By Leong Sze Hian

New centre to help low-wage workers?

I refer to the article “New centre to help low-wage workers” (Straits Times, Nov 8).

It states that “NTUC estimates there were almost 400,000 low-wage workers last year.”

I was rather puzzled and amused when I read this as why would our labour movement just give an estimate of the number of low-wage workers to the media? Couldn’t they just look up the statistics in the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or Department of Statistics’ (DOS) web sites?

According to the article “NTUC sets up service centre & hotline to help low-wage workers” (Channel NewsAsia, Nov 8) – “The new U Care Centre will broaden this pool, to include all low-wage workers who are Singapore citizens and permanent residents, earning an average gross monthly income of S$1,900 and below”.

650,000 low-wage workers?

Since by its own definition, earning below $1,900 average gross monthly income is a low-wage worker, I visited the MOM’s web site, and its Yearbook of Manpower Statistics 2012 says that there were 294,364,458,617 and 636,128 workers earning less than $1,000, $1,500 and $2,000, respectively, at year-end 2011.

Since there were 636,128 workers earning less than $2,000, I estimate the number of low-wage workers earning less than $1,900 to be about 600,000.

However, the note at the bottom of the wage statistics table says “Data exclude self-employed persons”.

As the wage statistics table in the report pertains to active CPF members totalling 1,735,422 and the total resident workforce according to the same report is 2.08 million, does it mean that there are about 344,578 self employed persons (total workforce 2.08 million minus 1,735,422 active CPF members)?

If this estimate is correct, then does it mean that the number of low-wage workers including self-employed persons earning less than $1,900 may be about 650,000?

Under-estimated by 250,000? 

So, does it mean that the 400,000 estimate given by the labour movement to the media was off by about 250,000 low-wage workers?

29% of workforce are low-wage workers – the highest for developed countries?

If so, then the proportion of low-wage workers is about 29 per cent of the total workforce.

Are there any other developed countries in the world with such a high proportion of low-wage workers?

U Care Centre – sell U Care membership?

As to “With the launch of U Care Centre, workers who meet the criteria will be enrolled as U Care members when they walk in for guidance.

At a fee of S$12 per year, workers may also opt to sign up as U Care Value members for additional benefits.

These include being enrolled for basic group term life insurance, which covers workers for total permanent disability and death.

Other benefits include access to special discounts at selected NTUC social enterprises and priority invitations to social events organised for them and their families” – does it mean that these low-wage workers must be union members before they can also sign up as U care members?

If so, then low-wage workers will be asked to pay a total of $129 a year (union dues $109 plus U Care membership fee $12).

So, who knows, maybe the total collected from these low-wage workers may exceed the costs of running this “new centre to help low-wage workers”?

Before U Care Centre – nobody really cares?

With regard to “One of the issues raised included a lack of targeted assistance for low-wage workers and uncertainty as to where they could go to for help” – you mean after all these years, it is only now that the labour movement has come to the realisation that low-wage workers need this kind of help?

This begs the question as to how well the MOM, labour movement and tripartite have been doing in the past to address these short-comings?

If the labour movement had done its primary role of fighting for workers’ rights in the first place all these years – we wouldn’t be in the current pathetic state of so many low-wage workers.

New U care Communities initiative?

As to “We will be playing a greater advocacy role to help low-wage workers earn better wages and have better lives. Another new initiative launched with the centre is U care Communities, which will hold focus group discussions for low-wage workers. The first planned for next week, is for car park attendants” –

In this connection, according to the MOM’s occupational wage benchmarking tool, the median monthly basic and gross monthly wage for car park attendants are both at a very low $1,000. This means that their take-home pay after CPF contribution may be only as little as around $800.

The real role of a labour movement?

Perhaps it should channel and focus its efforts on fighting for workers’ rights, like getting a decent wage, instead of all these “wayang” (sorry for using a Malay word but I can’t think of an appropriate English word to describe this) type of initiatives like setting up centres to help low-wage workers (and encourage them to pay more to become U Care members)?

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