Workers, employers welcome progressive wages in Singapore's retail sector

The retail industry faces low margins, and higher wages across the board will add to the financial strain. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Workers and employers in the retail sector have welcomed the progressive wages being studied by the Government.

But some retailers may find it harder to implement a progressive wage model (PWM) than others.

"We reckon the PWM when implemented may impact heartland shops more as they may not be able to compete," said Singapore Retailers Association executive director Rose Tong.

"It is important that retailers provide learning and upskilling opportunities as well as a clear career path to attract and retain workers beyond just giving them a higher salary," she said.

She also noted that the retail industry faces low margins, and higher wages across the board will add to the financial strain.

Ms Janet Chng, 54, a cosmetics counter chief at an Orchard Road mall, agreed that progressive wages must balance the interests of employees and employers. "If bosses don't make much and increase wages just to help us, workers will also lose their jobs when the company does not make enough money," she said.

She was still happy to hear of the move to support low-wage workers in retail. "We all work very hard (in retail). Some companies have also cut the pay of their staff during Covid-19."

Mr James Quan, who employs about 35 people at leather goods brand Bynd Artisan, believes in retaining talent and supports having progressive wages.

"In retail, you need to converse well, look presentable and be on your feet all the time," said Mr Quan, 53, who co-owns the company.

Rewarding his workers with career progression will help them realise that retail is not a dead-end job, he said.

The co-founder of online furniture store BedandBasics, Mr Ryan Wong, 35, agreed that a PWM can enhance the attractiveness of working in the retail industry, which often faces a manpower crunch.

For heartland shop owner Chia Hwee Ngoh, who sells specialised products and employs only one worker, implementing the PWM may be difficult.

The sports equipment business owner cannot find training courses for her worker and does not know how to implement a wage ladder for her business.

"We don't use money as an incentive but kinship," said Ms Chia, 61, who buys lunch for her employee every day.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Mr Zaqy Mohamad (centre), NTUC Central Committee member Lim Wen Sheng (left) and SNEF Deputy Honorary Treasurer Tan Hwee Bin speaking to the media on Feb 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

E-commerce platform Qoo10 is also uncertain about how the PWM would affect its business if implemented. "The e-commerce industry is still growing, and we do not have a concrete benchmark on the wages," its spokesman said.

On Tuesday (Feb 23), Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad told reporters the Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers that he chairs will study how to include e-commerce players in its discussions.

After visiting the Adidas store at Jewel Changi Airport to better understand how to uplift low-wage workers in retail, Mr Zaqy said doing so will take a "whole-of-society effort".

"Consumers also have a part to play in being open to bearing possible increases in prices to help uplift our society," he said.

But this may be mitigated if increases in productivity outweigh increases in wages, said Associate Professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore Business School.

Nanyang Polytechnic School of Business Management director Esther Ho said: "Certain brands have clout, so they are less likely to lose consumers even if they increase prices."

Shopper Goh Ann Tat, 49, said he was willing to pay more to give the workers decent wages.

"If full-time retail staff can't earn enough to support themselves and their families, then we definitely need to adjust their pay," he said.

Additional Reporting by Prisca Ang

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