Minimum wage? Not us, we are S’pore

Maxwell Coopers

Free Malaysia Today

Singapore has made its position on minimum wage as clear as those jousting for it: there will be none of it as far as the city-state is concerned.

That much came became clear when the Republic’s labour chief, Lim Swee Say, argued forcefully against the implementation of such a scheme.

In excerpts carried by the nation’s only “visible” broadsheet, The Straits Times, Lim, who is also a minister in the Singapore Cabinet, said a minimum wage policy will “not work”.

Instead what he advocates is a so-called regime of promoting minimum skills for the nation’s workforce — a typical throwback to Confucian precepts of teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish every day!

There is nothing morally wrong with what Lim had proposed. Even ideologically, too, such a scheme is very much in keeping with the city-state’s preference for self-reliance over any remotely perceived notion of taking hand-outs.

But as matters stand, today’s world is far more complex than the medieval China the sage extolled.

And today’s world is also certainly more economically dynamic than the pastoral world from where Confucius preached.

Minimum wage will almost certainly be a hot political potato in the run-up to the general election, which the city-state must call by February 2012.

A similar bread-and-butter issue which became a hot topic in the 1984 general election was the mandatory retirement age. The same ruling clique of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) announced that it would defer the mandatory retirement age.

This controversy in Singapore some 26 years ago caused a swing in votes. It was a “watershed” of sorts because for the first time in many years the Singaporean electorate was riveted to highly-charged political debates, something never before seen in the nation’s long history.

Disparity in treatment

According to the Temasek Review, “inequalities can only expand” if a minimum wage policy is not followed through.

The website’s main grouse has been of the disparity in treatment meted out to landlords and the minions (workers) serving their bosses meekly.

“You never hear Lim (Swee Say) urging landlords to keep rents low or that electricity tariff, which is the second highest in the world, should be reduced to keep Singapore competitive. Lim believes in making workers ‘cheaper’ to stay competitive as part of his CBF (cheaper, better faster) strategy.”

Yet, based on anecdotal and empirical evidence, it cannot be dismissed that an underclass in Singapore is indeed growing.

And that, according to the website, has largely to do with the “influx of cheap imported labour, regressive taxation policies and erosion of labour rights and benefits”.

Singapore has always opined that it does not have the natural resources that Malaysia and other neighbouring countries have for it to hand out largesse.

Hong Kong, too, does not have the kind of resources that Malaysia has.

But if Hong Kong is able to make a pact that takes into consideration the plight of its peoples, then there sure is a lesson for the tiny city-state to take a leaf from.

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