The National Day Rally is typically seen as the most important political speech of the year – with the Prime Minister charting Singapore’s future direction and announcing policy changes. This year’s speech opened with COVID-19 as the backdrop that has changed the world as we once knew it.
While PM Lee spoke about preserving our status as a business hub and supporting entrepreneurs, he made sure to emphasize that economic growth had to be inclusive, benefiting Singaporeans across all strata of societies.
National Day Rally 2021: More to be done for lower-wage workers
While many Singaporeans have been hard hit by COVID-19, lower-wage workers are one of the most vulnerable groups of workers and have had to contend with the uncertainties in their livelihoods brought about by COVID-19. Many of them are the backbone of Singapore’s economy and require longer-term support to tide them through this pandemic and beyond. Many lower-wage workers are already on the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme as well as under the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), which has benefited over 85,000 workers in sectors such as security, landscaping and cleaning.
The Progressive Wage Model was first mooted by the National Trades Union Congress in 2012 with the aim of helping lower wage workers have sustainable wage increases through the acquisition of better skills coupled with higher productivity. At the National Day Rally, PM Lee made mention that the Government has accepted the Tripartite Workgroup’s recommendations in 3 areas to uplift lower wage workers:
- Extending the PWM – This will be extended to even more workers across sectors such as retail, food services, wasted management etc
- Local Qualifying Salary – This will require all companies hiring foreign workers to pay all their local employees at least $1,400.
- Progressive Wage Mark – The government will accredit companies that are paying all their workers Progressive Wages with the PW Mark. The Public Service will also take the lead by purchasing only from businesses with the PW Mark as an indication of which companies are paying their workers decent wages.
The announcement at the National Day Rally was the culmination of the work that the Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers, helmed by Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, has put in. The workgroup consulted with over 1,800 workers, union leaders and employers across the span of 10 months before coming up with 18 recommendations to uplift lower-wage workers.
PM Lee also mentioned middle-income Singaporeans, which makes up a bulk of the local workforce, in his speech. He acknowledged that there was some growing restlessness, particularly over foreigners whom Singaporeans feel compete with them for jobs. He took the opportunity to reassure Singaporeans that they are here to complement the workforce and that the Government will continue to tighten the criteria for Employment Passes and S Pass holders.
On the issue of workplace discrimination, he brought up the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) which has broadly laid out guidelines on fair treatment at work. He shared that the Government had previously held back on enshrining the guidelines in law as they did not want it to be a confrontational process. However, they have decided to adopt the stance of the Labour Movement and NTUC’s Labour MPs who have relentlessly pushed for anti-discrimination laws that carry penalties.
This move will see TAFEP having more “teeth” to combat workplace discrimination, ensure inclusive workplace practices and signal that there is to be no tolerance of discrimination at work. However, he expressed his hope that legal redress would be the last recourse.
Labour MP Patrick Tay, who has been lobbying to address workplace discrimination for years took to Facebook to share his thoughts.
Our Shared Future
The announcements at the National Day Rally speech remind us that as we strive to overcome this pandemic and get our economy back on track, the onus is on society to leave no one behind. Singapore is resilient and will eventually bounce back but we should aim for inclusive growth so that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are also able to progress.
In workplaces, it is necessary that companies always practise fair hiring to let Singaporeans compete on a level playing field. On the other hand, Singaporeans also need to recognise that we do need foreigners to complement our local workforce. It is only with a good balance between the two, will Singapore be well poised to compete on the international stage.
*Cover image via CNA