By Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the articles “Shortage of 10,000 guards as people shun low-paid sector” and “When workers get Workfare, spouses work more” (The Straits Times, 26 November).
The former states that “only Singaporeans, permanent residents and Malaysians can work as security guards in Singapore. And all security guards are individually licensed by the police."
The report also indicated that:
"There are 70,000 people qualified to work as guards, but only 29,000 locals and 4,000 Malaysians actually do so. There is a shortage of 10,000 guards.
People shun the sector because of the low basic pay and long working hours – 12-hour shifts, six days a week.
Security guards earn a basic pay of $817 a month and $1,678 with overtime, according to Manpower Ministry official data released in June.”
After reading the above, the first thought that came into my head was – so, we can’t get enough people to work because the pay is too low and the hours long.
I wonder how many lower-income workers there are in Singapore. The second article I cited states that “about 408,000 workers received Workfare payments for work done last year”.
But according to the article “No payouts for some with tighter Workfare criteria” (The Straits Times, 30 June):
"Some 20,000 of them earn less than that amount, but do not qualify because they own more than one property or their spouses earn more than $70,000 a year.
These workers have been excluded from Workfare after the criteria of the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme was tightened last year."
So, does it mean that there were about 430,000 Singaporeans age 35 and above, who may actually have qualified for Workfare’s criteria of less than $1,900 monthly income, before the tightened criteria change?
If there are about 430,000 Singaporeans 35 and above who are defined as “lower-income” – how many lower-income residents (Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs)) are there, including those below age 35?
627,000 “lower-income” residents?
Well, according to the Yearbook of Manpower Statistics 2014 – there were 627,800 residents earning not more than $1,999 in 2013.
If you deduct the employee’s CPF contribution of up to 20% – the net take-home pay of a worker earning not more than $1,999 may be as low as $1,599.
82,700 unemployed and long-term unemployed?
However, the above may not be the end of the story, as the difference between the total number of residents in the labour force (2,138,800) and employed residents (2,056,100) was 82,700.
Is this 82,700 the unemployed and long-term unemployed residents, excluding the economically inactive residents?
If this is the case, then the number of lower-income workers may be about 700,000.
Does this mean that about a third or 33% (700,000 divided by 2,138,800) are lower-income workers?
A first world country with one of the highest per capita income in the world – ranked as the most expensive country in the world (by the Economist magazine) – celebrating its 50th anniversary next year with much fanfare – that has about a third of its workforce as “lower-income”? Uniquely Singapore.
Workfare encouraged elderly husbands to work?
By the way, as to “Specifically husbands whose wives were over 55 were encouraged to get a job after their wives became eligible for Workfare” – this might not be due primarily to Workfare, but rather due to various reasons.
This might include the drop in the total CPF contribution rate from 32.5 to 23.5, 14.5 (only 3.5% to Ordinary Account (OA) and 11.5% (only 1% to OA), at age 55, 60 and 65 respectively; home mortgage to pay; relentless rise in the cost of living; age discrimination in pay as people get older; only 10% of Workfare is in cash for the self-employed, etc.