Taiwanese-based Singaporean activist and blogger Roy Ngerng Yi Ling took to his Facebook on Monday (26 August) to slam the Government for not increasing locals’ salaries even though they are struggling to make ends meet.
His post was referring to an article published by TODAY titled “The Big Read: Unable to make ends meet on their own, low-income households find ways to get by”.
In the article, the authors talked about how the lower income households are not able to survive in Singapore because their expenditure is higher than their monthly wage. Citing data shown in the latest House Expenditure Survey, it said that “on average, the bottom 20 per cent of households are each spending S$2,570 a month while having a monthly income of S$2,235, which include regular government transfers such as Workfare. This means a shortfall of S$335 on average each month.”
In an attempt to explain more about the problem, the TODAY’s article quoted a number of Members of Parliament (MPs) from the People’s Action Party (PAP). The first is Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Rahayu Mahzam who said that the financial difficulties faced by low-income households are due to long-standing debts.
She also added that even though “there is no immediate solution, the Government will look into these problems to see how they can be better addressed”.
On the other hand, Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng emphasised to TODAY that raising children has become more affordable for families over the years, whereas Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng told that milk power has become more affordable today as a can of it only cost below S$30.
If that is not all, Jalan Besar GRC MP Lily Neo pointed out that the 3M system is helping everyone in terms of healthcare costs.
“Affordability-wise, I think Singapore is pretty good in terms of healthcare. The 3M system – Medisave, Medishield and MediFund – is pretty comprehensive to ensure that no is deprived of healthcare due to a lack of means,” she said.
Blogger lambastes MPs for their remarks
In response to what the MPs said in the article, Mr Ngerng harshly criticised their points in his post, and emphasised that it’s obvious that people cannot make their ends meet simply because their wages are too low.
However, he said that TODAY’s article will not say this bluntly as “PAP doesn’t want to do anything about it. It doesn’t want to increase wages”.
In his post, he also asked how S$30 for a can of milk powder is affordable, in reference to what MP Ng said. In addition, responding to what MP Neo said, the blogger also questioned how are people not deprived of healthcare given that there are so many examples going around on how many can’t afford to pay for their health treatments.
“Of course, what they say doesn’t make sense. How can S$30 milk powder be considered ‘affordable’? How is it possible people are not being deprived of healthcare, when we hear of stories of people day in, day out, who have to die because they cannot pay for their cancer treatment, or who cannot use their Medisave to pay for healthcare?” he wrote.
He also noted that politicians like MP Rahayu can’t give a concrete answer for this problem and could just say there are “no immediate solution” because she is not the decision maker in the party.
“Why does Rahayu Mahzam say there are no immediate solutions? Because she’s not in the position to make decisions. We are not blind to the fact that there are only a few people in the PAP who makes the decisions. The rest are there to make up for the diversity, to let people think there is someone to represent them. But the real decisions are made by maybe, a handful of people,” Mr Ngerng said.
He added the majority of PAP MPs are “powerless” because they have to listen to the top leaders of the party as their salary depends on them.
Moreover, the blogger also explained that PAP will not increase wages as some of the biggest companies are owned by Temasek. This means that in order for Temasek to continuously garner higher earnings, this will largely depend on maintaining low wages for the people.
“This is the same reason why Singaporeans cannot earn enough inside their CPF to retire, because the GIC, which uses money funnelled from the CPF into bonds and reserves, can only earn higher earning when Singaporeans earn low CPF payouts,” he said.
Minimum wage in Singapore
Over the years, the city-state has been going back-and-forth on talks about implementing minimum wage in the country. However, to date, the Government has not implemented a minimum wage in Singapore.
Dismissing the implementation of minimum wage, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said last year that the prospect of implementing a uniform minimum wage in Singapore remains impractical, as doing so would corner employers into paying their workers a higher salary than the market rate, producing the effect of a “tax” on employment.
This is because she argued that argued “not all employers would want to employ workers at this rate, which could lead to lower levels of employment.”
As such, she said, “some workers may even choose to work illegally below the minimum wage” simply to secure any form of employment, “which makes them even more vulnerable” to exploitation.
In fact, she said that her Ministry’s Progressive Wage Model (PWM) is better when it comes to uplifting the low wage workers in Singapore.
She said that PWM helps low wage workers to “acquire skills, to be assigned work that makes use of those skills, and be paid more for enlarged responsibilities or improved productivity”.
“But this is only a starting point. As a landscape technician with the necessary training and skills to operate motorised machinery, the worker can earn at least $1,500, and more than $2,100 when he advances to the role of supervisor,” Mrs Teo elaborated.
“First,” she added, the PWM is “a ladder, not a floor, and every worker has the chance to earn more through better skills, a larger job or higher productivity”.
“Second, it takes into account sectoral differences and is not one-size-fits-all. Third, and perhaps most important of all, PWM offers a way of uplifting pay which both employers and employees can accept.”
Despite explaining how PWM is superior compared to the minimum wage scheme, she and her Ministry have still failed to provide believable answers on why they refuse to implement the minimum wage system.
In fact, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and professor of law at the National University of Singapore Professor Tommy Koh argued that the Singapore government’s apparent resistance towards implementing a minimum wage in the Republic is rooted in “fake” ideological arguments. He also noted that the PWM is not at all equivalent to a minimum wage.
“The Singapore government has always said minimum wage produces unemployment … I would say, look at the experiences of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong – all of which have introduced minimum wage. There were no such consequences,” Prof Koh said.
He added, “In Hong Kong, when they adopted a minimum wage – I think it was fixed at about $1,400 – it lifted 140,000 Hongkongers out of poverty. Contrary to the Government’s argument, the introduction of the minimum wage in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan did not lead to unemployment or illegal employment.”
Emphasising on how beneficial the minimum wage would be to the country, Prof Khor said, “And I dare predict that if we have a minimum wage, it will have no negative economic impact on our economy.”