Touted as a purely Singaporean Wage Model by Minister Lim Swee Say, the PAP is full of gusto that they have found the perfect remedy to the predicament of the underclass. But few would argue that businesses are the eventual beneficiaries from this exercise.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail. How are companies going to be reimbursed? Would bosses pass on the savings to their employers if the money goes to them automatically? There are some ethical issues in this.
However, some say that this would benefit the middle class the most. As Minister Chan Chun Sing has said, this scheme is designed to address the wage disparity of the middle class.
This scheme will be effective immediately and will run for three years till 2015. It will cost the government S$3.6 billion over the next three years.
The government wants to make the reimbursement as seamless as possible; companies will receive the monies automatically at the end of the year.
At the end of the day, it is uncertain if the wage credit scheme will benefit the workers. However, we’ll know it at the end of 2015.
You heard him right! After the blockbuster success on the 16th of March 2013, Gilbert Goh of Transitioning.org wants to organize yet another protest.
On his Facebook event page he posted a note about the sequel event:
This is a labour day sequel protest against the 6.9 million population white paper and other matters that affect Singaporeans. Locals and foreigners are all welcome to join in this labour day protest and we are expecting a 10,000-size crowd. If you like to speak at the event please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get in touch with you. There will be light pre-event entertainment at around 3.15pm. Please design and bring along your personal placard so Hong Lim Park is rocking with protest placards! For media enquiries, please email email@example.com. See you soon Singapore
Gilbert has a knack for making protests look like rock concerts. Do join him to see what he has in store this time around!
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In a rare show of solidarity, a grassroots member of the ruling elite had a “conversation” at the SDP’s Malay forum to address the issues facing the Malay community in Singapore. While Minister Heng Swee Kiat has deployed thousands of people into his national conversation project; a two man team of Mr. Jufrie Mahmood and Dr Vincent Wijeysingha were having their own “national conversation,” starting off with the Malay community.
Dato Abdul Halim Kader, PBM and PAP-Malay grassroots leader spoke about how the Malays have made drastic improvements in all walks of life in the last 20 years. He spoke passionately and intensely about Malay issues and said that there are currently about 30,000 tertiary students in the various varsities in Singapore. He also warned that it was pointless throwing rhetoric and criticisms at the ruling elite if basic economic needs of the community were not met.
In a sharp rebuttal, Mr Walid Jumblatt said that aggregate numbers distort reality and that the improvement in the last 20 years for Malays entering universities has been just a mere 3%. Echoing the same sentiments, Mr Maarof Salleh said the only way to be heard was to speak at the ballot box.
However, after realizing that the next General Elections are another four years away; Salleh, made an open declaration to a rousing audience that the Malays were not “stupid.” The forum then pushed ahead focusing on more immediate issues facing the community.
Jufrie Mahmood, Chairman of the SDP took issues with MM Lee’s characterization of Malays and how Malays have been marginalized in the last half a century. “There have been only one General in the Army and one President’s Scholar in the last fifty years,” he said. Speaking in Malay, the outspoken Mahmood said, “our brains are filled with grey matter and it is not empty.”
All speakers spoke about the unequal starting lines – that the Chinese and Indians were hundred metres ahead and that the Malays were constantly playing “catch up.” But, when posed with a question of whether the Malays were “systematically marginalized,” Jumblatt, a lecturer at a local university, did a tactical side-step to speak about semantics instead. “There is a difference between marginal and marginalized. The Malay Singaporeans are a marginal community and not marginalized,” he said. I found his wordplay bewildering. Perhaps, he was out of his comfort zone to speak openly or in-depth about the inequalities, “the unequal starting lines,” as he so articulately put it.
It is important to note at this juncture that Dr Micheal Barr, an eminent sociologist has written extensively about the structural discrimination of Malays in Singapore. I reproduce an excerpt of his essay below:
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the saga of Singapore’s Malays, however, is not the actual discrimination, but the fact that Singapore’s multiracial meritocracy has provided the rationale for its justification, and that this rationale has been effective to the point that even Malay teachers have come to accept this “cultural deficit” explanation of Malay underachievement. The perception of the cultural deficiency of the Malays is, to some extent, a continuation of the prejudices fostered by the British colonial authorities who regarded the Malays as slow and lazy because they preferred their agrarian kampong lifestyle to working in tin mines for money. This interpretation, however, ignores the role of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in moulding the ideological and social perceptions of Singaporeans.
Speaking of cultural or structural deficits in the Malay community or about the semantic of words is purely academic. That conversation is best left at the campuses of our universities. The real litmus test is to count the number of Malays holding senior management positions in the Government Linked Companies or statutory boards. Save for one Zaqy Mohammad and some token Malays, there is a distinct under-representation of Malays in senior positions in our workforce.
The SDP has promised to take this conversation further, perhaps with another round of discussion. By which time, I hope the Malays in Singapore have a better understanding of their wants, their needs and the unequal starting lines that they are speaking of. It would be easier for all of us, if they called a spade a spade.
