Debate on ministries' budgets

Wage ladder brings good progress for low-wage workers

Mr Sam Tan
Mr Sam Tan

Progressive Wage Model may be extended to more industries, says minister of state

The Progressive Wage Model (PWM) has brought "good progress" for low-wage workers in the three sectors it has been implemented in, and could be extended to more industries.

Announcing this yesterday, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said lift companies and unions are working with the Building and Construction Authority to introduce a voluntary PWM for lift technicians for a start, given the growing demand for such workers here.

The PWM, which is compulsory for the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors, is a wage ladder that aims to raise the salaries of workers through skills upgrading and improvements in productivity.

It specifies starting wages according to skills and experience levels so workers can get higher pay as they upgrade their skills.

Since it came into effect for the three sectors between 2014 and 2016, 70,000 workers have benefited from better wages and career progression, said Mr Tan.

In the past five years, the pay of low-wage workers has grown faster than the median income, he noted.

The real income of full-time employed citizens in the 20th percentile grew by 4.3 per cent per year, faster than the rate of 3.9 per cent per year for median income.

The wages of full-time resident security guards and cleaners also grew faster, with their real median gross wages going up by 6.4 per cent and 5.7 per cent per year respectively, between 2011 and 2016.

Full-time resident landscape maintenance workers, though, did not see their wages grow as fast - their real median gross wages grew 3 per cent per year over the same period.

"We will continue to look at improving their wages," said Mr Tan.

In a new move, employers in all three sectors with the compulsory PWM may not be eligible to bid for government contracts if they commit employment-related offences.

Previously, only the cleaning and security sectors were subject to this rule.

During the debate on the Manpower Ministry's budget, labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called for a mandatory annual wage supplement for low-wage workers.

Mr Tan said the tripartite partners agreed it would be better for employers and unions to negotiate the total annual wage package instead of mandating its structure.


This Government pays particular attention to low-wage workers. We strive to uplift their wages, enhance their employment conditions, and improve their lives even as they work hard and make an honest living... Mr Zainal Sapari pointed out that some of our low-wage workers remain vulnerable and may face unfavourable working conditions. We share his concerns.

MR SAM TAN, Minister of State for Manpower, on support for low-wage workers.

Mr Tan also cautioned against compelling employers to pay for outpatient treatment for low-wage workers, another of Mr Zainal's suggestions.

"Doing so may inadvertently affect the employability of workers with poorer health," said Mr Tan.

Last week, during the Budget debate, MPs asked if more could be done for older workers.

National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How, for instance, called for a review of the statutory retirement age, and for a new tripartite committee to look at how to help older people work longer.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday that the Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers, which was set up in 2005, will look into the issues raised by MPs to better help older workers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline 'Wage ladder brings good progress for low-wage workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe