Budget debate: What will improve workers' lives are better wages, prospects, says DPM Heng

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat refuted Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa's comment that Singapore workers are worse-off due to lower wage share of GDP.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat refuted Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa's comment that Singapore workers are worse-off due to lower wage share of GDP.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - What will improve the lives of workers are better wages and better prospects, rather than a bigger wage share of the country's gross domestic product, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (Feb 26).

He was refuting Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa's comment that Singapore workers are worse-off due to lower wage share of gross domestic product (GDP).

"A capital-intensive economy open to investment and trades can have lower wage shares than labour-intensive economies," he said.

For example, he noted that the wage share of the biomedical sector's output is less than 6 per cent, compared with over 60 per cent in the accommodation and food services sectors. But workers in the biomedical sector earn more than twice those in accommodation and food services.

"What will improve the lives of our workers are better wages and better prospects, not the aggregate share. What matters more is that wage growth for our workers is in line with productivity (growth) so that it is sustainable," Mr Heng said.

Uplifting workers' wages and helping the vulnerable in employment is also important, he noted in response to Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) who welcomed the salary increase for healthcare workers, and have asked for the wages for other frontline workers and sectors to be enhanced as well.

"There are good, meaningful jobs in healthcare for our locals, and it is important to pay them the salary that they deserve - commensurate to the work that they do," Mr Heng said. "This is how we are able to attract and retain locals in the long-term, even as other markets compete for our Singaporean talents."

He also responded to Nominated MP Mr Raj Joshua Thomas and others who spoke about the need to continue boosting the incomes of lower-wage workers, and the Progressive Wage Model.

Mr Heng noted that citizens' real incomes from 2016 to 2019 at the 20th percentile grew at 4.4 per cent per annum, faster than at the median at 3.7 per cent per annum.

Helping low-wage workers and self-employed persons continues to be a work in progress, he added.

"I hope that if some of the new measures lead to a modest increase in costs, caring Singaporeans will agree that this is worth doing for solidarity," he said.

Mr Heng also noted that the Government is pushing ahead with its plan to raise the retirement and re-employment ages next year to support older workers.

More also can be done to boost the hiring of persons with disabilities, he said.

"Helping every Singaporean achieve their potential is a key priority for us in building an inclusive society. We agree that more can be done, and there are plans in the pipeline."