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Create culture of respect for all jobs

I agree with editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang that an egalitarian society would nurture a strong work ethic, motivating workers to perform professionally and productively ("What it takes to get the economy buzzing"; Jan 10).

Granted, Singapore has done very well for itself in fostering multiracialism and transforming itself from Third World to First in the short space of 50 years.

However, it is unfortunate that our nation's current economic landscape seems to impede the development of an egalitarian culture.

There exists considerable socio-economic stratification in multiple dimensions throughout our society: between higher- and lower-income earners, between those employed in heavy industry and the corporate workers of the financial world, as well as between older workers with fewer paper qualifications and their younger and highly skilled counterparts.

Crucially, there is a seeming tendency for the haves to disparage the have-nots, and vice versa, which arguably constitutes an insidious form of class conflict.

The constantly fluctuating nature of economic activities also makes it difficult to foster a strong work ethic. Employees are often dislocated by constant reorganisation and relocation of firms.

Demographic changes, social problems and a spiralling cost of living inspire a sense of insufficiency and dissatisfaction. Hectic work lives with uncertain job security and career progression do little to encourage loyalty.

It is no small task to reshape cultural perceptions in the name of egalitarianism, but progress must certainly be made on this front.

The lynchpin of this effort should be creating a sense of appreciation for the workforce. This entails not only increased wages, but also greater respectability and social currency accorded to workers across the spectrum, from the humblest of occupations upwards.

At the individual level, this enhances workers' sense of esteem, which allows them to discharge their responsibilities and duties with greater confidence and motivation, paying dividends for productivity and professionalism.

At the societal level, healthier perceptions of all occupations, rather than judgments based on apparent "prestige", could act as a balm on socio-economic tension.

Such a vision would not be too far-fetched. Countries such as the Netherlands and Japan have undergone similar cycles of vocation status refinement to create this culture of due respect for all jobs.

I sincerely hope that Singapore can develop a similarly egalitarian society sooner rather than later.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'Create culture of respect for all jobs'. Print Edition | Subscribe