Measure wage targets in hourly pay, not gross total

Straits Times Forum

Jun 29, 2012

I APPLAUD the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for its progressive wage concept initiative to raise the wages of 10,000 cleaners to at least $1,000 a month by 2015 (‘NTUC to raise wages for cleaners’; last Friday).  

The goal should be widened to include more cleaners, as 10,000 represents only about 15 per cent of the 69,000 cleaners in Singapore. 

The median gross wage for cleaners and labourers was $1,277 in 2000, which fell to $960 in 2010 (‘Mindset change needed to help low-wage workers’; Feb 7). 

After adjusting for inflation – both past and present – till 2015, even attaining the target of $1,000 by that year may mean a decline of about 50 per cent in real pay in year 2000 dollars.

Local cleaners at a food centre told me that they earned about $700 a month, with a day off every two weeks. 

Foreign cleaners in the same food centre were paid about $500 for nine hours of work a day.

So even if the target of $1,000 is achieved in 2015, it may mean that the per-hour pay for cleaners is still less than $5, due to their typically long work hours. 

Wage targets should be measured in terms of basic pay per hour, instead of just the total gross wage. 

Using the example of security guards, their higher pay may be due to their having the highest average paid overtime hours, at 14.5 hours a week, where a 72-hour work week is typical. 

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.