A survey carried out by The Straits Times and consumer research firm Milieu Insight revealed that Singaporeans are willing to “pay more” for essential services.
Eight in ten of those surveyed said that they would be willing to do so if the extra amount goes to the workers themselves. What’s more, they are even willing to pay up to 10 to 20 per cent more for such services.
However, despite the completion of the survey along with the questions asked, Singaporean activist and freelance journalist Kirsten Han pointed out something that most people overlooked.
In a Facebook post yesterday (14 June), Ms Han started off by addressing the fact that Singaporeans are “hyper-focused on ‘pragmatic’ policy changes” with the tendency to ignore “values, principles, and rights that form the underlying foundation of our society”.
She stated that the majority of the essential jobs identified in The Straits Times survey are also some of the lowest-paid occupations with “very little labour protection”, adding that some of the essential jobs listed are also perceived and stigmatised as “low-skilled” or “dangerous”.
With reference to the list of essential and non-essential jobs in the survey infographics, Ms Han brought up the issue regarding how work permit holders – like the domestic workers and migrant workers – were not included.
Citing that about 260,000 domestic workers continued working amid the circuit breaker period by “cooking, cleaning and providing care”, as well as the migrant workers who practically built Singapore’s infrastructure and were forced to halt their work, Ms Han questioned why haven’t these workers be classified as “essential workers”.
“Even among the migrant workers who haven’t been classified as “essential” and have stopped working during this period… Singapore needs the thousands of construction workers to get back to the work because the malls, hotels, schools, hospitals, public transport infrastructure, etc. they build are essential to us and our economy.”
She went on to stress how important these workers are to Singapore, and yet they are “paid so little” with limited labour protections and rights. She also highlighted that these workers are subjected to living and work conditions that Singaporeans would not accept.
Ms Han believes that the reality in Singapore displays “injustice”, and it showed how classist and elitist society is.
The underlying issue of the survey question
Moving on to the question of the survey – asking Singaporeans if they’re willing to pay more for essential services – Ms Han pointed out that it would be a “matter of choice” for the privileged.
The fundamental issue in this survey was a question that actually asked if other people would be willing to be inconvenienced in order to “improve the conditions of the working class”. As there is an urgency in improving the conditions, people’s convenience is deemed more important.
She suggested how “superficial, elitist and classist” the survey question was.
“If we were a society more familiar with more fundamental discussions of values, principles, and rights, we would see how superficial, elitist, and classist the question “would you pay more?” is.”
Following her observation on the survey, Ms Han proposed another question, asking Singaporeans if they could accept the fact that there are an “underclass of people” in the country with inadequate labour compensation, on top of being marginalised.
“The actual question here is: “Are we a society that is okay with there being an underclass of people—local and foreign—whose labour is inadequately compensated (in relation to local cost and standard of living), and who have consistently been marginalised?””
She believed that if the answer is “no”, the original survey question that asked “would you pay more?” would immediately be nullified.
“If the answer is “no”, then there is no need to ask “would you pay more?” because if we are *not* okay with being that sort of society, then it naturally follows that things need to change and this injustice needs to be addressed.”