A sad story about the struggles of an older cleaner who only earns $ 20 / day has gone viral on social media and has collected around 20,000 shares.
Netizen Meng Shuen Koh shared his encounter with the old lady on Facebook on July 27th, although the post has since been removed.
In a series of Instagram stories, Koh wrote that the 82-year-old – referred to in the post as "Ah Umm" – wanted to go to Sentosa to find a higher-paying cleaning job ($ 10 / hour) than her current job at Tampines Hub hardly pays off to cover their meals and transportation costs.
She also revealed to him that she had four major cardiac surgeries, each of which would cost her about S $ 40,000. The old lady noticed that she had to sell her house to pay the exorbitant operating fees.
Her husband passed away and her only son died in an accident in the national service.
She alleged that the government had promised to pay compensation for the death of her deceased son (S $ 300 per month), but had not yet received a cent from the government to date.
Meng Shuan Koh's Instagram stories for “Ah Umm” / Photo credit: Singapore Stuff
In the post, Koh questioned Singapore's minimum wage model or its absence. He called the $ 5 / hour a "slave wage" and said that no one should do small work at this rate.
Although the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has clarified the position, it is still worth discussing the feasibility of a minimum wage model in Singapore.
In addition, several opposition parties such as the Workers' Party, the Peoples Voice Party, the National Solidarity Party and the Reform Party have pushed for minimum wage or living wage policies in their GE 2020 manifestos.
Why is there no minimum wage in S’pore?
More than 90 percent of the countries in the world have already introduced a minimum wage. Why doesn't Singapore do the same?
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed this multi-year issue in his online election rally on July 6, saying that demands for a minimum wage or universal basic income are "fashionable peace slogans, not serious war plans" related to the Covid 19 crisis .
He said a minimum wage would increase employers' costs and put pressure on them to release more workers.
Think of it this way: Who will pay for this wage increase?
Increasing wages increases operating costs for companies in Singapore if they have the same number of employees.
Companies could offset these costs either by absorbing the costs themselves or by passing them on to customers. This means that Singaporeans could see an increase in the cost of goods and services through the introduction of a minimum wage model.
Photo credit: Quickmeme
The second concern is that companies with higher wages may not be able to afford staff and therefore let them go to keep operating costs down. This could lead to an increase in unemployment.
Among other things, the government has argued that such a system would affect the competitiveness of Singapore's economy.
For example, PM Lee said at the first DBS Asia Leadership Dialogue in July 2013 that a minimum wage would not solve the problems of low-wage workers in Singapore.
My belief was that a minimum wage would not solve the problem.
If it's humble, it won't hurt and it won't do much good. If it is high, it will cost employers and unemployed low-wage workers. So you are not really solving his problem, but simply transferring it to another location.
– PM Lee in a DBS Asia Leadership Dialogue in 2013
The minimum wage is hardly a good sign for low-wage workers or the economy, especially in an export-dependent city like Singapore, where natural resources are minimal.
While the sole purpose of this model is to serve low-wage workers, it could ultimately hurt them.
Progressive wage model is a "ladder"
Instead of setting a minimum scale, Singapore is instead opting for a progressive wage model (PWM).
The PWM was introduced by the National Trade Union Congress in 2012 and requires workers to be paid a basic monthly wage based on their skill level.
The PWM aims to raise wages for the lowest 10 to 20 percent of wage earners in Singapore.
So far, PWM has been introduced in the areas of cleaning, landscape and security, although the government intends to expand it to the elevator maintenance and bus industry by the end of this year and eventually to all sectors.
For example, when it comes to Singaporeans and PRs in the cleaning sector, PWM states that general cleaners working in office, commercial, and F&B facilities will have a base salary of at least $ 1,236 per as of July 1, 2020 Need to earn month.
Progressive wage model for cleaning staff / Photo credit: Report on tripartite clusters for cleaning staff
For those who work in conservancy (e.g. city councilors), this is higher, with the basic wage being at least S $ 1,442.
Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on a live talk show on July 7 that PWM is a ladder whose minimum wage would only be the first step.
As part of PWM, workers are encouraged to raise a “ladder” with rising wages by acquiring more skills or taking on more responsibility.
This makes it a more sustainable alternative as it is not just a payoff, but also a ladder for another career.
Minister of Labor Josephine Teo / Photo credit: PAP
In some sectors, they value people differently so that they are willing to pay more. If we had a flat-rate minimum wage that is cross-industry, they won't in some sectors where companies can actually pay more.
What we want to do is much more than the minimum. In Singapore we ask ourselves: are (the workers) happy to earn the minimum, or would they actually prefer the opportunity to ascend to make progress?
– Minister of Labor Josephine Teo in a meeting "Straightforward conversation with PAP" on July 1st
She cited the example of high-profile security officers who could become security advisors.
In 2018, Ms. Teo also recalled that during her visit to Hong Kong, shortly after the introduction of a minimum wage, she found out from an older condominium security guard who was being displaced by a younger person.
Building management has expressed "a preference" for younger workers at the same minimum wage, she said.
Why repair what is not broken?
The PWM works as wages have increased over time.
The income of cleaners, security guards, and landscapers has increased by up to 36 percent between 2014 and 2019, although growth is slow and slow.
According to Tharman, low-wage workers in the 20th percentile of income leaders have seen real wages rise by almost 40 percent in the past 10 years.
The payment of these workers was about $ 1,500 a decade ago, and today it is $ 2,500. Adjusted for inflation, this corresponds to an increase of almost 40 percent.
He added that the government also provides workfare and the Special Employment Credit (SEC) – a wage subsidy for employers of older workers – that is up to 40 percent in addition to what employers pay workers.
For example, a 65-year-old cleaner, whose monthly basic income was $ 1,500, would receive another $ 333 under workfare and another $ 120 under SEC.
You don't even have to apply – this is done automatically based on your CPF payments.
In addition to workfare and the Special Employment Credit program, these employees also benefit from the Workfare Skills Support Scheme and the Silver Support Scheme.
It is important to note that in difficult times such as the current pandemic, no minimum wage or subsistence minimum can help low-wage workers.
If there is no work, there is no salary, there is no minimum wage to talk about when companies cannot pay their low-wage workers.
For this reason, government initiatives complement the PWM. In contrast to minimum wages or living wages, Singapore takes a multi-faceted approach to supporting our low-wage workers, which is particularly effective in times of need.
Food for thought: considerations to keep in mind
If we introduce a minimum wage law in Singapore, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may be the hardest hit. Many of these sectors employ those who are very likely to receive a minimum wage.
We should also keep in mind that there is no unemployment benefit in Singapore and that our social safety nets are employment-related.
Are we ready to deal with higher social needs associated with higher unemployment?
If we introduce a minimum wage law in Singapore, are we ready to introduce an unemployment benefit system like most countries have?
If we have an unemployment benefit system, our supplementary income support system, which provides additional financial support to those on low income, may no longer be attractive because workers can choose between unemployment benefit and unemployment benefit, which undermines our national work ethic.
And if we introduced a minimum wage law, would it apply to citizens, permanent residents and foreigners alike?
So many of our low-income jobs in Singapore are taken over by foreign workers because they are not what most Singaporeans want to do.
Good luck trying to deviate from the international standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to justify that only locals receive a minimum wage.
Even if we find reason, there is no obstacle for employers who are more likely to employ permanent residents and foreigners who are now less expensive than an employee in Singapore.
Selected image source: NTUC this week