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Time for Government to do more for low-wage workers: MP Zainal Sapari

Progressive Wage Model is part of the solution, but it is "not a magic wand" as it cannot stop the resetting of wages during contract renewal or guarantee workers get the 13th month bonus, says the NTUC Assistant Secretary-General. 

SINGAPORE: More can be done for low-wage workers, such as cleaners and security officers, as outsourcing has led to market failure contributing to the depression and stagnation of their wages. While the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) has helped, it is "not a magic wand", said MP Zainal Sapari in a blog post on Saturday (Feb 13).

The Assistant Secretary-General for National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) wrote on the Labourbeat blog saying that companies or organisations will call for tenders for such services and invite service providers to bid for contracts that come with a fixed time period. Typically, the lowest tenderer will be awarded the contract and the winning service provider has to keep its operating costs down to service the contract sustainably, he added. 

"These workers usually do not receive annual increment or 13th month bonus because their employer has to keep costs down," Mr Zainal said. "Hence, market failure then takes root where service buyers benefit with the lowest possible operational costs, at the expense of the outsourced workers."

He turned his focus to the National Wages Council (NWC), noting that for workers who took up the jobs for two to three years, did so with "little or no wage increment". "Attention to the National Wages Council - your recommendations did not work for these outsourced workers!"

For those who did receive increments, they usually did so in spite of, not because of NWC's recommendations, he added. 

In the last Parliament sitting in January, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said 59 per cent of private establishments with employees earning a basic monthly salary of up to S$1,000 had given or decided to give wage increases to these employees in 2014. This included 31 per cent which gave the NWC's recommended built-in wage increase of at least S$60 to this group of workers, Mr Lim added. 

The Labour MP said the PWM for the cleaning, security and landscape sector has been introduced, and is "part of the solution" as a prescribed wage level for the workers will create a level playing field for all service providers and service buyers. 

However, the PWM cannot stop the resetting of wages during contract renewal or guarantee workers get the 13th month bonus or annual increment, he added. 

DOING MORE, STARTING WITH THE GOVERNMENT

As such, he questioned why if the PWM could be made mandatory, the same could not be done for increments and 13th month bonuses for the three industries as well. 

"If so, all service providers would have to comply and the workers would be better off."

He also questioned why service buyers, the Government included, cannot be more worker-centric and try to maintain a long-term relationship with good service providers.

"If the service provider is good, continue to extend the contract with them even if the price is higher," he suggested. "Maybe, it’s about time we change the Government’s 'bible', also known as the Instructions Manual." 

He advocated a further push with the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Model, saying that if the public and private sectors enter into long-term partnerships to operate projects traditionally provided by the Government, it is the Government's duty to play a bigger role to "ensure that private enterprises are committed to responsible and sustainable human resource (HR) practices."

"This may well be the tipping point that ensures that outsourced workers do not always end up as the disadvantaged lot every two to three years. With the PPP model in the outsourced sectors, these workers will have better wages, and more benefits that will keep them happier on their jobs," said Mr Zainal.