TL;DR – Opposition politician calls NTUC weak and gets schooled by Labour MP and a union leader on what NTUC has done.
Yesterday’s Parliament was pretty epic. It spanned more than 10 hours and ended past midnight. One key topic that was discussed was CECA and foreign labour.
PSP’s Leong Mun Wai argued that there were many issues with CECA jeopardising the local workforce, adding that new policies that the Government will come up with “will (probably) not solve problems thoroughly”.
In particular, he singled out NTUC as the “weak link” in the tripartite partnership – which is the Singapore style of negotiating labour issues amongst three parties: the labour movement, businesses and Government.
If companies suffer, there will be no jobs for workers
Mr Leong said, “NTUC needs a lot of soul-searching if it still wants to be relevant in representing the interest of Singaporean workers”.
His accusation drew retorts from labour MP Desmond Choo, perhaps rightly so.
Mr Choo said, “The best thing we need to do for workers is to care for them in the long term. We seek to protect workers. We care for their jobs. But protecting workers does not mean a zero-sum game. We are worried if investments go away, companies suffer. And if companies suffer, then there will be no jobs for workers.”
What Mr Choo is saying, is that NTUC has to balance the interests of multiple parties to attain a better outcome for workers. After all, if businesses find it unviable to operate, that essentially means there will be no jobs for workers.
After Mr Choo’s retort, Mr Leong backpedalled and said NTUC has done a “tremendous job” for workers’ welfare but there is “room for improvement” for issues relating to wage policies. He then said that not all fault lies with NTUC because there is an overarching foreign talent policy.
Progressive Wage Model has increased the tangible real wages of workers
To address Mr Leong’s remark about wage policies, Mr Choo cited the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) as NTUC’s contributions.
Birthed by former Manpower Minister and Secretary-General of NTUC Lim Swee Say, the PWM is a wage ladder that charts out career progression opportunities and wage increments for workers. This means that it gives workers a structured way to upskill, gain promotions and in turn earn higher salaries. The PWM is currently in the cleaning, landscape, security, lift and escalator maintenance sectors. It will also be introduced to the retail, food services and waste management sectors by 2022.
The progress made by the PWM (pun intended) goes to show that it has benefitted many workers while staying sustainable for businesses. A wage model that isn’t sustainable will result in businesses closing down or hiring fewer workers as they can’t pay the higher wages required.
Give unionists credit where credit is due
Lastly, Mr Choo stood up for the work of the many generations of unionists.
He said, “I do not want what (Mr Leong) has said today to stand as a record for the generations of unionists before me who have dedicated their time, their blood, their sweat to better the lot of workers in Singapore”.
Mr Leong’s comments also caused NMP Abd Samad to speak up about NTUC and the work of the unionists.
Mr Samad said, “When you talk about wages can be better, I would like to share with this House… every union, through the branches that they represent, every time we renew an agreement, we make sure, the workers are benchmarked to the type of work that they do. Review their job scope, pay them accordingly. When NTUC recently launched the Worker 4.0, we talked about 3Ws – wages, welfare and work prospect. Wages (are) always (on) our minds. So, it is not right to say that NTUC has not done our part. We have been doing it since it was founded. I am a beneficiary of past great union leaders, some have been past NMPs. But I want to put it clear, NTUC, we are here for the workers, the wages, the welfare and work prospects will continue to be our main aim.”
Indeed, these unionists are regular Singaporeans and people who have volunteered their personal time to speak up on behalf of workers. They are not paid for it and it’s out of a passion to better the lives of others that they have done it. For long-time unionists, they have dedicated some 30 years to better their industry and sector! That’s some dedication that needs recognition and applause!
Mr Leong, we suggest you do your homework before the next Parliament, so you don’t make sweeping statements and hurt dedicated Singaporeans who have been helping others out.