Sustained help for low-wage workers needed: MP Zainal Sapari

Improvements to wages and and employment benefits were some of the considerations suggested to help address the disparity between low-wage workers and the majority of the Singaporean workforce. This would also help the low-wage workers feel less marginali
Improvements to wages and and employment benefits were some of the considerations suggested to help address the disparity between low-wage workers and the majority of the Singaporean workforce. This would also help the low-wage workers feel less marginalised and prevent a widening of the income gap.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Bolder steps vital to negotiate glaring disparities: Labour MP

Cleaners working at a statutory board got the short end of the stick when their former company lost the contract this year.

It had, in its tender, factored in a one month bonus for them, on top of their current salaries.

The cleaners ended up working for a new company.

They had their salaries reduced to $1,000, and lost all their employment benefits.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) cited this case in Parliament yesterday to illustrate the need for "a longer-term solution" to help low-wage workers.

"Unless we take bolder steps to negotiate the glaring disparities between our low-wage workers and the majority of the Singaporean workforce in matters like wages and employment benefits, low- wage workers will continue to feel marginalised and the income gap will continue to widen," he said.

Over the past five years, real wages rose by an average of 2.1 per cent per year at the 20th income percentile, compared with around 3 per cent at the 50th percentile, he said.

FIX GLARING DISPARITIES

Unless we take bolder steps to negotiate the glaring disparities between our low-wage workers and the majority of the Singaporean workforce in matters like wages and employment benefits, low-wage workers will continue to feel marginalised and the income gap will continue to widen.

LABOUR MP ZAINAL SAPARI, (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) on what needs to be done to prevent the widening od the income gap

Mr Zainal suggested that the Government set a target for faster wage growth at the 20th percentile level.

Longer-term service contracts could also encourage companies to adopt technology to become more productive, and prevent workers from having their salaries and benefits reset every few years, he added.

Companies should also avoid extending contracts at the same terms and conditions, as these usually prevent low-wage workers' salaries from rising, said Mr Zainal.

An assistant secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress, he heads the unit overseeing low-wage workers.

Mr Zainal also called for making the payment of annual wage supplements and annual increments to workers part of licensing or registry conditions for sectors such as cleaning, security and landscaping. Such a move would benefit 85,000 local workers.

He also suggested crafting contracts based on performance rather than on headcount, and designing buildings so that less manpower is needed to maintain them in terms of cleaning, security and landscape services.

The plight of workers in the middle-income segment also came into focus as MPs rose to speak about the difficulties retrenched professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) face in an uncertain economic climate.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi suggested strengthening the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP), which helps jobseekers learn new skills to take on new careers. One way could be by giving them mentors and psychological support so they can adapt well to the new work environment.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said the PCP does not guarantee workers will be able to command the same pay in their new job, and suggested beefing up the Career Support Programme, which is targeted at older citizens in mid-level and better-paying jobs.

Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) asked for more incentive schemes and coaches to encourage retrenched workers to switch to the growing IT sector. Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) called for retrenchment benefits to help workers while they look for a new job.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Sustained help for low-wage workers needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe