New committee to draft guidelines on raising low-wage workers' pay

SINGAPORE - The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and government officials have formed a committee to work out guidelines on how to increase the pay of low-wage workers.

Details of the new committee were not immediately available, but its recommendations will help smoothen the National Wage Council (NWC) talks in the next two years, said labour chief Lim Swee Say on Sunday.

The committee is being formed after this year's negotiations hit a speed bump.

Last Friday, the NWC recommended a pay hike of at least $60 for workers earning below $1,000 each month. In 2012 and last year, the council recommended minimum pay hikes of $50 and $60 respectively for those earning below $1,000.

These recommendations are not compulsory, but at least half of the firms here implemented them last year.

If the unions had their way, more low-wage workers would receive a pay hike of at least $60 this year.

During closed-door wage talks with employers in April and May, the NTUC lobbied for the current $1,000 threshold for low-wage workers to be raised, so that more could enjoy a minimum pay increase.

But firms could not be persuaded, said Mr Lim, who is NTUC's secretary-general, on Sunday, in an uncharacteristic disclosure of the tensions that had gone on during the meetings.

A higher threshold - Mr Lim revealed that unions were gunning for $1,100 or $1,200 - would have meant more workers qualifying for a minimum pay increase.

Mr Lim disclosed that employers had in fact wanted to drop the minimum amount altogether, saying that wages were already going up in the tight labour market.

"We didn't get what we wanted, they didn't get what they wanted, it was a compromise position," the labour chief told reporters on the sidelines of an NTUC event.

Still, despite the hiccup this year, he said that the NTUC is happy that the wages council's efforts to raise low-wage workers' pay have borne fruit, saying that fewer workers now earn below $1,000.

The Manpower Ministry told The Straits Times yesterday that there were 117,500 local full-time workers earning $1,000 and below last year, down from 150,000 in 2012.

The SNEF declined to comment on Mr Lim's remarks. Its president Stephen Lee would only say in an e-mail that "SNEF supported and endorsed fully the consensus reached by the NWC".

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