S’pore opposition leader walks around island in support of underpaid workers

Associated Press
01 May 07

A Singapore opposition leader and his sister completed a 55-hour walk around their tiny island-nation on Tuesday in a bid to raise awareness of poverty and underpaid workers in Singapore.

About 30 supporters applauded when the two, dressed in shorts and T-shirts reading “Walking For Our Workers,” strode into Hong Lim Park near the city center, from where they had set off on their island tour early Sunday.

The May Day walk came in the wake of recent public debate over hefty salary increases planned for government ministers.

Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party and his sister, Chee Siok Chin, walked approximately 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the west, north and east of the island, sometimes in pouring rain, taking rest and meal breaks with supporters along the way.

Singapore does not usually allow political gatherings of more than four people.

On their arrival at the park just after noon Tuesday, the brother limped slightly from a sore knee; his sister pulled off her shoes to reveal blisters on her toes.

But the two were smiling as they proudly carried an SDP flag between them and shook the hands of supporters. The SDP leader gave a brief speech about the inequality of salaries in Singapore.

The siblings have long sought to bring attention to poverty in this wealthy business hub.

“Increase Pay For Workers, Not Ministers,” read the front of Chee Soon Juan’s T-shirt. His sister’s said: “Salaries: PM $10,000/day. Workers $30/day.”

The government salary increases have caused public grumbling among Singaporeans, many of whom feel ministers and civil servants are already overpaid.

The adjustments would mean Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s annual salary would rise by the end of the year to S$3.1 million (US$2.05 million; €1.53 million) ?about five times higher than that of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Lee earned S$2.5 million (US$1.65 million; €1.23 million) last year, according to parliamentary documents. Lee later said he would donate his raise to charity.

The ruling People’s Action Party defends the high incomes by saying ministers and civil servants must be paid enough to attract the best talent, and to help prevent corruption.

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