Singaporean workers at the top?

August 25, 2012
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Mr Jagwinder Singh’s The crushing of trade unions and workers’ woes Part 1 in ourPerspectives column seems to have gotten the NTUC’s knickers all ina knot.$CUT$

Several of its members/defenders posted quite bizarrecomments attacking the article and, not surprisingly, its author.

For example, one of the commentsdefended that: “What none of you can deny is that given thethings that the system including the government and NTUC has done,has put Singaporeans workers at the top of things.”

“None” is a rather strongword but we’ll let that slide—emotion probably got the better ofthe writer. But “Singaporeans workers at the top of things”?Now that requires a response.

As far as workers’ wages are concerned,a UBS study in 2011 (Prices and Earnings) reported that Zurich andGeneva have gross wage indices of 119.8 and 107.5 respectively—thehigher the number the merrier. In the Asia-Pacific, Tokyo’s is 83.0,Sydney 74.1, Hong Kong 42.3, Taipei 35.5 and Seoul 32.3. Singapore?31.3.

But how far can a worker in Singaporestretch the dollar compared to her counterparts in other countries?In other words, how much can our dollar buy us (Purchasing PowerParity or PPP)?

If a worker in country A is paid lessin absolute terms that a worker in country B but can afford morethings because goods and services are cheaper there, then country A workerhas a stronger purchasing power. Even though he makes less money dollar for dollar, hecan buy more things—and is, therefore, in a significant way, better off—than the worker in country B.

How do Singaporeans stack up in PPP when compared with workers in other countries? The same UBS survey shows that Singaporeans’purchasing power is one of the weakest among comparable economies:Zurich (106.9), Sydney (95.9) and Luxembourg (95.4), Tokyo (82.2),Auckland (68.9), Taipei (58.9), Hong Kong (58.1), Seoul (57.4), andSingapore (39.9).

On top of this, the InternationalLabour Organisation found that Singaporean workers put in more hoursthan workers in 12 other countries in a 2008 report—and thenreceived a decline in real wages.

There are workers in Singapore—morethan 80,000 of them in fact (or 4.2 percent of the workforce)—whostill draw an income of less than $500 a month. Ten years ago theymade the same amount.

We can pile on the statistics, but you get the picture.

Another commentator writes: “Come onMr Singh…tell me which country in the world achieves good economicprogress when the trade unions are always confrontational and alwayshaving strikes?”

Let’s see…Switzerland, Sweden,Norway, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan,Hong Kong…take your pick. For the record, trade unions in these countries are not “always having strikes”.

One comment, in particular, stood out: “I amglad that I have labour MPs and Minister to speak up for us.”Something tells us that this isn’t written by a worker.

Our NTUC friends even take issue with Mr Singh’suse of the Cambridge dictionary’s definition of trade unionism. Onelaughed: “Jagwinder seeks to rule Singapore with his Cambridgedictionary and not the rule of Singapore’s laws! LOL!!”

Another lambasted: “Jagwinder, yourheavy quoting of a Cambridge (read: foreign) dictionary rings a loudbell.”

A third demanded to know: “What isthe basis of your comparison between what is written in a DICTIONARYand what is drawn up in a LEGISLATION? It is a complete mockery onyour part as a writer, and someone from SDP, to do a comparison likethis. To even say that the Act is wrong because it doesn’t follow thedictionary’s definition is beyond comprehension.”

Okay, we’ll bite. A dictionary (we’llhappily use a Singaporean one if the commentator can tell us where tofind it) simply tells us the definition of a word. It has no political leanings—right or left, Western or Asian.

For example, a duck is defined as a bird with webbed feet, broadbill, paddles in the water, waddles on land and quacks. No one argueswith the definition. If the PAP or NTUC genetically modifiesour feathered friend and produces a bird that squeaks rather thanquacks, has whiskers rather than a bill, then it should be calledsomething else. But according to the dictionary (foreign or local),it is not a duck.

One might insist that the NTUC is atrade union and Lee Kuan Yew is a democrat. But one would be wrong onboth counts. But then again, you don’t need a dictionary to tell you that, all youneed is just common sense.

NTUC supporters whowant to defend their organisation needto do better than simply rely on vitriol and propaganda. They don’t work in this website.