Millennial blogger Jeraldine Phneah recently has raised concern and voiced disappointment over the online comments that trivalise the circumstance of low-wage workers in the midst of public conversation about minimum wage policy.
Writing in a Facebook post last Thursday (22 October), Ms Phneah said that she came across a comment on Seedly Personal Finance Community Facebook page saying, “If you only earn $1000/month, most of your stuff nearly free cos [because] subsidized. You only need to worry about food and death.”
The comment, according to Ms Phneah, was a response to The Straits Times article discussing whether it was possible to survive on less than S$1,300 per month, which shared by an online user on the community page.
“I wonder if that is truly the case?” she said, expressing skepticism towards that comment while citing an article reported by Channel News Asia about the plight of cleaner Mdm Rosmah who takes care of her husband who is recuperating.
The article mentioned that Mdm Rosmah earns S$700 a month, but the salary “is easily outstripped” by the couple’s monthly spending of about S$1,000, which included groceries (about S$420), electricity and conservancy charges (about S$120), medical expenses (about S$100), transport (about S$100), rent (S$33), and prepaid phone cards (S$18).
It also said that when their finances run out month-end, the couple would cook less or eat with their neighbours, and while they had a water supply cut, they had to put pails and bottles under their taps to collect the water to shower and drink.
Referring to the case, Ms Phneah then said, “Sure, they may have some social assistance. However, if it was truly enough to ensure ‘most of your stuff nearly free’ and ‘only need to worry about food and death’, I wonder if they would have to put up with the circumstances above?”
She went on to express that it was “indeed disappointing and saddening” to read some of the comments in that thread.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many people, particularly the lower income group. If someone who earns less than $1,300 and was facing hard times saw these comments, I can’t imagine how hurt and humiliated he or she would feel,” she added.
She continued, “You can disagree with minimum wage, but I hope that you do not trivialise the suffering and circumstances of others.
“Let’s try to have more empathy for others, and treat those who are struggling with respect and dignity. Singaporeans, we can do better.”
An online user, who believed to be the one shared the article to community page commented that his posting was initially meant to “have a balanced, fair discussion” on whether S$1,300 is a living wage in Singapore.
However he said it was unfortunate “how some individuals can’t give just a little empathy” for the low-wage earners.
A number of online users also appreciated Ms Phneah for voicing this issue as some people are so “callous” that “do not care for their fellow human beings in need”.
An online user also pointed out that it is needed to push for minimum wage and “not so folksy tales of upgrading”. He said he understands how the mental stress over money and it may lead to lots of negativity which to some people, maybe fatal.
The minimum wage policy has become hot topic of discussion among the citizens following the heated debate that sparked in Parliament on 15 October between Member of Parliaments (MPs) from People’s Action Party (PAP) and Workers’ Party (WP) on whether a universal minimum wage of S$1,300 should be implemented.
During the debate, PAP’s MP Koh Poh Koon argued that the WP’s proposal of implementing a minimum wage of S$1,300 could result in a worse situation for businesses and workers, and also become a politicised issue.
Dr Koh added that Government initiatives like the Progressive Wage Model have already helped increase the wages of lower-income workers.
This was in response to the WP’s chief Pritam Singh’s call for implementing a universal minimum wage with S$1,300 as a base for Singaporean workers. Pointing it out in a Facebook post on 12 October, Mr Singh said that this is not a “moral imperative” but “an act of national solidarity”.
Mr Singh noted that the Government’s current ‘Minimum Wage Plus’ sectoral approach which also covers productivity and career progression within specific sectors has taken “too long” to implement.
“It has been eight years, with three sectors covered. This is far too long for Singaporeans who work outside these sectors. How long are they to wait?” he questioned.