The Prime Minister and the Cleaner

It was widely known that NTUC Secretary General Lim Swee Say believed that a minimum wage system has too many shortcomings and will therefore be detrimental to the well being of Singapore's economy if it is to be implemented. So they crafted a uniquely Singapore wage model they called, "Progressive Wage Model." The Progressive Wage Model is based on the key objectives of helping Singaporean workers climb the four ladders of skills upgrading, productivity improvement, career advancement and wage progression. The key objectives of this scheme alone tells us how much NTUC misses the target, if they think this is a replacement to a standard minimum wage system that is designed to protect the lowest tier workers.

A minimum wage ensures all employed workers earn a bare minimum to sustain their families. It does not and should not measure skills. The employer is responsible for equipping the worker with the right training and the tools to perform his or her roles. Upon the completion of training, the worker exchanges his time for money. Simple as. The problem arises when agencies chose to interfere by micro managing what industries should define as skills. For instance, Minister of State Josephine Teo was reported as saying that the government plans to engage only cleaning companies accredited under the National Environment Agency’s Enhanced Clean Mark Accreditation Scheme for all contracts called from 1 April 2013.

I wonder if anyone realise if we stick to our common sense and thrash this ridiculous idea of accrediting a cleaner (a fucking cleaner?!) and remove the bureaucracies, training agencies and other bullshit, we actually have enough money to pay the cleaners more. In time to come, Singapore cleaning companies will add "Only accredited cleaners need apply" on their hiring advertisements to save themselves the trouble and cost of sending workers for training. We will be left in a situation where we need to pay first to get a job as a cleaner.

Has anyone in NTUC conducted studies if an accredited cleaner is really more productive and therefore deserves a higher payout or opportunities to win a cleaning job at Josephine Teo's office? Any employer will tell you that no two degree holders produce the same level of quality in their work. If we are not the slightest certain of the effectiveness of accrediting such an industry, is that really necessary in the first place?

The key fallacy of this program lies in the definition of skills how much a person with a certain set of skills should be paid. For starters, who is in a position to decide how much a human being is worth? Assuming we have an excellent top tier accredited cleaner earning $1,000 on a "progressive wage" of an impossible 20% year on year increment every year without fail is required to work for 30 full years to reach an annual salary of $2.3 million, the amount that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is drawing today. Or on a single year alone, the PM rakes in a combined salary of 200 cleaners. Who defines a year of a man is worth 30 years of another, or of 200 others? Is it decided by demand and supply, a group of people or a single man? If the salary of our prime minister is defined by demand, he should be earning much lower than $2.2 million a year since only 60.1% of the electorate demand his services. It may be true that a man of his characteristics is definitely short of supply though, since there are only 2 qualified men in Singapore for the role.

If a single man can define how much you are worth, Lee Kuan Yew's proposal to link the salaries of ministers, judges and top civil servants to salaries of top professionals in the private sector is one example. What you probably missed out is, the salaries of top professionals are also defined by a group of elites protecting their own interests. By setting no minimum and maximum a man is paid, it is inevitable an income disparity will befall Singapore. 

If the decision makers are willing to address the growing issue of income inequality, there will have no need to consider any minimum wage model, progressive or otherwise, at this moment. A minimum wage has no purpose if the wages of top professionals are not reined into sustainability. If in doubt, always refer to the pizza. The gap between the top and bottom earner should be pegged in a ratio such that the top will never have a pay increment unless the economy is able to pay the low wage workers higher, unless you think it makes sense to freeze the wages of low and middle class workers in a bad economy while the top earners continues to draw 12 months bonuses at the end of same bad year.

There isn't a doubt that NTUC is aware of the situation but the organization simply has to come out with a scheme, uniquely Singapore style no less, that is neither effective nor relevant to address the real issues within. We could be better off saving the resources for a good one than a half-baked effort. That is how our government, ministries, statutory boards and government-linked companies operate. To spend the budget with the primary purpose to remind the public they exist, rather than the true purpose of serving the people.

1 comment:

  1. They should have a law that prohibits immoral wages - too high or too low is prohibited. However, I personally do not mind paying the ministers high wages if the people well being is very well taken care of. The problem in singapore is the ministers are paid very high wages but the well being of the people are going down the drain.