Singapore – Six Members of Parliament from the People’s Action Party (PAP), including Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam challenged Workers’ Party (WP) MP, Jamus Lim, on his speech during the Parliament debate over minimum wage and policymaking on Thursday (September 3). Members from the online community commented how one Mr Lim could “keep PAP MPs awake and on their toes.”
Mr Lim focused on the need for more compassionate policymaking during his response to the President’s address. He suggested a “simple, across-the-board” minimum wage policy, a recommendation also mentioned in the WP’s manifesto for the recent General Elections.
Mr Lim did note that implementing a minimum wage amid an economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic “may not be ideal.” However, he encouraged Parliament “to agree in principle with the idea of minimum wage” so that it could be easily rolled out “after the storm has passed.”
The associate professor of economics pointed out that among other things, the concerns and problems faced by various segments of the population such as low-wage workers, the elderly and single mothers, could be credited to “insufficient compassion in our policymaking.”
After his speech, a lengthy discussion occurred, with PAP MPs quizzing Mr Lim on the efficacy, timing and appropriate figure of a minimum wage.
Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang disagreed with Mr Lim’s statement that a minimum wage could be rolled out with minimal impact on unemployment. She argued that the policy comes with a “very real risk” especially during a recession which could cause many workers to go from “low wage” to “no wage.” Mr Lim replied by saying such a policy may not be ideal at this very moment and called for agreement in moving towards that direction in the future.
MacPherson SMC MP Tin Pei Ling asked if Mr Lim was suggesting for a minimum wage policy that is retracted during an economic crisis and re-introduced during better times. That is not the case, said Mr Lim, who argued “the complete opposite” as the point of a minimum wage was to “provide a social safety net” for citizens. Withdrawing the minimum wage policy during a crisis will “pull the rugs out from under those workers that rely on the minimum wage in times of crisis.”
Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair and Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad shared similar questions regarding the appropriate level of minimum wage Mr Lim had in mind. The WP MP said he does not know what a fair minimum wage should be, which is “exactly why what we need is a national commission to understand (and) study this.”
Other questions presented by the other PAP MPs included how Mr Lim planned to address youth employment, the feasibility of being compassionate without assessing the costs of such policies and the use of Government reserves.
A rare intervention from Mr Tharman also happened. Going back on the topic of compassion, he said, “None of us have a monopoly over compassion, and I say this is not to discredit anyone. In particular, I really respect where member Jamus Lim is coming from intellectually, emotionally and so on.”
Mr Tharman noted the recent speeches from MPs had impressed him. “Not just for the very forceful proposals they were making, often going beyond what the Government is doing, but the emotional force of their conviction,” he said. “I’m not directing this at anyone in particular – none of us should assume that we have a monopoly over compassion.”
The senior minister gave some advice which was to “try and avoid strawman arguments, like saying that the Government is only interested in efficiency, and not equity. That’s frankly laughable.” Raising the standards of living for the poor is a “complicated matter,” he added.
“I regret if it came across that I was suggesting that only I or the party, or any individual has a monopoly over compassion,” replied Mr Lim. “In fact, that was explicitly why I did cite cases where I felt that existing policy demonstrated oodles of compassion. I even cited other members who are not from our party that have also talked about compassion.”
“Now there is activity and debate, no MP should be absent,” commented Facebook user Yeow H Tan on an All Singapore Stuff post highlighting the “6 vs 1” scenario that occurred. “No more sleeping in parliament. Everyone was listening so attentively,” added another netizen.
Others noted that they were now tuning in to the debates as Mr Lim “kept everyone on their toes.”