Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, has drawn intense criticism for her recent comments on the pay temporary workers earn. Mdm Ho, who is also the chief executive of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek, said that people who criticise the pay COVID-19 swabbers earn should “stop whining”.
Earlier this month, the Government put out a recruitment call for swab-takers – or “swabbers” – and swab assistants to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who sign up will earn a monthly salary of S$3,400 for doing the job of a swab assistant and they can go on to earn S$3,800 per month if they are promoted to being a swabber.
The monthly pay for swabbers drew scrutiny when nurses spoke up that their starting pay is much less generous and those who become swabbers get such hefty pay without having any background in healthcare, experience or qualifications.
Comparisons between the pay for swabbers and the salaries nurses earn became so great that the Ministry of Health (MOH) clarified that swabber and swab assistants are only employed on a short terms basis and do not have progression pathways, additional allowances or bonuses unlike full-time healthcare professionals.
The ministry added that an entry-level registered nurses earn a gross monthly salary of between S$3,300 and S$5,200. Nurses, however, pointed out that their take-home pay is much lower since the gross monthly salary does not take CPF contribution into account and includes bonuses and allowances.
The Prime Minister’s wife decided to respond to mounting criticism over the perceived pay disparity on Sunday (17 May). She wrote: “For anyone who think their pay is unfairly lower than the swabbers, stop whining and go volunteer to be trained to do the swabbing.”
Mdm Ho said that those who sign up to help out during the pandemic will be compensated better since they could be at risk of infection. She wrote:
“Covid volunteers are being trained for all sorts of paid jobs – from admin to swabbing; from cleaning to patient service; from logistics and driving, to frontline support in the red zones.
“We don’t take for granted their kindness and public spirit in volunteering – We pay them properly, and yes, we will pay them higher than for easier and safer jobs. Yes, we teach them to keep safe, not just for their own safety, but also for the safety of their team, their families, their patients and potential cases. No two ways about it.”
While several netizens praised Mdm Ho for appreciating the temporary workers, many others asserted that she “missed the point” of the criticism against the pay disparity and that those who are critical are concerned over nurses being possibly underpaid. Netizens asked Mdm Ho to “get off her high horse” instead of “stonewalling” constructive criticism with “rude” and “ignorant” remarks.
Singaporeans online pointed out that those who criticise the swabbers’ pay are not sitting at home doing nothing – many of them are nurses who are only seeking more fair compensation. Some others added that nurses are also at risk of infection and should perhaps be paid better during the COVID-19 pandemic, going by Mdm Ho’s logic:
For anyone who think their pay is unfairly lower than the swabbers, stop whining and go volunteer to be trained to do…