all, you are guaranteed to need shelter from the rain while snapping your face is an unlikely possibility.
At the end of the day, it is imperative to remember that the minimum salary of $1300 as proposed by the WP is not a high benchmark. It is quite literally the bare minimum required for workers to live a life of dignity and respect. As a former associate professor who taught at NUS for 30 years (1979 to 2009), Dr. Ho Ting Fei said:
“The priority should not be to defend the statistics and policies on why there should not be a minimum wage level… Instead, one should first consider how any one individual or family can survive on less than $1,300 a month when the cost of living in Singapore is notoriously high….$1,300 a month would not solve all their daily needs but it is a good start to give them some hope.”
Yet, instead of providing that good start, the PAP Government seems determined to side step the issue with a multitude of indirect reasons.
Readers ought to be reminded that shortly after the PAP won the general election in 2020, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, Grace Fu raised concerns about people not joining politics if political salaries are cut.
This means that while Dr Ho and members of WP are worried about the ability of the lower income Singaporeans to survive in Singapore on less than $1,300, PAP ministers are worried that people may not consider political office if the pay of ministers is cut further.
Let that sink in.
Let’s also remember how the Prime Minister’s wife, Ho Ching, appeared to make a dig at Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh’s decision to donate a proportion of his salary to charity.
Teo is the Minister for Manpower, surely she should have more concern for workers? Yet, she is using a remote scenario as a justification to keep wages low. This could create the impression that she is trying to toe the establishment line instead of putting the welfare of workers at the forefront.
With a union leader like Koh and a Minister for Manpower like Teo, what hopes do workers really have?