Under the current circumstances, awareness is being raised around the world about just how crucial healthcare workers are for the survival of a nation. Like in many countries, heartfelt expressions of gratitude are flowing in for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals on the front lines dealing with the deadly pandemic on a daily basis.

One person, Daniel Yap, took the opportunity to point out the wages of nurses in Singapore in a Facebook post on 29 March. Sharing an article by The Straits Times from 2018, the former editor of the now-defunct website Middle Ground pointed out that registered nurses in Singapore are paid much less than their counterparts in other advanced Asian economies with a rapidly ageing population.

Posting a screenshot of a table from the article illustrating the disparity, Mr Yap said, “Our praises for our Nurses and janitors seem so false and empty when you look at this.”

The ST article talks about a study by the Lien Foundation about Singapore’s healthcare workers, comparing it with Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.

The study found that low pay and a high turnover rate in the nursing field makes it difficult for Singapore to meet is target of growing the long-term care workforce by 45 percent by 2020.

The report noted, “Despite concerted efforts to raise pay, redesign jobs and improve skills and productivity, the sector seems afflicted by constant churn.”

Based on the findings, Singapore ranks the lowest among the five countries in terms of wages for nurses. On average, a nursing aide in Singapore earns about S$1,350 a month after taxes compared with S$3,290 in Australia and $3,750 in Hong Kong.

The report illustrates wages in the sector have risen by a third since 2012 but it still doesn’t match up to salaries of other jobs requiring similar qualifications.

The report further speculates that the low pay could explain the higher turnover rate in the sector. That is in addition to the higher wages in other countries which could be luring local talent to seek opportunities abroad.

According to the report, foreigners make up about 70 percent of this specific workforce. This is compared to 32 percent in Australia and less than 10 percent in the other three countries.

President of the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union Ms K Thanaletchimi said she was unsurprised by the findings, adding that the sector has been “stagnating in creating a skills ladder and redesigning jobs”.

Ms Radha Basu, director of research and advocacy at Lien Foundation suggested that one way to keep nurses in Singapore and grow the workforce is to introduced a progressive wage model for the sector.

Given the findings of the study commissioned by the Lien Foundation, it’s clear that nurses in Singapore are not being paid as much as their counterparts in other similar economies, which explains the shortage of nurses in the country and why many opt to seek jobs aboard.

Mr Yap’s post also came following a the #clapforSGUnited event which took place at 8pm on 30 March where Singaporeans were invited to clap from their homes in appreciation for people on the frontlines who are battling the pandemic including doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners and supermarket staff.

The movement was sparked by a British expat named Martin Verga on Facebook, as he was deeply moved by the clapping movement that occurred in the United Kingdom where people clapped for their frontliners and carers.

Mr Yap’s post drives home the point that the society relies on the services that nurses provide and would suffer greatly without them. In that vein, while people are showing support for frontline workers, including nurses, they should also show their support in a more tangible manner by addressing the wage issue.

Netizens on Mr Yap’s Facebook post, however, had mixed reactions.

Some commented that the data sheds light on why there are so many foreign workers in the sector.

While another person noted it was unsurprising given that Singapore is “all about cheap labour and corporate profits”

One commenter pointed out that the reason nurses are paid so little in Singapore is because the 2013 White Paper on the population labelled them as ‘low skilled’ worker and so they are being paid as such.

One nurse even chimed in to agree with the study based on her experience of having worked in the sector both in Australia and Singapore.

There were also those who agreed that nurses are underappreciated and should receive better support beyond just applause during times of crisis.

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