In Terry Xu’s world, an effective union fighting for workers’ rights is one that is confrontational, where employers and employees are at odd with each other and the union must serve as a ‘counterweight’ to the government.
Trade unions as ‘counterweight’ to the government?
In his first May Day Rally message to Singaporean workers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said:
May Day 1960 will always be a notable occasion in the history of the trade union movement of Singapore. For this is the first time that May Day is celebrated in Singapore when there is a government which is openly on the worker’s side.
In Singapore, trade unions do not need to act as ‘counterweight’ to the government because the government is openly on the side of the workers. This is a message that is repeated May Day after May Day. Union leaders speak as equal partners with employers.
Terry Xu of TOC demonstrates his lack of understanding when he ran down tripartitism in Singapore in an op-ed published 17 October which was essentially a rant against NTUC.
Tripartism has been good for workers.
Good labour relations help Singapore attract foreign investments and create good jobs
Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, industrial relations in Singapore was confrontational. Unemployment was high and working conditions poor with social unrest. The country was in a dire economic situation with limited resources. To survive the country needed to attract and retain foreign investments.
NTUC agreed to move away from a confrontational approach to a consultative style speaking with enlightened employers who understood that a harmonious relationship benefitted both employers and workers.
Thus tripartism was born.
Much as Terry may harken back to the days of social and labour unrest, it is peaceful labour relations leading to jobs stability that have uplifted workers through economic progress. Which foreign investor will pump in millions or billions of dollars here if labour unrest breaks out every now and then? Without job stability, there is no welfare.
How much is Terry Xu paying his Singaporean writers?
Terry Xu claimed that survey after survey showed that the average Singaporean is disgruntled with their employers but did not name any survey to back his claims. He should name the surveys.
We searched and found one study by Qualtrics. Qualtrics did conduct a study and found that for Singapore workers, salary was not the biggest driver of job satisfaction. A unique factor for workers in Singapore, in comparison to the other countries, was that receiving sufficient training to perform their job effectively enhanced job satisfaction. Employees appreciate it when their employers invest in them. In this respect, Progressive Wage Model with steps mapped out for workers to upgrade their skills will enhance their job satisfaction. Indeed, many workers spoken to have expressed satisfaction with being able to climb up the progressive ladder to earn more through training.
We know Terry Xu employs foreigners as writers because they are cheap. Terry Xu should also tell us how much he is paying his Singaporean writers. Are they among the 32,000 earning less than $1300 a month?
Has it occurred to Terry that the 32,000 people who earn less than $1300 a month are spread across different sectors and industries and to legislate a universal minimum wage of $1300 a month may well have the unintended consequence of bringing down the salaries of workers earning than $1300?
32,000 who earn less than $1300 a month include people with disabilities
The vast majority of Singaporean workers are earning more than $1300. Only 1.7% or 32,000 earn less than $1300 a month. Among them are people with disabilities.
Speaking in Parliament, Dr Koh Poh Koon said that these workers (with disabilities) will be helped through other measures instead of putting the burden on their employers. Ultimately, looking after workers is a collective responsibility. This makes good sense as the employment of people with disabilities should be encouraged and facilitated. It gives them a sense of independence and of achievement even though their productivity level may differ depending on the type and degree of disabilities.
What has NTUC done to uplift workers?
Read up, Terry, and you will know what they have done. NTUC is not just about supermarkets or food courts although these are equally important in the lives of workers. Supermarkets help keep the prices of essential items stable in a crisis when food items flew off the shelves. Food courts ensure that there is a choice of affordable food for workers and this too is about workers’ welfare.
NTUC, through negotiations with industry representatives for the Progressive Wage Models, have seen more than 80,000 workers in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors earning more than $1300 a month.
The Progressive Wage Model for the Lift and Escalator Sector will see lift technicians earning at least $1850 a month, up from a basic of $1300.
Much progress has been made by NTUC, but as Dr Koh said, it is unfinished work.
Next in line for the Progressive Wage Model will be the Waste Management and Food Services sectors. Proposal for the Waste Management Sector has already been submitted by the labour union.
“NTUC is looking into other industry sectors with a sizeable resident workforce having a median income below the bottom 20th percentile, and this includes the food services sector,” Dr Koh, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health, said when he announced the proposal for Waste Management Sector.
98.3% of Singaporean workers are already earning more than $1300. So why is WP still calling for a universal minimum wage of $1300, and Terry Xu taking up on their behalf on this call
Because minimum wage is politics, not economics. It’s about a politician’s popularity, not workers’ welfare.
The politicians decide, BASED ON THEIR OWN OPINION, what they think a worker should earn at the minimum.
Minimum wage is at best, populism at work. At worst, it is a cosmetic change that looks good on the outside but changes nothing on the inside because it does not address the needs of workers or the needs of the industries where they work.
In economics, wages are determined by supply and demand, and productivity, among other things.
The Progressive Wage Model addresses the needs of the workers AND the needs of the industries.
The sectoral minimum wage is set based on HARD DATA, NOT AN OPINION.
Taking into account the needs of the lift and escalator sector, the sectoral min wage for this sector is set at $1850. That’s $550 more than $1300.