Here are a couple of facts that puzzle a lot of people: A plumber in Australia earns up to 40 per cent more than a plumber in Singapore. Australia’s nurses do even better, earning up to 75 per cent more than their counterparts in Singapore. This isn’t because Australians are richer than Singaporeans. On the contrary: According to World Bank data, Australia’s per capita income was US$59,934 (S$85,430) in 2021, while Singapore’s was US$72,794, or more than 20 per cent higher. It’s a similar story if we replace Australia with any other advanced economy.
As Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong pointed out in his keynote speech at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum on Tuesday(Oct 18), there is a premium in Singapore on what he called “head” work, which refers to knowledge-related, white-collar roles – those performed by lawyers, engineers and architects, for example – where academic credentials count and cognitive abilities are rewarded. By contrast, “hands” work and “heart” work, which refer to more blue-collar and community service roles – such as those performed by plumbers and nurses – that require more vocational than academic qualifications are significantly less remunerated, even though they are indispensable.