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Singapore workers clock up the highest amount of hours worked per week; even so, they find themselves rewarded by a decline in real wage, observes Think Centre.
The celebration of Labour Day had its origin in the Eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. Today, the challenges facing workers have never been so different from the days of the original Labour Day movement.
The economic thunderstorm, attributable to the world financial crisis caused by corporate greed, triggered a global recession that hit our country last year and exposed some dangerous cracks. The international situation is still difficult and working people are left bearing the burden of the crises.
Challenges faced by the Singaporean worker
Singaporean workers rate as one of the hardest workers in the world – the International Labour Organisation’s assessment between 2008 and 2009 attest to this fact – Singapore workers clock up the highest amount of hours worked per week; even so, we find ourselves to only be rewarded by a decline in real wage (-1 per cent). The decline in wages, buttressed with recent evidence from credible international institutions, bears testimony to the reality that the Singaporean worker is living in a very pressured society.
For example a 2009 UNDP report revealed that Singapore, in terms of income inequality, holds the dubious distinction of being only the number 2 most unequal country (Gini score = 42.5) though she reclaims the honour of being “first among peers” for having the poorest 10 per cent of her population receiving the lowest share of income or expenditure (1.9 per cent).
The wake of the recent economic crisis has left many local PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians) still struggling to find their footing in the search for gainful employment.
Although there were recent announcements from official quarters that infer perceived increase in control of foreign manpower, the Singaporean worker continues to face mounting challenges in the form of foreign PMETs, who are now more easily available at more competitive rates in today’s globalised labour market.
Increasingly, there is an uptrend in the phenomenon of locally available mid-level to senior level jobs, many of which could be filled by suitably qualified Singaporeans, having been advertised in overseas job portals and print advertisements. Discreetly certain government agencies, even before the economy has shown signs of solid recovery, have been actively canvassing and soliciting foreign PMETs (e.g. United States and Taiwan) to relocate to Singapore to fill available vacancies.
Singaporeans are further laden with a distinct handicap in terms of manpower costs (to employers) due to the fact that for the majority of them, their salary includes CPF contribution whereas on the other hand foreign workers at all levels are exempt from contributing to CPF. Such a cost imbalance necessarily disadvantages many Singaporeans when competing for the same jobs and it places local professionals at an increased risk of losing their hard earned mid- to senior positions.
Discrimination on the basis of race, language, gender and age against Singaporean workers continue to exist even when commendable efforts have been exerted on the part of the government, employers and trade union, in the form of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP), to combat workplace discrimination. Disturbing reports have surfaced regarding how employers are ‘outsourcing’ discriminatory preferences onto the shoulders of manpower agencies. This places undue pressure on both local job seekers who are unable to understand why they are not successful in being placed for positions they qualify for as well as on the manpower agencies which in most ordinary circumstances would have no problem placing qualified local job seekers if only they were not restricted by their client’s discriminatory preferences.
It’s time to change some things. The fend-for-yourself approach to unemployment has failed too many of us. Most of us simply do not, and are simply unlikely to have enough money saved to support ourselves in retirement. People contribute to their own CPF retirement savings, year after year; yet that is not adequate to retire at 62. Working people need to know that they can save enough money over a lifetime of work to avoid living their last years in poverty.
We need to change the rules so people who are self employed, work part-time or on contract are not left out in the cold.
Singapore and Asean 2015 economic integration
Even as we reflect on the local challenges, we should also take a moment to think about the 148 million Southeast Asian (about 60 per cent of Asean workforce of more then 300 million) who live on S$3 or less a day.
They are classified as informal sector workers who do not qualify for social insurances. The informal sector suffers from low wage, low employment security, contractual and casual work, poor working and living conditions, and no collective bargaining power.
Statistics tells us there are more then 5 million migrant workers and another more then 5 million undocumented migrant workers in Asean members countries. The reality of unemployment or lack of decent jobs have forced “millions of migrant workers to seek a better future for themselves and their families” by working abroad in Asean countries. As Asean’s economic integration intensifies leading to full economic integration by 2015, this number will grow. There is an urgent need for an agreement to protect their rights and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect. The Asean instrument should be legally binding and protect the rights of all migrant workers including domestic workers.
All workers have the right to fair and decent working and living conditions, regular payment of wages, and adequate access to the legal and judicial system for victims of discrimination, abuse, exploitation and violence.
This Post-May Day reflection 2010, Think Centre urges the government to update deficient labour legislation by amending or removing outdated policies. Think Centre calls on the Singapore government to:
1. Introduce a new 40-hour work week and a minimum wage policy for identified sectors;
2. Institute better labour and anti-discrimination laws to protect workers from discrimination resulting from age, gender, race and religion, disabilities and nationality;
3. Provide greater support for retrenched and unemployed workers through a national insurance scheme, as well as to provide a reasonable living with access to housing, health care, re-training and other essentials to maintain life;
4. Remove the practice of giving employees working 11 hours (shift work) daily for 30 days only 1 rest day per month for the first year in the service industry;
5. Amend the 1973 policy which requires prior permission for work permit holders to marry locals. Instead those with relevant skills and who have worked in Singapore for at least two years should be free to marry locals;
6. Remove excessive limitations on the right to organise workers e.g. Registrar of Trade Unions has powers to refuse or cancel registration, which could be used to obstruct the establishment of a trade union;
In this Post-May Day reflection, Think Centre calls for Singaporeans, PRs and migrant workers to act in solidarity with all 580 million people of Asean. We strongly believe, together, we can realize the Asean socio-cultural community, that cares and shares in solidarity with all the people.
As always, Think Centre expresses our solidarity and support with all workers.