“The government should not skirt important parliamentary questions on low-wage workers,” said Red Dot United on Wednesday (4 November).

In an article on the party’s website, it was noted that the revelation by Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad that 52,000 Singaporeans earn less than S$1,300 per month after receiving workfare supplements and CPF (Central Provident Fund) contributions is contradictory to what was said by Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Koh Poh Koon two weeks ago.

In a Facebook post two weeks ago, Dr Koh had said: “With Workfare and employer CPF contributions included, only about 56,000 across a variety of job roles earn less than $1300”.

RDU asked why there was a discrepancy and if the 4,000 people “matter”.

The article went on to note that Mr Zaqy also “dismissed a parliamentary question on the number of workers whose take-home wages are $1,300 and below (excluding CPF contributions and all supplementary schemes such as support schemes), by saying that it was not meaningful or accurate to focus only on take-home pay.”

The party questioned: “Why is Mr Zaqy evading the question? Is the Government trying to downplay the number of low-wage Singaporean workers in our midst?”

Pointing out that the government has refused to give straight forward answers to parliamentary questions before, the party asserted that this “sets bad precedents”. It emphasised that the government “should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public and should refuse to provide information only when disclosure is not in the public interest.”

The article went on to say that the government has said it is not ideologically against implementing a minimum wage, yet it defends the Progressive Wage Model as it produces better outcomes.

But the PWM only applies to three sectors which cumulatively account for only 15% of low wage workers, RDU noted.

It further argued: “The complex structure of the PWM makes it a slow instrument in addressing the pressing need for better wages for the bottom 20 per cent of income earners.”

The party then asserted that a “major change” in the wage-setting framework is required, and that the country urgently needs a social policy commitment to protect the most vulnerable workers against poverty.

Pointing to research that shows minimum wage as having a positive impact on productivity growth, RDU argued that Singapore, being a “one of the fastest ageing society in Asia” could further reduce the state’s over-reliance on foreign manpower. As such, it should not dismiss a policy suggestion such as minimum wage.

RDU then states it’s support for a legal minimum wage to ensure a universal wage floor.

As with almost all conversations about minimum wage in Singapore, RDU did not forget to quote the study led by Assistant Professor Ng Koe Hoe from the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy which found that elderly Singaporeans living along will need between S$1,379 to S$1,721 a month to meet basic needs.

Therefore, the Party suggests that the proposal for a take-home minimum wage to be set at S$1,300 as ” a reasonable one which sets a base standard for a life of respect and dignity.”

Mindful of the current difficulties faced by many businesses and that it might not be the right time for companies to bear the additional cost this policy might incur, RDU also propose a temporary Wage Credit Scheme-like programme to help small and medium enterprises to adhere to the universal wage-floor.

RDU chief Ravi Philemon is quoted in the article as saying: “I hear arguments as to why now may not be the right time to implement a minimum wage. But instituting a universal wage floor now signals that the dignity of the work is sacred even in a crisis.”

The Party concluded urging the government to lift the wages of all low-wage workers who are not earning enough to sustain themselves or their families.

“If they are not in jobs covered by the PWM, find other social policies to bring immediate financial assistances to such workers. Workers are the backbone of the economy.”

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