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Ex-Manpower Minister jumps into minimum wage debate

Lim Swee Say says that the Progressive Wage Model is the way to go

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Despite retiring from electoral politics earlier this year, former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has made his views on whether Singapore needs to implement a universal minimum wage clear.

The debate on minimum wage was sparked earlier this month when Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh called on the authorities to implement a universal minimum wage set at S$1,300 per month since the Government’s Progressive Wage Model (PWM) was taking too long to roll out to all sectors.

The PWM, which takes a sectoral approach to lifting the wages of Singapore’s least-paid workers, has been in force for eight years but has only been applied to three sectors in that time. The Government has, in the meantime, positioned the PWM as a “minimum wage plus” initiative in the face of calls for it to implement a minimum wage.

Mr Pritam’s call sparked a fierce debate in Parliament and the Government continued to promote the PWM. Members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) argued that implementing a minimum wage can handicap or kill small-medium enterprises and lead to greater unemployment, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The Government also established that about 100,000 workers earn below S$1,300. After Workfare disbursements and Central Provident Fund contributions by employers, 56,000 workers – 32,000 of whom work full-time – earn less than S$1,300, which is the amount the Government estimates is required to meet basic needs.

The WP held that it is not acceptable for any number of workers to earn lower than a liveable wage, no matter how small the numbers, and has asked the Government what the harm is in rolling out a minimum wage to these 32,000 full-time workers in a parallel initiative as it works on expanding the PWM.

The debate on minimum wage extended beyond Parliament and has emerged as one of the hottest topics in Singapore, both online and offline, in the ensuing weeks. Amid the heated discussion between those for and against minimum wage, retired PAP MP Lim Swee Say made his views on the matter known.

Although he has stepped back from politics, Mr Lim is still a strong proponent of the PWM initiative. Sharing a news report about how the waste management sector could be the next sector to adopt the PWM, Mr Lim positioned the initiative as the “way to go” in a recent social media post.

He wrote in a Facebook post on Friday (Oct 23): “To improve the lives and livelihoods of our older and lower income workers, we have to make their jobs Easier, Safer and Smarter, and at the same time up their wages progressively, consistently and sustainably.

“PWM is the way to go. So happy that we are spreading it faster and wider to benefit more of our workers and their families.”

This is not the first time Mr Lim has weighed in on the minimum wage debate since he retired. The ex-parliamentarian, who campaigned on behalf of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and now-ousted MP Ng Chee Meng during the July election, elaborated on the limitations of minimum wage last month.

In a post published on 1 Sept, he wrote: “Three limitations of Minimum Wage – (1) NO wage for those who lose their jobs if set too high (2) MAXIMUM wage when employers refuse to pay more than what is required under the law (3) STICKY wage until it is revised every few years.”

He added: “Hence Progressive Wage – four ladders to transform jobs, enhance skills and productivity to improve wages.”

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