Saddening story of 82 y/o elderly lends weight to Jamus Lim’s call on minimum wage

The Workers’ Party (WP) elected Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim earlier said in a political debate on 1 July that the Government should ensure that those who have been contributing to the nation’s economy and society for years are being taken care of, as this is a “very big part of social mobility”.

“We absolutely need to take care of our elderly that live among us. It is really a crime that we see the elderly, continue to feel that they have to work in order to make ends meet,” he said.

Dr Lim also highlighted the importance of minimum wage which he believes can bring Singapore towards greater social mobility. He further reiterated his point on Facebook on 14 July, noting that minimum wage is “not unabashedly good policy”, but rather a “good start that is also evidence-based”.

“I see this as a feature, not a bug. The point is to redistribute some bargaining power from capital to labor, and I think we can afford to chip in a little to take care of the least well-off in society. With many more buyers than min wage workers, the price effect will be small,” he remarked.

Dr Lim added that he disagrees with some people who said that the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) is a minimum wage, as he believes that the “PWM ties wages to job function” and this gives a lot of space for employers to cut corners, without redressing power differentials.

“It also leaves those who simply cannot upskill in the lurch, and earning below a living wage. The reality is that, by our estimates, 100,000 workers remain below the min wage, and so PWM is obviously not working for these people,” said the economics professor.

Based on the Ministry of Manpower, PWM “helps to uplift” low-wage Singaporeans and permanent resident workers who are working in sectors like cleaning, security and landscaping.

Meanwhile, Dr Lim’s point about the PWM seems to resonate well with the story of an 82-year-old lady, who claimed that she only earns S$20 per day working as a cleaner and dishwasher at a hawker centre situated in Tampines Hub.

The story was shared by Facebook user Meng Shuen Koh, who posted on Facebook on Monday (27 July) a series of screenshots from his Instagram story.

The FB user wrote that while he was heading to the city via MRT, an old lady who was carrying a “bulky bag” beside him tapped him on the shoulder and asked him how to go to Sentosa from Bedok. After telling her that she needs to disembark at Outram Park to change trains to Harbourfront, he proceeded to accompany her as she seems hesitated.

“She apologised to me for troubling me, and I reassured her that it’s okay, because I wasn’t meeting anybody, and I wasn’t going to do anything important anyway,” he added.

The old lady, who was referred to as “Ah Umm”, shared to him that she is a Malaysian-born citizen and currently lives in Sembawang with her two friends. She claimed that she had no “formal schooling” and only can speak Chinese.

The FB user also discovered that the old lady’s husband has passed away many years ago, while her only son died during a “heli-rappeling” exercise with the Commandos a “long time ago”.

She claimed that the Government has promised to give compensation for her late son’s death – with S$300 per month – but up until now, she has never even received “one cent” from the Government.

“Now national day coming, they ask us hang the flag. I don’t want to hang. Hang for what? My son died for this flag. This flag also never help me. How to don’t work? I will starve to death,” the old lady told him.

When he asked her why she was heading to Sentosa, she explained that her friend told her about a job there that pays S$10 per hour to wash dishes. The old lady said she works as a cleaner and dishwasher at Tampines Hub, and earning only S$5 per hour.

Aside from her hourly salary, she was given with no free meals, nor transportation allowance from the place that she currently works at. The old lady added, “Eat lunch, eat dinner already $5, already one hour of work gone. Left S$15, sometimes don’t eat better I think”.

She also revealed to him that she has had four major heart surgeries, in which each surgery would cost her about S$40,000. The old lady noted that she had to sell her house in order to pay for the exorbitant surgeries fees.

As they reached the VivoCity bus station, the FB user tried to hand S$2 to the old lady for her bus rides but she refused to take his money.

The old lady said to him, “I cannot take your money, I have my own money, I got work I have my own money”.

Upon hearing her story, he realized that regardless of her age and how her life was messed up by the nation’s system, the old lady still wants to “work more” and not even complaining to her boss about her low salary.

Indicating S$5 of salary per hour as a “slave wage”, the FB user opined that “nobody should be working menial labour for S$5 per hour”. He also mentioned about the first hob he took when he was 16 years old, he was paid S$5.50 an hour at Subway but he didn’t expect such salary still exist after 10 years.

“People always ask, ‘how will we pay for minimum wage?’ But people never ask, ‘who will end up paying the price if we don’t pay for minimum wage, and how will they pay?

“People like Ah Umm pay. They pay with their house. With their life. With their sweat, and their tears (she cried a few times when she talked to me about her son, her house, her surgeries),” the FB user added.

He noted that the ruling party People’s Action Party (PAP) has asked for a strong mandate to govern Singapore and assured Singaporeans that its PWM works. But after 50 years of the PAP’s mandate, there are still 100,000 workers remain below minimum wage, according to the WP.

“Meanwhile Goh Chok Tong and Edwin Tong say they’re not paid enough as ministers. Tan Chuan-Jin says some old people who collect cardboard to sell do it as a form of exercise,” the FB user added.

He went on to advise Singaporeans who vote for the PAP to remember those people who are also struggling to make ends meet like the old lady, noting that the future of Singapore is “more than just your future”.

“I haven’t celebrated National Day for many years. This year will be no different. I see nothing worth celebrating,” he asserted.

At the end of his Instagram story, the FB user remarked, “no public servant in Singapore deserves to be paid S$1 million per year.”

Read the story update here: MSF confirms story of 82-year-old lady working as cleaner to cover her expenses

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