SDP chief Chee Soon Juan: Low wages, high cost of living make people’s lives intolerable

Having high wages and a high cost of living or low wages when the cost of living is also low is manageable, but when people have low wages while living in a high-cost city, that makes people’s lives “intolerable”, said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan on Sunday (22 March).

Dr Chee took to his Facebook page to respond to comments on his previous post calling to increase the wages of local workers. He wrote, “In response to my previous posts, some readers point out that if we increase wages of S’poreans [Singaporeans], then prices of goods and services will increase in tandem, making things unaffordable.”

To this, Dr Chee said that no research prove this saying while explaining that rather than increasing wages suddenly and massively, businesses could adjust accordingly, and price adjustments are usually minimal if we increase wages over a scheduled period.

“Another is that it’s always easy to call for our neighbour’s wages to be kept down so that we can enjoy cheaper stuff, isn’t it? We forget that cleaners, security guards, bus drivers are also our mothers, aunties, fathers-in-law…” he added.

Despite the low wages in Singapore, Dr Chee noted that Singapore has become one of the most expensive cities in the world as a result from escalating prices.

When making the bus-driver-burger comparison, Dr Chee compared the number of Big Macs bus drivers in different countries can buy with their monthly salary through a bar chart illustration in his post.

Compare with other countries, a Singaporean bus driver can only buy about 300 burgers, which is a huge difference, where even Malaysians who work as bus drivers in Singapore can buy more than 500 burgers in Malaysia, according to Dr Chee.

He asserted, “As I pointed out, if you have high wages and a high cost of living, the situation is manageable. Or if wages are low and the cost of living is commensurately low, the situation is likewise not so much of a problem.

“Either way, you have what economists call high purchasing power.

“It is when you have low wages and a high cost of living, or weak purchasing power, that makes life intolerable.”

He also compared the purchasing power between Singaporeans and Scandinavians, saying that Scandinavians have much stronger purchasing power than Singaporeans.

According to Dr Chee, a Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) report (2009) comparing prices and earnings of cities around the world found that Singaporeans had one of the weakest domestic purchasing power with an index of 39.9 compared to Zurich (106.9), Sydney (95.9), Luxembourg (95.4), Tokyo (82.2), Auckland (68.9), Taipei (58.9), Hong Kong (58.1), and Seoul (57.4).

Of the 73 cities, he said, Singapore was ranked 50th, even lower than Kuala Lumpur which placed at 49th.

Addressing that Singapore was left out from the subsequent report, Dr Chee noted, “When we wrote to ask why, we were told that Singapore was excluded in the survey because of – a large proportion of migrant workers – this makes comparisons with other cities very difficult.”

“I can only conclude from this that we have become way too dependent on foreigners. This has hurt our people. Already, we are mired in deep problems which look set to get worse,” Dr Chee warned.

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