By Leong Sze Hian

All is not well?

Reading the news in the weekend gives you the feeling that all is not well. With record household debt and suicides, it made me think about how and why we may have arrived at this dismal state?

Follow the money?

Like they say – always try to follow the money trail. So, the starting point of my hypothesis is that the primary cause of our woes may be money (after all they say ‘money is the root of all evil’).

If its money, where should I look first? Well, the obvious place perhaps is to look at wages. Lo and behold – there was a 2.5 page Insight article on “PMET? ; Pampered, Mediocre, Expensive, Timid” (Straits Times, Jul 13).


My next thought was a great deal has been written about low wages and low wage growth. So, what new perspective or analysis can I add to the issue?

As my professor in university always reminded us – “Think out of the box. Look where no one has looked before” (I think my professor was a Star Trek fan – “To boldly go where no man has gone before”).

Malaysian graduates’ starting salaries?

So, let’s look outside of Singapore, at our nearest neighbour (whom we were once the same country in 1964) – Malaysia.

According to page 21 of the Sunday Star of 14 July, “based on last year’s MEF (Malaysian Employers Federation) salary survey for executives, the average starting pay for fresh graduates was between RM1,520 and RM3,067 depending on whether you start working with a diploma or masters degree.

A basic degree holder starts with a monthly income of RM2,121 while a graduate with a Honours degree will receive RM2,513″.

Singapore graduates’ real salaries’ growth negative last 6 years? 

According to the latest statistics in Singapore, the median gross monthly salary for fresh university graduates in full-time permanent employment was S$3,050. I don’t know if the Malaysian data uses only those “in full-time permanent employment in the public universities only” like Singapore’s.

If not, then I suspect that the Malaysian and Singapore starting salaries may be quite similar, perhaps with Singapore’s being say about 10 per cent more (I also talked to some HR and employment agencies to get a sense of the starting salaries in Singapore for all fresh graduates including the non-public universities).

Singapore graduates’ starting salaries’ real growth has also been negative for about 6 years already (“Graduates’ real starting salaries minus 0.4% p.a. last 6 years?“, Mar 22).

Salaries relative to cost of living?

So, what’s the problem? The Malaysian graduates earn about the same or slightly less than Singaporean graduates in RM and S$, but the cost of living in Malaysia is much lower – at 50 per cent or less compared to Singapore.

Moreover, public housing starts at around RM50,000 and public healthcare at RM1 for out-patient and around RM100 for hospitalisation (total fees inclusive of ward, surgery, medicine, etc).

On top of the above, Malaysia’s EPF (like our CPF) pays historically 4 plus to 8 plus per cent interest, compared to Singapore CPF’s 2.5 per cent on the Ordinary Account, 4 per cent on the Special Account and 5 per cent on the first $60,000 (only implemented in recent years).

The withdrawal age for EPF is still at age 55, whereas Singapore’s has been stretched to age 65 for the CPF Minimum Sum (currently $148,000) under the CPF Life scheme which pays a monthly life annuity.

Work-life balance?

In the final analysis, perhaps the crux of the issue may be – Go read Marietta Koh A-meng’s (Mrs) “Good to have work-life balance but … Where’s the hunger?” (Straits Times forum, Jul 13).

Instead of wasting too much of our time and energy on “hawker centre cleaning issues”, perhaps we should focus more on the above mentioned!


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