On Sunday (27 September), Geneva became the third city in the Switzerland to implement a minimum hourly rate. This comes after voters supported the move to introduce a minimum wage, guaranteeing every worker in one of the world’s most expensive cities at least CHF23 (S$34) an hour.
Other two cities in the country that have implemented minimum wage are Jura and Neuchatel.
Although Geneva voters have twice rejected the call to introduce a minimum wage in the city, but they changed their minds on Sunday due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic as it has deepened the wealth gap. It was reported that 58 per cent of voters on Sunday favoured the union-backed initiative to have a minimum wage.
The initiative, which had the support of all the left-leaning parties, offered a solution to poverty and precariousness, as it has become more prominent in the rich city of Geneva since the pandemic started.
The unions who made this initiative argued that it was impossible for people in Geneva to live in dignity making less than CHF23 (S$34) an hour, or CHF4, 086 (S$6,071).
This amount is well above the current highest minimum wage in the world, which is Australia’s AUD19.84 per hour (S$19.33).
Reflecting on this, Taiwan-based Singaporean activist Roy Ngerng took to Facebook on Tuesday (29 September) to highlight the opposite situation that is happening here in Singapore.
The blogger pointed out that while citizens in Geneva have voted to implement the highest minimum wage in the world, resident outsourced cleaners in Singapore only earn S$1,236, which is only 20 per cent of the minimum wage in Geneva.
“Meanwhile, resident outsourced cleaners in Singapore still earn only S$1,236 under the Progressive Wage Model – which is only 20% of the minimum wage in Geneva,” he said.
He added, “And note, there are still Singaporeans earning less than S$1,236.”
For those who are not aware, Progressive Wage Model (PMW) was put in practice to help “uplift” low-wage Singaporeans and permanent resident workers who are working in sectors like cleaning, security and landscaping, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) noted.
The Ministry said that this is done by “upgrading skills and improving productivity”.
In the post, Mr Ngerng pointed out that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) “still claims that the Progressive Wage Model is better than minimum wage”.
“Singaporeans are being robbed of their wages while the PAP takes their money to pay its ministers the highest salaries in the world,” the blogger said.
He continued, “The difference between a real government which cares for the people and a ‘government’ that cares only for itself – one pays its citizens the highest wages in the world, the other paying itself the highest salaries in the world”.
As such, Mr Ngerng questioned what kind of Swiss standard of living is being practiced in Singapore.
“What Swiss standard of living? It is the Swindled standard of living”.
Former PM Goh Chok Tong plans for Singapore to reach Swiss standard of living
Back in 1984, before Goh Chok Tong became Singapore’s second Prime Minister, he came up with a target for the country that it should reach a “Swiss standard of living” by 1999.
Mr Goh told in an interview with CNN that he was referring to the per capita of income, or the average income earned per person in a given area when it comes to Swiss standard of living
“In 1984, when we talked about the Swiss standard of living, I was using a simple measure of per capita income. By 1999, we would like to achieve the 1984 per capita income of Switzerland,” Mr said.
Given that Mr Goh once set a goal for Singapore to reach the Swiss standard of living almost two decades ago, it seems that the country appears to be moving further away from that goal as some Singaporeans still earn way below that what people in Switzerland earn.
In fact, senior citizens continue to struggle everyday, working in order to survive.
According to a Reuters’ report last year, many elderly Singaporeans look for jobs after retirement because the Singapore’s CPF retirement saving scheme does not provide enough money for them to survive.
“If I don’t work, where will my income come from?” said 71 year-old Mdm Mary Lim, one of many elderly cleaners earning a meager wage clearing up to 400 plates a day at a foodstall in Singapore’s Chinatown.
“If I stop my work, how will I survive?”
Mdm Lim said her “biggest fear” was that one day she won’t “have strength left” to do her job.
WP’s Jamus Lim advocates minimum wage
While speaking in a political debate on 1 July, the Workers’ Party (WP) elected Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim 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.