Close to 52,000 Singaporeans take home a monthly salary of less than S$1,300, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad in Parliament on Tuesday (3 November). This amount is inclusive of Workfare cash supplements and after deducting their contribution to the Central Provident Fund (CPF), he added.
The amount includes 30,000 full-time Singaporean employees working in sectors like food services, cleaning and retail, as well as 22,000 self-employed workers, said Mr Zaqy as a reply to a question raised by Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (WP) Jamus Lim.
Dr Lim had asked how many locals are making less than S$1,300, an amount that the alternative party has called for the government to implement as a universal minimum wage.
To explain further on the figures, Mr Zaqy noted that four in five of these Singaporeans have post-secondary education as their highest qualification and more than a third of them are aged 50 and above.
As such, this shows that low-wage workers are those in the older age group and have a lower education profile compared to the current generation, the Senior Minister noted.
He added that the low-wage workers also get a number of support from the government, which include GST vouchers and financial assistance under ComCare.
Additionally, Mr Zaqy asserted that Singapore follows the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) definition of earnings, and this includes employee contributions to social security and pension schemes.
This means that calculations have to include CPF and Workfare contributions as these can be used for housing and healthcare needs, he explained.
“I think it’s worth to note that 75 per cent of our Workfare recipients, lower-income workers, also own their own homes and therefore there’s a direct impact from CPF into your home ownership,” Mr Zaqy said.
He went on to state that most minimum wage systems overseas – including in the United States and the United Kingdom – are subject to taxes and social security contributions.
For those who are not aware, Workfare scheme was first introduced in 2007 to offer lowe-income Singaporeans with cash payouts and CPF top-up in order to encourage them to keep working and save for retirement.
Following that, Dr Lim, who is MP for Sengkang GRC pointed out, “The ILO has a particular definition but I’m sure that he will also appreciate that for a worker that works full-time in Singapore, they will have a notion of how much their labour effort is worth every month.”
Clarification on WP’s universal minimum wage
In parliament, Mr Zaqy also asked Dr Lim to explain the alternative party’s stand on the minimum wage level as it appeared unclear if it was a gross or nett S$1,300 minimum wage level that WP is pushing for based on its manifesto and recent parliamentary speeches.
To this, Dr Lim replied saying that his question was not about the minimum wage, but rather about the monthly earning of Singaporeans as “it is about what it means for survival”.
Despite the clarification, Mr Zaqy went on to ask Dr Lim to spell out WP’s minimum wage standards.
“Could I just confirm once again that the Workers’ Party’s S$1,300 minimum wage benchmark is gross income so that we could settle this and come to an understanding?” he said.
As a reply, Dr Lim at first mentioned that was correct and a “fair characterisation”, but later clarified that WP’s stand was for the S$1,300 minimum wage to mean take-home pay.