Parliament: ‘Insensitive’ remarks on the 4 in 10 earning below $2.5k/unemployed?


With 4 in 10 earning less than $2,500 or unemployed – do we need such ‘insensitive’ remarks in Parliament? 

I refer to the article “Wages rose faster than productivity in recent years: Koh Poh Koon” (Straits Times, Jul 12).

It states that “Real wages in Singapore rose faster than productivity in recent years, even though real wage growth should track productivity growth over the long run to be sustainable.

As to “From 2011 to last year, real wages for resident workers rose by 1.9 per cent a year, while productivity grew by only 1.1 per cent a year over the same period.

Said Dr Koh: “If real wage growth outstrips productivity growth for an extended period, businesses will be at risk of losing their competitiveness and potentially be forced to scale back or close their operations” – the primary issue particularly for lower-wage Singaporean workers may be that there are simply too many lower-wage. under-employed and unemployed Singaporeans.

In this regard, 886,300 or about 39 per cent (886,300 divided by 2,269,700 total resident labour force), or 4 in 10 resident workers, with gross monthly income less than $2,500 including employee CPF contribution (791,900 workers) or were unemployed (94,400 non-seasonally adjusted) in June 2017.

With regard to “”It is crucial that we press on with our productivity drive in order to maintain our competitiveness globally, while enabling continued improvement of Singaporeans’ wages and living standards” – if your salary was $1,000 and you had a real wage increase of 1.9 per cent from 2011 to last year – it means that you only had an increase of about $19 per year – and you are now just getting about $1,120 a month.

Is this a lot?

Also, since permanent residents (PRs) generally earn more than Singaporeans – what is the real wage growth for Singaporeans?

When it was said in Parliament that “Cost of living is a multi-dimensional issue, and the measure of how prices change over time is but one aspect of it, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Tuesday (July 10).

The gap between people’s aspirations and their ability to fulfil them can also bring cost-of-living pressures to people, he told the House, acknowledging people’s concerns about the issue.

Pledging the Government’s commitment to helping all Singaporeans manage and achieve their aspirations, he said: “We recognise Singaporeans’ evolving aspirations for a better life for themselves and their families, and the associated stress of achieving real income growth in a volatile economic environment.

But he said “no single measure will express an individual’s ‘cost of living’ pressures fully, given the different needs and wants, the evolving aspirations and the potential gap between aspirations and anticipated means”.

Mr Chan cited other factors that affect people’s perceptions of living costs, including a changing interpretation of what essential goods and services are for different groups, and the increase in prices of items that are consumed daily – for example, water and transport fares – which may have a disproportionate psychological impact on consumers even if the increases are not the biggest in absolute terms.

“The ‘bunching’ of price increases, like the increases in water and electricity prices this month, can also have a disproportionate psychological impact,” he said” (“Parliament: No single measure for cost of living, says Chan Chun Sing“, Straits Times, Jul 10) – does the Government not realise how ‘insensitive’ arguably, such remarks may be – when read by lower-income Singaporeans from their perspective of their daily struggle to make ends meet?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.