Pritam calls for universal minimum wage starting at $1,300 for S'poreans

Continuing the debate on minimum wage, Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh yesterday called for a universal minimum wage starting at $1,300 a month for Singaporean workers.

In his Facebook post, the Leader of the Opposition said such a move is "not just a moral imperative, it is an act of national solidarity, one that is even more relevant in today's economic environment".

His comments follow Sunday's announcement that a workgroup comprising government officials, unionists and employers will be formed to look into lifting the wages and well-being of low-income workers. This will include studying how Singapore's tripartite partners can further expand on the progressive wage model (PWM) and partner companies to raise productivity.

Mr Singh noted the Government's minimum wage-plus approach includes other aspects such as sectoral productivity and career progression, which "cannot be objectionable". But the problem with this approach is that it takes too long to implement, he said.

The PWM, which was launched in 2012, is a framework in which wages are pegged to skills, productivity and career development. It now covers around 80,000 workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors.

Mr Singh asked the workgroup to consider a parallel effort to implement a universal minimum wage with a $1,300 base that is subject to regular review, even as it explores sectoral improvements "or what is effectively the plus side of minimum wage-plus".

The call for a minimum wage was made by WP MP Jamus Lim during the debate on the President's Address last month.

In response, PAP MPs such as Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang had warned that a minimum wage would result in low-wage workers losing their jobs.

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam pointed out that the existing PWM and its sectoral approach enable the minimum rung to be set at suitable levels for each sector, whereas a single national minimum wage would force a decision on where to place it - which could be too low or too high. But he also said he would not "exaggerate the differences" between the PWM and the minimum wage model, calling the PWM a "minimum wage-plus".

During the debate, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo noted that in the last five years, workers in PWM sectors have seen cumulative wage growth of around 30 per cent, compared with 21 per cent for workers at the median.

Former Nominated MP and Singapore University of Social Sciences economist Walter Theseira told The Straits Times that there is a lack of research on the topic in Singapore, as well as detailed data on occupational wage distributions.

The universal minimum wage, he said, would effectively be a PWM covering sectors where the prevailing wages are at, or near, $1,300. "The questions are: What are those sectors? How many workers are impacted? And for those who are significantly below the $1,300 floor, what will happen to them?

"For those further from (the floor), there is the possibility of displacement, which does not mean permanent unemployment. It could mean shifting to another job."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2020, with the headline 'Pritam calls for universal minimum wage starting at $1,300 for S'poreans'. Subscribe