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Forum: Jamus Lim clarifies “folksy wisdom” comment

Prof Lim faces backlash for comments on the beliefs of Trade Unions with regards to minimum wage

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In a forum letter to the Straits Times on Monday (Oct 19), clarifies his comments referring to the thinking of labour union leaders as “folksy wisdom and beliefs”.

After much backlash, in a letter published on Monday (Oct 19), Professor Lim wrote that “Disagreement doesn’t diminish unionists’ work”.

He says his “statement was about the beliefs held by some union leaders on minimum wage, as cited by National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon”.

“While there is a role for opinion based on personal experience, I maintain that good policy should be formulated on the basis of data-driven empirical evidence. It is important not to conflate the two – that is, using an opinion to refute a study”, Prof Lim wrote.

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The MP for Sengkang GRC (Anchorvale) notes that his “disagreement in this instance in no way diminishes my regard for unionists in all these other ways, nor does it take away from my appreciation of their work in the past”.

What initially happened

Prof Lim made his comments during a debate with National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon on the progressive wage model (PWM) and minimum wage.

It was held during talks on the Government’s strategies to tackle Covid-19 last Thursday.

Dr Koh had said the PWM – a wage ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels – has seen significant achievements.

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He added that taking a negotiated approach with stakeholders, including veteran union leaders, is important.

“Research, reams and reams of data and research is good, but in practice, it’s always harder to do because there are practical considerations,” he said.

In response, Prof Lim said: “With all due respect, as much as it will be lovely to always rely on folksy wisdom and beliefs by labour union leaders, at the same time, it’s important to realise that when we talk about studies that show the minimum wage does not lead to any appreciable increase in unemployment, this is based on careful consideration and not just beliefs.”

Beliefs, he said, are not the same as evidence, and evidence from around the world shows that a minimum wage does not cause widespread unemployment, as long as it is not set too high.

Prof Lim’s letter in full:

Recently, during the debate in Parliament about the minimum wage, I made the argument that we should not rely on “folksy wisdom” as the basis for policy.

 

To be clear, my statement was about the beliefs held by some union leaders about the minimum wage, as cited by National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon.

While there is a role for opinion based on personal experience, I maintain that good policy should be formulated on the basis of data-driven empirical evidence.

It is important not to conflate the two – that is, using an opinion to refute a study.

Our Government routinely uses academic studies to design public policy. This instance should be no different.

Notwithstanding the fact that most of our unions have had, for decades, symbiotic ties to the People’s Action Party, there are many areas where I respect the views of union leaders, such as their empathetic representation of workers under their charge, their ability to negotiate with business owners, and their hard work in support of workers’ rights.

My disagreement in this instance in no way diminishes my regard for unionists in all these other ways, nor does it take away from my appreciation of their work in the past.

The Workers’ Party believes that a universal minimum wage, set at $1,300 of take-home pay for full-time work, can address the difficulties of the lowest-income earners, while the progressive wage model is being expanded to more sectors.

 

Jamus Jerome Lim

MP for Sengkang GRC (Anchorvale)

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