Singapore — The Government and the Workers’ Party sparred in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 3) on the WP’s call for the introduction of a minimum wage, on what actually constituted a minimum wage, and on the need for clarity of the WP’s position on the matter.
Associate Professor James Lim (WP-Sengkang GRC) had asked a question regarding the number of Singaporeans earning less than S$1,300 monthly, the amount that WP chief Pritam Singh set as a universal minimum wage “base” last month.
Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad was quoted in a report by todayonline.com as saying that “it would not be meaningful nor accurate to consider income according to the parameters of” A/Prof Lim’s question, since other factors such as CPF contributions and Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) payouts should also be considered with regard to a person’s income.
Mr. Zaqy Mohamad said that there are 30,000 full-time Singaporean workers in areas such as food services, cleaning, and retail, and 22,000 self-employed workers who earn less than S$1,300 a month.
He added that one-third of these workers are aged 50 and older and that 80 percent have up to post-secondary qualifications, noting that in comparison to the current generation, low-wage workers tend to be older and have a lower educational background.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad also said that they receive additional state support such as GST vouchers and financial assistance under ComCare.
According to the definition from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is followed by Singapore, “earnings” include employee contributions to social security and pension schemes. This means that CPF and Workfare contributions must be considered in calculating earnings since these are used for housing and healthcare.
A channelnewsasia.com report quoted him as saying: “I think it’s worth noting that 75 percent of our Workfare recipients, lower-income workers, also own their own homes and therefore there’s a direct impact from CPF into your home ownership.”
A/Prof Lim responded: “The ILO has a particular definition but I’m sure that he will also appreciate that a worker that works full-time in Singapore, will have a notion of how much their labor effort is worth every month.”
Mr. Zaqy Mohamad asked the WP MP to make the party’s stand on the minimum wage issue clear, as it seemed uncertain whether the S$1,300 minimum wage level is a gross or net amount.
A/Prof Lim answered that his question had concerned take-home pay, “in part because it is about what it means for survival”, and not the minimum wage.
However, Mr. Zaqy Mohamad persisted with his line of questioning: “Could I just confirm once again that the Workers’ Party’s S$1,300 minimum wage benchmark is gross income so that we could settle this and come to an understanding?”
The WP MP replied in the affirmative, calling it a “fair characterization”, adding later that the party’s position is for the S$1,300 minimum wage to be an employee’s take-home pay. /TISG