Policy makers to experience the lives of those whom they serve

By Philip Ang

Dear PM Lee

I fully agree with Mr Leong Tze Hian’s article on TOC’s “Cleaners to wait “till kingdom come”?. (16 March)

The government keeps implementing schemes to benefit low wage earners which ‘somehow’ contributed to a significant decrease in their salaries.

Nowhere in the world are there as many elderly cleaners as there are in Singapore, a developed country which topped a wealth report in 2010 with a per capita GDP of US$56,532 (S$70,450). (source Table 3 page 11)

Nowhere in the world are unions able to depress the wages of its lowest paid members for years and yet remain unaccountable. The government should cease toying with ideas
which are likely to maintain the status quo.

Minister Lim Swee Say, as the union chief, and other union leaders should have assumed full responsibility for all the policy ‘mistakes’ but till today have not. If fact, Minister Lim continues to offer his irrelevant economic theories which will continue to sow the seeds of future failures.

My email to PM Lee dated 2 Mar “PAP must learn to connect with Singaporeans” made some radical suggestions with regard to the importance of first hand experience.

I am suggesting another radical idea to assist the government in getting things right the next time round ie allow Minister Lim Swee Say to experience being a cleaner for 2 weeks annually. (the government could consider other low-wage jobs)

Minister Lim will be able to interact with other low-wage Singaporeans and understand that most human beings have dignity and would prefer an environment where they are able to fish instead of perpetually being given ikan bilis’ handouts by the government.

Minister Lim will also see for himself that some jobs cannot be replaced by machines which will improve productivity and that there are physical limits ie clearing 5000 tables per day, sweeping 20 km of roads per day etc. He will then cease perpetually insisting on productivity increase for low wage earners knowing the reality. He might even reflect on the unfairness in using different salary increment yardsticks for top income earners like himself while depressing low wage workers’ salaries with a productivity-related one.

Minister Lim may even develop empathy and convince the government that EVERY Singaporean deserves decent wages to be able to support a family. He will also realise that government policies did create the current mess. Stagnation of low income wages is more serious than one which affects the middle/high income earners because it affects the affordability of basic necessities.

If productivity is indeed key to salary increase, what does it say about the thousands of low-wage civil servants? The private sector is but a reflection of the government’s efforts within the civil service.

This requires a shock therapy which has been silently and grudgingly implemented by the government under different names.

The conclusion that one could reach is that since salaries of low-wage workers have been depressed for years, their belated increase to one which befits a developed country must not be conditional upon any factors. The government should not throw taxpayers’ money to businesses in the form of WIS, FAS etc. The shock therapy must not be conditional upon an increased productivity because there are jobs which an increase in productivity is limited by physical constraints.

The government will continue to fail low-wage Singaporeans if it continues to craft policies in ivory towers located in District 9 and 10 with a subservient civil service and a ‘government-directed grassroots’. Minister Lim Swee Say will benefit greatly in his political endeavor from my suggestion to experience first hand the plight of low-wage Singaporeans.