Tripartite group to study how to raise wages of low-income workers; 2022 target for proposals

Other goals are to significantly increase the number of low-income workers covered by PWMs. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - A new tripartite work group will study how to increase the wages of more low-income workers and improve their well-being, beyond existing measures.

The Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers will be chaired by Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad and include industry leaders from the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), union leaders, as well as senior civil servants from agencies that are involved with low-wage workers.

On Thursday (Oct 29), Mr Zaqy said the work group will aim to provide an update on its progress by mid-2021, and give its recommendations by early 2022.

It will propose interventions and mechanisms that will ensure that wage growth in mandatory progressive wage model (PWM) sectors continue to outpace median wage growth.

Other goals are to significantly increase the number of low-income workers covered by PWMs, and offer progressive wages in occupations not covered by the mandatory PWMs.

The work group will also make proposals to recognise and promote stronger societal support for firms paying progressive wages, and to advance the well-being of low-income workers.

The PWM, which was developed by unions, employers and the Government, has helped to lift the wages of workers in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors since it was introduced in 2012, said Mr Zaqy.

It lays out of the minimum wages that employers need to pay their workers, based on their individual skill levels. To rise up the wage ladder, workers will need to attend skills courses to upgrade themselves.

Between 2014 and 2019, the real wages of workers in these sectors have increased by around 30 per cent - higher than the median of 21 per cent for all sectors, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Thursday.

In total, the PWM has benefited about 80,000 workers. In 2022, the lifts and escalator maintenance sector will be included under the PWM, the ministry added.

The Workfare Income Supplement (WIS), which was introduced in 2007, is among the measures implemented by the Government over the last decade to raise wages of low-income workers.

The WIS scheme boosts the income and retirement savings of about 400,000 low-income workers annually by up to 30 per cent, said MOM. From 2007 to 2019, more than $6.8 billion has been given out to 890,000 low-income workers.

Meanwhile, the Workcare initiative was launched last year to improve the work environment of low-income workers, such as providing proper rest areas for cleaners and security officers.

On Thursday, Mr Zaqy said the work group will examine issues faced by low-income workers in a holistic manner.

"The study that we plan to do has to be wide-ranging, to see how we can create a win-win with the employers, unions and workers, to see how different sectors can be improved and go as far as they can (in wages)," he added.

It will also "keep an open mind" and look beyond the progressive wage model to see what will work best in raising wages for these workers in different sectors, he said.

This is because the PWM was designed to raise wages in the outsourced services sector such as cleaning and security, and may not work in other sectors such as in retail or food and beverage, said Mr Zaqy.

He added that the work group will look at ways to improve productivity in these sectors so that wages will, in turn, be increased.

Mr Zaqy was visiting a DBS branch in Marina Bay Financial Centre on Thursday, where he also met the branch's cleaning service provider, Spic & Span, which shared how it is boosting career progression prospects of low-wage workers through the use of technology.

Any proposals made by the work group will also be sensitive to business conditions as a result of the economic downturn, so that they do not discourage companies from hiring these workers, said Mr Zaqy.

Mr Mohd Fahmi Bin Aliman, director of operations and mobilisation division secretariat at NTUC, said: "This workgroup will give us the opportunity to continue to look after our workers."

He added: "It's a work in progress, there are many sectors that we need to continue to reach out to help them understand the benefit of the PWM."

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