The resistance to paying a fair wage is why there are so many migrant workers in Singapore, says SDP’s Paul Tambyah

The resistance to paying a fair wage is why there are so many migrant workers in Singapore, says SDP’s Paul Tambyah

In the fifth episode of the party’s “Ask Paul Anything”—an online by the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) where its chairman takes questions from the public—Dr Paul Tambyah emphasised his party’s stance on implementing a minimum wage and reviewing all of Singapore’s free trade agreements, including the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India.

During the session on Friday night (19 June), Dr Tambyah said that CECA, like other trade agreements, has to be evaluated transparently. He remarked, “Unfortunately, most trade agreements only benefit large corporations and a lot of them actually penalise the working people. Without labour protections, they allow companies to hire workers without basic protection such as minimum wage or standardised qualifications.”

Drawing on his own experience, the party chairman said, “When I went to the United States to do my postgraduate training, I had to sit for the United States exams. There was no such thing as you know mutual recognition,” adding that he “sailed through” the exams as the Singapore exams are much more rigorous than those in the US.

He added, “So basically what happens when you have trade agreements like this, which essentially are billed as free trade agreements, but in reality, what they do is they’re trying to help corporations reduce their costs by hiring workers who are willing to work for lower pay who are not necessarily more qualified than the local workers.”

He followed up by stating that the SDP will ask for detailed reviews of all of Singapore’s free trade agreements to ensure that it benefits people, not just corporations.

Singaporeans will take up the hard jobs if they are paid a fair wage

In the same vein, Dr Tambyah also responded to a question on why there are still so many migrant workers in Singapore. He simply said, “We need to have these jobs paid fairly so that the best qualified person, whether you’re Singaporean or non-Singaporean, you can get a job and do it.”

On the argument that Singaporeans do not want to take up so-called ‘dirty jobs’, Dr Tambyah relayed an example of how there is a long line of Singaporeans competing for colorectal traineeships each year even though many would consider that a ‘dirty job’.

“So the point is that once people who do so-called dirty jobs are treated with respect and paid a fair wage, I can tell you, Singaporeans will do those job,” he said, adding that Singaporeans are not “namby-pamby” individuals who would shun hard work.

He also drew on the example of Japan, Korea and Australia were locals do construction work. He says this is also because these countries implement a minimum wage and have some protection for workers in that industry.

He said, “Construction work in developed countries has got a very high level of productivity because the construction workers are skilled individuals who are paid well and treated with a certain amount of respect.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Singapore which is “addicted” to cheap foreign labour, which Dr Tambyah described as “exploitation”.

“Its exploitation of these people who come from other countries. They’re looking for a fair job and in fact, you know they’re earning money here which may be more than what they’re earning back home, but they have to spend some of the money here, and Singapore is a really expensive place to live,” he commented.

He went on to emphasise the SDP’s call for a minimum wage to be implemented that will be fair to Singaporeans as well as migrant workers.

“The reason why we have all these foreign workers here is because of a resistance to paying a fair wage to everybody, Singaporean or foreigners alike,” said the party chairman.

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