Budget debate: MPs call for more measures to close income gap, support low-wage workers

With society now becoming increasingly status-conscious, more needs to be done to prevent the formation of an underclass, said Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).
With society now becoming increasingly status-conscious, more needs to be done to prevent the formation of an underclass, said Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's efforts to tackle the issue of income inequality have paid off, but the country must not rest on its laurels, said MPs.

While they welcomed the measures to support workers and families, four MPs who spoke during the debate on the Budget statement on Wednesday (Feb 26) had suggestions on ways to better help those who may be lagging behind amid the uncertain economic climate.

These include targeted help for workers to switch careers and tailoring employment needs for the vulnerable, as well as expanding the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to more sectors.

It is good news that Singapore's Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality on a scale of zero to one, had dropped to 0.452 in 2019 compared with 0.458 in 2018, said Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC).

But she is concerned about the impact of technological change on workers, as research has shown that innovators, investors and high-skilled IT workers tend to benefit the most in the future economy, while the rest of the population could be at risk of being left out.

To avert this winners-take-all scenario, she called for more resources to be invested to study the needs of the vulnerable and to create a spectrum of more suitable jobs and more effective job placements.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said that with society now becoming increasingly status-conscious, more needs to be done to prevent the formation of an underclass.

One way to do so is to provide targeted help to workers so that they can switch career paths, he said, and to support social enterprises that offer employment to vulnerable groups.

Mr Lim Swee Say (East Coast GRC), who is a former manpower minister, also urged the fourth-generation leadership team to widen and deepen the adoption of the PWM to "many more jobs in many more sectors" to narrow the income gap.

 
 
 

The PWM, which is a ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels, currently covers workers in sectors such as cleaning and security.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), also urged the Government to support industry stakeholders if they are keen to adopt the PWM. For instance, some sectors like waste collection and strata management are keen to have a mandatory PWM, he said.

"It is important to have Government's support to identify and leverage the key levers that would encourage widespread adoption," he said.

He also suggested coming up with a wage benchmark by occupation and sector, based on wage data in the Annual Occupational Wage Survey.

"Workers can identify a fair wage for their occupation, and be more aware of the industry standard to make informed decisions about their careers," he said.

The tripartite partners can pilot this with the food and beverage industry, where there are around 180,000 workers in diverse roles, he added.