Employers should take in the right spirit the National Trades Union Congress' recent initiative to explore extending the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to kitchen helpers and other low-wage workers in the food and beverage (F&B) industry. The NTUC's intervention at the lower end of the wage scale made considerable difference to the prospects of workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors. By initiating surveys with F&B workers as part of its early efforts to see if they can be brought within the PWM's ambit, the labour movement seeks to extend to them the protection of a well-managed economy in which the interests of workers are balanced with those of employers. A basic wage and structured increases should be customary entitlements of employment, no matter which sector of the economy is involved. It is gratifying that lift companies and unions, too, are working on a voluntary PWM for lift technicians. The labour movement's initiative for the F&B sector is exploratory for now and it is too early to say whether the PWM would be applied to the sector or when that would occur.
But the numbers suggest that NTUC should continue to explore how the wage model could be expanded to include the more than 30,000 low-wage workers in the F&B sector who earn $2,000 or less a month. It is an area of work where the median monthly basic wage of a hawker stall assistant in 2016 was $1,100, while kitchen assistants got $1,117 and waiters $1,300. Still, there are cases where F&B business owners who do not mind paying workers more under the PWM complain that higher wages will not address the perennial problem of manpower shortages. For one thing, their contingent of workers comprise largely older employees who tend to be less productive than younger ones, and have a higher turnover rate. Other employers argue that better wages will still not help attract younger workers to the sector.