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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

A bigger slice of a bigger pie

Looks like the whole system is bearing down on employers to pay more. So if you are paying workers less than $1,000 a month, give them $60 more, said NWC. (And did you give them that $60 last year? And the $50 the year before? What? You did? And they still make less than $1,000 a month?!? Shame on you!)

I wish I knew exactly how many workers have benefited from the NWC recommendations. Most times, MSM gives just the proportion of employers who have done/or will carry out the proposals. I can’t tell exactly how many bosses because BT and TODAY reported that eight in 10 “private establishments’’ said okay last year, up from six in 10 in 2012. Then ST threw in a confusing six in 10, up from three in 10, and also said that in the unionised sector, it was nine in 10.

Sigh. (I believe the six in 10 refers to non-unionised companies – wonder if they are big companies with plenty of the lowly-paid. NTUC should go take a big stick to them)

In any case, employers who are still dragging their feet can turn to the Wage Credit Scheme which will co-fund pay rises (for those below $4,000 a month). So there’s some help there. And if they’re in the security, cleaning and landscaping business, they have to get on the Progressive Wage model and start paying more if they want to get more business. That’s a push factor. 

Employers probably wish the NWC went back to the good old days of giving “qualitative’’ instead of quantitative guidelines and advised low basic pay but to give bonuses in good times. Remember this term MVC? Merit Variable Component? The term has been marginalised. Thank goodness because I could never grapple with it.

The NWC had seemed so weighted in favour of helping bosses (who, predictably, always say they aren’t doing well, and if they are, will say they don’t expect to do as well..). Its past proposals were aimed at helping the whole economy grow, never mind if people in some sectors earn less than $1,000 a month. Just grow the pie! Don’t worry about how it’s sliced!

Well, it’s been singing a different tune in recent years.

I would really like to see some absolute numbers on those who earn $1,000 a month . According to TODAY, there are 150,000 people earning below $1,000 a month, going by 2012 statistics. The number should be coming down. By how many? And how many more in future?

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And is this the…ummm…. definition of “poor’’ ?

Apparently, the labour movement has been lobbying for the threshold to be raised to $1,200 a month.  It thinks others in the bottom 20 per cent of workers need help too. In fact, it wants a tiered increase. So it should be $60 or 5 to 6 per cent for those earning below $1,000 a month, and it should be 2 to 3 per cent for those earning up to, say, $1,500 a month.

Well, while the NWC merely said bosses should give “special consideration’’ to this lot, nothing’s stopping the NTUC from taking that position in collective bargaining. It will be good if it does, and show workers that it has done so, hopefully by the time the NWC guidelines come around next year.

Looking at the news reports, the bosses look like they are trying very hard not to scream blue murder. (Note that they would also have to pay more in CPF contributions soon and they don’t know how the changes to Medishield and CPF Life might hit them.)  

There are mutterings about how wages must go up in tandem with productivity increases. That’s true. Rise in real wages have started outstripping productivity which is still in negative territory but by a smaller margin. But I think looking at only the wood means neglecting the trees. We’re talking about the lowest segment of people here who have had to fight with foreign workers for work. Economists say that for them, it’s a wage catch-up – not a productivity lag. The NWC, after all,  isn’t giving a blanket guideline for all workers like it used to in the good/bad old days.

Now, before we members of the proletariat start berating our bosses and other people’s bosses, we’ve got to remember that some of us are “bosses’’ too. We hire cleaners via the town council and the condominium management committee. If we want to pay our cleaners and security guards more, the money will have to come from us somehow, whether in higher service and conservancy charges or management fees.

When the time comes to “collect’’, will we say yes?   

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Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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