Call to businesses: Do more to help low-wage workers

Businesses can do more for low-wage workers by supporting progressive wage practices, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

As buyers of services such as cleaning, landscaping and security, companies can influence the mindset of employers of these workers, he said at the 75th anniversary dinner of professional services firm KPMG Singapore.

These workers, who are in the bottom 20 per cent because of their pay, continue to require extra attention despite initiatives to give them a boost "bearing fruit", he said.

The initiatives include the Progressive Wage Model, which sets a framework for basic pay and career progression and is compulsory for the security, landscaping and cleaning sectors.

Mr Lim noted that between 2006 and 2010, full-time Singaporean workers at the 20th percentile had seen their incomes grow by 2.1 per cent per year, almost 1 percentage point lower than for Singaporeans at the 50th percentile.

But in the last five years, the gap has closed. Real income growth for those at the 20th percentile is now 2.9 per cent per year, just 0.1 percentage point lower than for those at the median level, he said.

More can be done and Mr Lim wants businesses to step in. "We need the support of buyers and providers of outsourced services to speed up the adoption of these progressive practices," he said.

He praised KPMG for doing the right thing. Yesterday, it launched a Progressive Wages Pledge to raise the wages of its lowest-paid workers through training and job redesign.

Less than 1 per cent of its 3,000 staff are in this category.

"It's also about looking at the job scope of our people, upscale them, enrich their jobs, so they feel they are being valued," said Ms Lee Sze Yeng, head of KPMG Cares, the company's public trust unit.

Mr Lim welcomed the "ground- up" initiative, saying KPMG, as a buyer of outsourced services, could help "influence the mindset" of service providers who employ many low-wage workers.

"I am encouraged that KPMG is already in discussions with a number of your business associates to also support this," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Call to businesses: Do more to help low-wage workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe