They Said Progressive Wage is Better

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One has to wonder how long does it take for a entry level cleaner to increase his monthly wages from $1,000 to $1,600 (i.e from a general cleaner to a supervisor) What is the industrial norm? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Will $1,600, pre CPF deduction, be enough as a 'living wage' in 20 years' time? How about those earning $1,000 a month then? I thought it would be good to hear it from our experts in WDA. After all, they posted this up on their website and one would expect them to know what they are talking about. So I asked...

Emailed WDA

Dear Sir/Mdm,

Thank you for keeping your website updated with recent policies. I am doing a research about the recent Progressive Wage policy and came across a comprehensive infographics of the model on your website (please refer to the attached)

My inquiry is as follows:

The diagram does not show the projected number of months/years between each stage of the progression. Would you be able to advise what is the industrial standards or norms on an estimate?

Thank you,


Instant reply from WDA
Dear Sir / Madam,
Thank you for contacting Singapore Workforce Development Agency.
2.             We will respond to all general enquiries within 3 working days. If your enquiry is case-specific or requires further processing or investigation, we will respond to you within 10 working days.
3.             Meanwhile, you may wish to visit our website for the following information:
-  WDA Homepage
-  SkillsConnect Homepage
-  Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification System
4.      If you need urgent assistance, please contact us at 6883 5885.
Warmest Regards,
Customer Service Manager
For WDA Enquiry
Tel: 6883 5885
Singapore Workforce Development Agency

5 days later....
Dear Sir/Madam,

Can you advise if my enquiry has been classified under general or case-specific or "requires further processing or investigation?



2 days later...
Dear Nix,

            We refer to your email of 27 January 2014.

2.         According to our records, our officer has contacted you* to inform that your query has been forwarded to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Tuesday, 28 January 2014.

3.         In the event that you have any queries related to WDA, please contact our hotline at 6883 5885. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
(Officer A)

* - I double checked my inbox, that wasn't true.

6 days later...

Dear A,

I have yet to receive a response from the MOM. Is there a contact number of query number that I can refer the inquiry to the correct MOM personnel? 


Nix Chin

Silence. Eternal silence.

It was a simple question but it seemed unpopular enough for anyone to pay attention to. (or blame my unprofessionally crafted email) That left me no choice but to speculate if anyone in the ministry even have an answer. Truth to be told, there was no answer. It isn't mathematically possible for the industry to have more cleaning supervisors than general workers. So it will not be logical to assume the majority of cleaning workers will be promoted to a supervisor level within their first 5, or even first 10 years of their cleaning careers. A selected few perhaps, unless the turnover of supervisors leaving is higher than what the industry can replace them with. If in practice, the majority of workers have stagnant wages because they cannot be promoted, where is the actual progression of their wages?

That boils down to the same thing. The survival of the fittest. Nothing in the Progressive Wage Model suggested anything different. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with adopting this mantra. That exists in every eco-system in nature. But we seem to ignore the fact that at the other end, it means death to the weak and we must question ourselves if that is the way to go. Apparently, we prefer it that way. The Progressive Wage Model does not address the problem of workers surviving the next few years with a 'living wage' of $1,000 a month. How will this group of workers cope when prices of transport and food spike by 30-50% in the next 5-7 years? Will the authorities reluctantly adjust the minimum figure then?

The idea of a minimum wage revolves around the concept of paying someone just enough to pay off what was required to run his life at a specific time. If an economy is unable to support workers in the lowest tier, then the economic model is the problem, not the minimum wage. To a certain extent, in such an environment, the ball will be placed in the business owner's court to innovate and improve productivity in order to be profitable. The argument was that business owners would throw the ball back by passing on the cost to the consumers which leads to inflation and that render a minimum wage system pointless. If you take a look at their "Progressive Wage" model, it isn't exempted from the same argument they put it against a Minimum Wage system. Why wouldn't business owners pass on the cost to consumers under a Progressive Wage model?

According to WDA's framework, a worker has a chance to get a wage increment under these conditions.

1) The worker goes on a WSQ course and get certified
2) The employer promotes the worker. Eg. From a Indoor cleaner to a Outdoor cleaner.

The authorities have put a mandate on the Progressive Wage system not long ago. From my understanding, that was to ensure a worker gets paid accordingly to his qualifications. That is a good thing, because it minimize the chances of a supervisor being paid as lowly as another general cleaner in another company. The mandate give the right to a worker to ask for a certain level of wages according to his qualifications and job scope instead of being left to the employer's discretion. To me, what is questionable about such a framework is the practical implementation. Under such a system, the worker has to rely on a series of approvals to get a wage increment. The government cannot mandate that an employer must send his worker to a course within a certain number of years in service because that will not be fair in the employer's point of view. It still boils down to the same thing. An employer will be more motivated to send a few selected workers to a course, give them a promotion and a wage increment, the rest who are not sent for courses will see wages stagnant for years, leaving them in the same situation as before.

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