Tripartite work group looking at all options in improving support for lower-wage workers

With the current economic challenges, key considerations include looking at whether the changes will displace workers or be sustainable in the long term.
With the current economic challenges, key considerations include looking at whether the changes will displace workers or be sustainable in the long term.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A tripartite work group looking into lower-wage workers' issues is considering all possibilities, including such suggestions as complementing the current progressive wage model with a minimum wage, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Saturday (July 24).

He said in response to media queries that it is important to consider if initiatives to help lower-wage workers are sustainable in the long term or if they will instead lead to the workers getting displaced.

On Thursday, Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director Ravi Menon suggested in a speech that the Republic may want to seriously study a modest minimum wage as a complement to the existing progressive wage model (PWM).

The PWM is a wage ladder that sets out the minimum basic wages an employer must pay, based on the worker's skills.

Mr Zaqy told reporters: "We've not ruled out any possibility. I think I said before that the Government has never been ideological about this, so we will look at all possibilities in our review as part of the work group.

"We've studied the various models and we are going to see what works best for Singapore moving forward."

He added that with the current economic challenges, key considerations include looking at whether the changes will displace workers or be sustainable in the long term.

"With the PWM, we are still quite agile even though our conditions are quite challenging with regard to today's economy," he noted.

But when considering other moves, he said the Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers, which he chairs, has to ensure that they do not cause job losses inadvertently by creating higher wages that employers cannot sustain.

"We don't want to see businesses close because we're too rigid... We've got to also look at the impact on the market, because there's always a price that gets pushed onto consumers too," Mr Zaqy added.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a workshop held by the Alliance for Action for Lower-Wage Workers, which was launched in March by the work group to mobilise Singaporeans in suggesting ideas to uplift lower-wage workers.

The alliance consists of 50 Singaporeans from businesses, community groups and unions.

They presented eight projects aimed at increasing appreciation and support for lower-wage workers.

These projects involve campaigns to provide rest areas for lower-wage workers, raise awareness of their work and push for a Progressive Wage Mark, which was also brought up in Parliament last year to recognise progressive companies.

Mr Zaqy added that updates on such a mark will be announced when the work group's recommendations are ready.

Singapore National Employers Federation vice-president Douglas Foo said: "As employers, we will continue to do our part in uplifting lower-wage workers through progressive wages, job redesign, training and better career opportunities.

"Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child, it will take a whole-of-society approach to uplift lower-wage workers. The impact is greater when there's stronger societal support for employers who pay progressive wages, and a better appreciation for lower-wage workers."

The next workshop will involve partners from the private and public sector who can help to further develop the projects and turn the ideas into reality.

Mr Zaqy said: "Our corporate community and consumers can all play a role in supporting our lower-wage workers. It's really about consciousness, about levelling up society and, more importantly, about the Singapore that we all want to build for the future.

"How we treat our lower-wage workers today is a way of telling our children and young about the Singapore we want to see in the future. We're going to level up, we're going to be inclusive. We leave no one behind."