It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, we have all been warned. Now that Singapore has entered its worst recession in 55 years, worries and anxieties are turning to apprehension and fear.
The government has repeatedly assured that it will walk with Singaporeans every step of the journey. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat echoed such sentiments when he said: “We share the worries and anxieties of Singaporeans, and we will do our best for you. We will walk with every Singaporean, through every up and down.”
Comforting words indeed. But words do not save livelihoods and pay for meals, utilities, transport, diapers and milk.
We keep hearing of company closures, downsizing and retrenchments. From giant corporations to small and medium enterprises, management are setting an example by sacrificing more so those on the lower rungs can keep their jobs.
In March, DPM Heng announced that the Prime Minister, the President, cabinet ministers and other political office holders will take a three-month pay cut to show solidarity with Singaporeans in this difficult time.
Ministers earn well in excess of one million dollars a year, the Prime Minister takes home $2.2 million annually, and the President over $1.5 million annually.
Strike three months of salary off those kinds of numbers and you will find that the world’s highest paid ministers, Prime Minister and President are still very, very well off.
Contrast this with ordinary Singaporeans who increasingly are feeling fortunate just to be able to keep their jobs. They would gladly take salary cuts and no-pay leave if they can continue working.
But let’s not forget that hefty double-digit salary cuts, or no-pay leave for several months (as many are experiencing) can be a huge blow to average wage earners. In May, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that 150,000 workers had already suffered a more than 25% pay cut, and by now many more thousands would have suffered the same or worse fate.
A 25% pay cut is similar to that of millionaire ministers forgoing three months’ salary. A breadwinner on a salary of $4,000 a month would be left with $3,000. A minister on a salary of $100,000 would still take home $75,000. Seen in that context, the sacrifices of our workers are much, much greater.
We have to wonder if our leaders are doing enough to show that they are in solidarity with Singaporeans during this crisis of a generation. It’s good to know that they “share the worries and anxieties of Singaporeans” and “will walk with every Singaporean, through every up and down.”
But words have to be met with action. Are they really walking the talk where it matters most?