Yang paid S$3600 of her savings to an agent in promise of more money, better life and to escape from the communist regime of China. But now, she has found herself only the short end of the stick. She works for a meagre S$500 a month as a factory hand in Panasonic Singapore which is located in suburban Bedok. There seems to be an awful regret that she has spent her money on a lousy deal. She has learnt the hard way that her life isn’t any better in democratic ‘Chin-cha-pore’ (Singapore) either.
Similar to those in the bottom 20% of our general population here, her life in Singapore is down to mere existence. Her income of S$500 is insufficient to meet her monthly expenditure. She has worked out a frugal budget though, of $300 for food, $250 for rent and S$60 for transportation, which is $110 more than her wage. To supplement her income, her employer has “generously” given out, in the past, additional allowance of S$150 for housing and S$30 for transportation. With a stipend of S$680, her head is hardly above water.
She works hard for the money
She has a three year old child and her two elderly parents to support back at home. The $60 surplus is inadequate to meet her total financial needs. She needs to work overtime.
Additionally, she works up to 100 hours in overtime in order to make about S$1200 a month. This is on top of the 44 hour work week and she can end up working as many as 72 hours in a typical workweek. The Ministry of Manpower guidelines for overtime states, “An employee can be required to work up to 12 hours a day if the employee gives his consent in writing” (here). It appears that the workers did not give their consent in writing. The employment contract was in English and no translation was made available for the Mandarin speaking workers.
Yang however, is not overly concerned about the long working hours, she is concerned that the 78 hour limit is too low and that 100 hours of overtime hours are insufficient for her to earn the extras. She is willing to work all her waking hours to make as much as she can.
She is hopeful that hard work and determination can see her through all the hardships. She is hopeful that someday she’ll be able to break out of her poverty cycle. But for now, hope is all she has got.
Yang’s passage to Singapore
Her job agent in Hubei China made her many promises. He told her that her she could save as much as $1200 a month and that she could become rich in no time if she were to do overtime in Singapore. So, she was asked to buy her own airline ticket and asked to pay S$3600 as agency fees before her passage to Singapore.
Yang was given a contract in Mandarin which said that she was not forced or coerced into signing it and she was going to Singapore on her own free will. She was not aware of her actual employment terms until she started work in Singapore. In fact, her current employment contract with Panasonic is in English and the company has yet to give her a translation in Mandarin.
When asked if she would consider coming here again, she hesitantly said in Mandarin, “I have to work close to half a year just to earn back the agent fees, of course I would think twice”
Panasonic Singapore Vs Huawel China
There were 14 others we spoke to, who had similar stories to tell. There was one university graduate who was lamenting about how he was short-changed. One said that China was better, yet another said that things were too expensive here. But, also said the people here were cultured and polite.
The graduate worker said that Huawei China paid about S$700 – S$800 as basic pay and he could easily make up to $2000 per month doing a similar job in China. He came here thinking that he could land a white collar job and was hoping to make about $3000 a month.
Union warns employees not to speak up
The workers were warned not to speak-up, negotiate or “create trouble” for the management. They were told that Singapore government had very strict laws and “action” would be taken against those who spoke up.
Some employees received a pay rise of S$1.00 when they became too “vocal.”
Assembly work at Panasonic Singapore
We learnt from the workers that Panasonic Singapore does assembly of refrigerators and air-cons which are exported out of Singapore.
The plausible reason for Panasonic to continue operating in Singapore despite the high rental rates is due to labour laws that permit exploitation of low wage earners and a favourable tax regime.
Is it beneath Singaporeans to work in factories?
Listening to the plight of these workers, it has become apparent to us that industries prefer such low wage workers because these workers often lack the support and backing from unions and the industry bodies in Singapore. A Singaporean worker, on the other hand would have better access, though limited and perfunctory, to unions in Singapore.
One MP said that most Singaporeans do not take these jobs because we Singaporeans are concerned about our dignity and often do not take up menial jobs because we do not want to lose face. Looking at the ruthless exploitation and the wages that Panasonic offers, it makes us wonder if the MP has lost touch with reality and if he seriously wants Singaporeans to work under these conditions? We would like to think that Singaporeans are a whole lot wiser than these migrant workers!
The way forward
In another TOC article written by Jolovan Wham, “Exploitation of Migrant Workers = Exploitation of Low Wage Local Workers,” he has clearly shown how such exploitation can lead to depressive wage conditions in Singapore.
These workers are taking a big risk by standing up and speaking up against our “incompetent” system. Therein lies a lesson for us – there are things that we can learn from them – that we will only be able to find solutions to our social ills by surfacing them in the right forums, by standing up against incompetency in whatever form it may be, and by being the agent of change.
Our fight against inequality and social injustices seems like a long and hard road. TOC is committed and stands shoulder to shoulder with the civil societies in Singapore in fighting these social disparities.