Singapore — Workers’ Party (WP) MP Leon Perera has taken to Facebook to add to the debate in Parliament earlier on Thursday (Oct 15) on a minimum wage and the Government’s Progressive Wage Model (PWM).
A minimum wage has been the subject of much debated in the country since the WP featured it as one of the key policy proposals in its manifesto for the General Election this year.
On Monday (Oct 12), WP chief Pritam Singh, who is also Leader of the Opposition, called on the Government to implement a minimum wage set at a base of S$1,300 — the amount which the Government estimates is required to meet basic needs.
Calling a minimum wage both a “moral imperative” and an “act of national solidarity” with the Singaporean worker, Mr Singh said the Government’s PWM was taking too long to roll out to all sectors and urged the Government to introduce minimum wage as a parallel initiative to uplift the wages of low-income earners.
Addressing the WP leader’s proposal in Parliament on Thursday (Oct 15), People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Koh Poh Koon said that while the Government is not ideologically opposed to a minimum wage, it has achieved better results with other schemes like the PWM.
Dr Koh, who is Deputy Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress, said that the vast majority of about 850,000 workers who are employed in traditionally low-income jobs, such as service staff, cleaners and clerks, earn above S$1,300 a month.
He added that about 100,000 workers earn below S$1,300, including about 25,000 who are self-employed and would not benefit from a minimum wage. 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 each month.
In response, Mr Singh questioned why the Government is taking so long to cover these workers. He asked: “Can we not consider how we can cover them now immediately because it’s not a small number. If you think of 60,000 rental units available from HDB, and you compare that with this number… it’s quite a lot of Singaporeans who need some help.”
He added: “I don’t think it is acceptable that anyone, any Singaporean, is earning below this number. It is simply not acceptable.”
The exchange between Dr Koh and Mr Singh drew MPs from both sides of the aisle to the fray. PAP MPs positioned the PWM as a superior scheme to minimum wage, while WP MPs disputed the notion that a minimum wage would cause greater unemployment.
Mr Perera had asked why the PWM would not be politicised if the minimum wage would be politicised and Dr Koh responded that this is because it is decided by tripartite partners — the Government, union representatives and employers.
Pointing to reports that business owners are open to a minimum wage, Mr Perera also asked why uplifting the wages of full-time workers who earn less than S$1,300 after Government initiatives would hurt small businesses since Dr Koh pointed out that this group of workers are only 1.7 per cent of the work force.
Dr Koh said that, while more needed to be done to help a greater number of low-income earners, a minimum wage was not the answer. He added: “Achieving social equality and enabling lower-income families to improve their lives is never a simple task. There is no silver bullet. It is also continuous work.
“NTUC and the tripartite partners will focus on the real hard work of uplifting wages of lower-wage workers and seek public support for our workers while hoping to avoid all possible downsides.”
In his Facebook post the same evening, Mr Perera reiterated his point that it should not be such an issue for the Government to implement minimum wage since only 32,000 full-time workers are in need of additional support.
He wrote: “In Parliament today, Workers’ Party MPs debated the idea of a minimum wage (MW) versus the PAP’s Progressive Wage Model (PWM). But must it be one or the other?”
“Can’t we add a basic MW at a low floor level, to address the most vulnerable 32,000 – 100,000 workers (depending on how you set the threshold), while taking the time to work on PWMs to raise wages above that floor?”
In Parliament today, Workers' Party MPs debated the idea of a minimum wage (MW) versus the PAP's Progressive Wage Model…