Left - Senior Butler, Mr Ismail Bin Abdul Ghani, Right - Chef, Mr Wong Shang Hoon (Photo - Istana website)

Istana offering lowball salaries for its butlers and cooks?

Netizens are questioning and commenting on the recent job advertisement placed by the Istana for potential job seekers to sign up for the position of “Assistant Senior Butlers/ Butlers”

The advertisement puts the gross monthly salary range at $1,400 to $2,000. This means that the job seeker will be taking back $1,120 to $1,600 after deduction for his or her Central Provident Fund account.

Netizens have questioned about the offered pay and asked if the pay is enough for a Singaporean to survive.

The job application which is opened only to Singapore citizens, states that the job is to provide hospitality service, and food & beverage service to guests at the Istana as well as to perform housekeeping duties which include set-up for events and ceremonial props/table setting for functions, and helping out in the Istana kitchen, linen room, floral arrangement room, etc.

One netizen commented, “If the job comes with free meals, free accommodation at Istana/HDB, free education for children, free lifetime transport, 21 days of leave and pension after age 55, then its probably worth it for those low educated Sporeans. Otherwise this is no different from what private companies are paying outside.”

Some also pointed out that the low salary of the butlers might constitute a security risk to the President and foreign dignitaries as the government itself has always touted how high pay deters corruption and given that the butlers are paid so low, they might be tempted by would-be perpetrators.

Just how low are the wages in comparison to industry standards?

So are the comments justified or just angsty netizens hitting at the government?

Well, based on what the job scope of the butlers, one would gauge the duties to be more or less, same as what a waiter would do or more.

However, if you look at the median gross wage statistics by the Ministry of Manpower in 2018, you will see that the median gross income of waiters as $1,838 and captain waiter/waiter supervisor at $2,700.

But if you think that the offered pay for the butlers is low, wait till you look at the offer for Istana’s chef.

The job advertisement for a chef in Istana, which requires the Singaporean job applicant to have 2 years of experience, plan menus and able to cook local and western food, is offering $2000 to $2,500. This translates to a take-home pay of $1,600 to $2000.

Based on the same labour statistic from MOM, the median gross salary for a professional chef (40-49 years old) is placed at $3,532 or a take-home pay of $2,826.

A recent survey conducted by the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy found that a Singaporean senior citizen aged between 55 and 64 requires a sum of S$1,721 to meet basic standards of living.

Given the kind of salary that is being offered, one has to wonder how Istana’s ordinary staff manages to get by.

President’s salary is twice as much as total spending on butlers and cooks

According to the figures found in the Presidential expenditure estimate for FY2018, there are a total of 26 full-time butlers hired in the Istana. There had been an increase of 10 full-time butlers in 2018 where only 16 were hired in 2017. As for cooks, it has been 4 to date. Assuming that all are paid the full range of what has been offered in the job advertisement, the total monthly gross wage for them is $62,000‬.

To put the wage of the Istana staff in comparison, we have to look at how much the head of Istana earns.

Back in the 2011 ministerial salary review, the President was recommended to be paid $110,000 a month for his or her service and the recommendation was adopted until today. In Mar 2018, then-Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean shared that there has been an increase of 9% of the benchmark pay from 2011 till date which means the monthly gross salary of the President in 2018 is $119,900‬.

This would mean that the President or Mdm Halimah Yacob is earning twice as much as what the total gross monthly income of the full-time butlers and cooks in Istana.

For those who are curious, the annual salary for the President in 2018 is $1,738,550. ($119,900‬ multiplied by 14.5 months (12 months + 13th month and Annual Variable Component)) which also means her pay takes up about 30% of the FY2019 manpower budget of $5,856,900 which caters for 67 full-time staff.

Given that Mdm Halimah Yacob can only make decisions based on advice from the cabinet and her presidential advisors, one might wonder if her position is worth the tax-payers monies.