Job satisfaction – inadequate measures to protect workers

Tan Kin Lian / Columnist

A Business Times report carried a survey made by a private research firm. It showed the job satisfaction rate of Singapore workers to be the second lowest in the world (the worst is Japan).

Although the survey is made among workers in the finance industry, I believe that it does reflect the views of workers in general. I carried out a survey in my blog to find out more. (See here)

My survey

I asked the question, does the findings in the Business Times report reflect the actual situation in Singapore?

43.6% said that the actual situation in Singapore is worse than reported, while 5.5% said that it is quite satisfactory (i.e. better than reported). 38.2% said that the report reflects the actual situation correctly.

What are their reasons for the low rate of job satisfaction?

The top factors are lack of appreciation by the employer (78.2%), the government is not caring (72.7%) and poor work life balance (72.7%). This is followed by long working hours (61.8%), wide wage gaps (60.0%) and unfairness in the workplace (60.0%).

Specific comments made by the respondents include the following:

a)         Singaporeans usually flock to jobs with the highest pay, rather than work that interest them.

b)         Too many foreign workers are competing for jobs and driving down the wages, giving no job security for Singaporeans.

c)         Some employers take advantage of the downturn to exploit workers with unfair terms in the employment contract.

d)         Those in middle or low income have to work days and nights just enough to pay our monthly bills to the government.

Advanced countries

A vast majority (77.8%) said that the job environment in Singapore is worse that other advanced countries. 18.5% said that it is about the same, but only 3.7% said that it is better.

Some specific comments are:

a)         Bad behaviour of employers who are given priority by the government

b)         Some countries have minimum wage to allow citizens to maintain a certain standard of living. When times are bad, they can fall back on unemployment benefits. It is difficult for foreigners to apply for the same job that can be done by locals.

c)         There is better work life balance, 5 day week, strong social support and better protection by the unions.  

Countries in the region

To my surprise, 44.4% of respondents said that the work environment in Singapore is worse than other countries in the region, while 25.9% said that it is better. 29.5% said that it is about the same.

Some specific comments are:

a)         It’s cheaper to live in places like Thailand and the work environment is much more relaxed. b)       Life in other region might be tough, but not so stressful.

c)         In the other countries, the rental of the workplace is cheaper. The employer can provide better facilities for workers. The workers are happier as the work pace is more relaxing and the income earned is enough to comfortably cover their monthly expenses.  

Improve the work environment

Here are their suggestions to improve the work environment:

a)         The Government should put in more rigorous rules to make it more difficult to hire foreign workers.

b)         There should be better work life balance.   

c)         The Ministry of Manpower should set up a department to assist exploited workers.

d)         I do not mind lower pay, but less work and more meaningful work and be treated with more respect.

e)         The government has to implement a minimum wage, so that our Singapore workers can at least have enough money to foot their monthly bills and buy food. 

Here are some strong negative comments:

a)         Who will listen to your suggestion? Here, money making come first, the rest is secondary. 

b)         I have try to get out of this country.  

My observations

The Singapore Government believes in the free market. It even allows an influx of foreign workers to come into the country to compete for the jobs that can be done by Singaporeans. This leads to lower wages. There is no minimum wage in Singapore.

To survive and meet the high cost of living in Singapore, many workers have to work long hours to earn enough to pay the monthly expenses. Some office workers put in long hours without additional pay, just to increase the productivity and to secure their jobs. If they work less, they stand the risk of losing their jobs to other people, including the foreign workers.

The long working hours lead to stress and a poor work life balance. These negative factors are mentioned by most of the participants.

There are inadequate measures to protect the living standards of the workers – i.e. no minimum wage and the freedom for employers to set the employment terms. The trade unions in Singapore are perceived to be cooperative and pro-employer and are not looking after the interests of the workers. 

In the advanced countries, the trade unions take a more pro-active stance to fight for better pay, working conditions and a better standard of life for the workers.  The unemployed workers are given an allowed unemployment benefit for a certain period. These countries appear to be able to doing well, even though they appear to be burdened by the high cost of the social benefits. They may not achieve high economic growth, but the economic results are shared more fairly by the population.

It is time for Singapore to review our current situation and see if it is possible to strike a better balance between the profitability of businesses and fair working conditions. This will lead to a better score in job satisfaction among the international ratings.


Come and support the event at Speakers’ Corner this Saturday, 9 May, 5pm: “Protect the Singaporean worker“.




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