Labour MPs call for more support for low-wage workers through progressive wages in COS Debate 2023 

By March 2, 2023Current

With the global rise in issues of income inequality, there has been a growing push for policies aimed at promoting greater wage fairness and equality in Singapore, particularly among low-income workers. Owing to the strong tripartite relationship between the government, the labour movement and employers, it has eased the process of the implementation of progressive wages to the current 7 sectors and discussion for an expansion to other new sectors. Complementary schemes such as the Local Qualifying Salary (LQS) and the Progressive Wage (PW) Mark accreditation are also policies that the government has implemented and continuously refined to help uplift workers from the lower wage rung. 

Besides just providing lower-wage workers with a financial base and ladder, the Progressive Wage Model also provides them the requisite training to upskill and raise their career trajectory. With the recent expansion of the PWM into the food services industry, 12,000 lower-wage workers will get to enjoy a salary rise to at least $1,750, the baseline for PWM wage in this industry, with further increments over the next three years. 

At the Committee of Supply (COS) Debate on 1 March 2023, NTUC’S Director of U SME and Women & Family Unit Ms Yeo Wan Ling‘s speech displayed how the symbiosis of the government and the labour movement has helped bolstered the tripartite efforts in pushing forth with the progressive wages scheme in a bid to move towards the shared commitment of uplifting all workers, especially those vulnerable and on the fringes of society. 

“The Government’s unwavering support for the Progressive Wage Credit Scheme (PWCS) to enable employers in their efforts to keep with the Progressive Wage Model changes is a reflection of this Parliament’s commitment to ensuring that we indeed “leave no one behind”. “ 

NTUC’S Director of U SME and Women & Family Unit Ms Yeo Wan Ling 

Ms Yeo Wan Ling reminds us that while strong tripartite relation is key in setting out policies to benefit workers, it would also require a community effort to close the gap between lower and middle-income wage workers, for the nation to progress. The support would have to come down to every Singaporean. There must be a mutual understanding that in a bid to help our lower-wage workers to move up the ladder, it will be inevitable that society may have to bear some of the costs in terms of higher prices as an example.  

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“However, this is not merely the responsibility of the Government alone. Many of the sectors where PWM is implemented are those that are crucial to the functioning of our country and our society; take the food services industry for example – food service staff, hawkers and chefs touch our lives on a daily basis as we rely on their service to fill our stomachs! Perhaps the next time we see a 30 cent increase in the price of our chicken rice, we think less of the cost we bear but rather the chance we are giving someone else in our society, “she said. 

To which, she questions how the government is intending to help common people like you and I understand the need for a community effort to help uplift the lives of our lower-wage Singaporeans. 

With the recent case of a local security company touting the PWM requirements, it has also brought to light the potential exploitation of PWM which has negatively affected the very workers that the policy was intended to protect.   

At the same parliamentary sitting on the COS Debate, NTUC’s Director of Operations & Mobilisations Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman suggests that “the MOM, together with tripartite partners, also conduct regular public education and outreach efforts to raise awareness of the PWM and its requirements among employers and workers” so that lower-wage workers are less susceptible to exploitation. 

Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman urges employers to be fully compliant with the PWM requirements both in technical requirements and in spirit. To which, he seeks MOM to provide an update on its implementation and the measures in place and to further explore enforcement strategies/mechanisms to ensure that companies comply with PWM wages & other requirements. 

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Such a case also highlights the need to continually strengthen the tripartite relationship so that companies share a common understanding of the purpose and intention behind such a scheme for it to attain maximum effectiveness. While there is no easy solution to this complex issue, building a common understanding in pushing for progressive wages is a promising step toward creating a more just and equitable society for all. 


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Author Zahra

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