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No Help For Our Low Wage Workers?

Oftentimes we read reports of low wage workers who struggle with being underpaid and overworked, paying mortgages and family expenses and problems with wage increases and job security.

One heart-wrenching case was brought up by NTUC’s Labour MP Zainal Sapari in his Budget debate speech. Madam Low, a lowly educated 58 years old lady, was employed as an outsourced factory production worker in a pharmaceutical company since 2008 after difficulty finding a job due to her lack of education. She did not receive CPF after 5 years of working.

After she called NTUC’s U Care Centre for advice, her case was highlighted to MOM and CPFB who acted swiftly. The company tried to offer Madam Low $9,000 cash as private settlement to silence her but; she refused the cash offer after consulting U Care Centre.

Eventually, not only was more than $10,000 of Madam Low’s CPF recovered, but 113 of her colleagues' CPF were also recovered after the investigation. 45 of these affected workers were able to finally receive their higher Workfare Income Supplement allotment, totalling about $13,000.

Unlike PMEs who are more informed of their rights and more vocal, low wage workers are often too afraid to speak out in fear of losing their job and as a result, become victims of unfair employment practices.

7 Types Of Help For Low Wage Workers

1. Better Benefits & Protection Under Employment Act

With the new Employment Act, non-workmen earning up to $2,500 will have more working-hours related protection.

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Employees are also better protected from retrenchment with the reduction of minimum employment period from 3 years to 2 years.

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2. NTUC U Care Centre Assistance

Although low wage workers are protected by the Employment Act, there is an urgent need to educate our low wage workers on their rights. To mitigate this knowledge gap, NTUC’s U Care Centre has a toll-free hotline - 1800-255-2828 where low wage workers can get workplace advice even if they are not union members.

3. Union Grants / Bursaries / Hardship Funds

Low wage workers who are NTUC members can tap on union grants and funds to help with family expenses.

Mr Rajasagaran, a low wage worker supporting a family of five, worked hard to ensure his children could get a good education. Although the degree fees of his daughter, Maha, put a financial strain on him, she was able to tap on her father’s union (AUPDRW) bursary award to offset this burden.

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Another low wage worker, Mr Faris, suffered multiple fractures on his leg from a traffic accident and could not to make any claims on the errant driver as it was a hit-and-run accident. He also had to expand his hospitalisation leave and take no-pay leave to recuperate.

As a sole breadwinner, this incident affected his family with four young school-going children. His union SMEEU, talked to Faris’ company to allow him to perform light duties during his recovery, and also helped him apply for the Singapore Labour Foundation (SLF) Hardship Grant to help tide him over.

4. Push for Best Sourcing, Not Cheap Sourcing

Singapore is an all-inclusive society. How can the upper class prosper at the expense of our low wage workers? Everyone complains about our rising standards of living and how the same amount of money is now getting fewer groceries. If average Singaporeans are already feeling the strain, can you imagine how our low wage workers are faring?

There are service providers in Singapore who are trampling on the wages of low wage workers. They bid for tenders at the cheapest price and reduce the workers’ wages in order win tenders.

There are service buyers who cheap source by picking the cheapest bid, not caring whether their outsourced workers are forced to accept a pay cut when the new, cheaper contract begins.

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Cheapest is not always the best and such unhealthy undercutting practices are hindering our low wage workers from getting better pay.

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If you are a service provider, in best sourcing, you should consider other factors such as reliability of service providers, after-sales services and responsiveness, especially if the outsourced service affects your company’s image to your own customers.

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5. Legislation of Progressive Wage Model For Better Pay, Better Jobs

After seeing their wages stagnate for a decade, the light at the end of the tunnel has finally come for 55,000 cleaners when our government finally announced the implementation of the Progressive Wage Model as a mandatory licensing condition for all companies providing cleaning and security services.

This comes two years after NTUC started campaigning for the Progressive Wage Model as a more effective method than minimum wage to provide workers with better pay and better jobs.

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Beginning from September 2014, cleaning companies operating in Singapore must pay cleaners an entry-level salary of S$1,000 each month, up from the current median gross monthly wage of about S$850.

Cleaners also get wage increments in tandem with skills upgrading, productivity and career responsibilities. Next sectors to be targeted will be the security and landscape industries.

6. Annual Wage Increment Recommendations

According to a Ministry of Manpower spokesperson, there are 150,000 Singaporean and Permanent Resident full time employees who earned below the S$1,000-line in 2012.

Last year, after unions negotiated with employers for wage increases, the National Wages Council (NWC) recommended a minimum monthly increment of S$60 for workers earning a basic salary of up to S$1,000 a month, with the government subsiding S$24 out of the recommended S$60 from the Wage Credit Scheme.

7. Other types of help for low wage workers

ComCare

CPF Act

Mandatory itemized payslips

E2i’s Inclusive Growth Programme to share productivity gains with low wage workers

- Promoting best-sourcing with Progressive Wage Incentive

Singaporeans sometimes need the facts to be shown right in their face to be convinced that our government and union are doing all they can to pull our low wage workers out of the gutter. I am pretty sure the 7 points above speaks volume.

Perhaps it is now time to turn the spotlight towards you and me. What have we done to increase the good and well being of our low wage workers other than lamenting on social media channels?

As a service buyer, are you pushing for best sourcing when selecting your service providers? As an employer, are you taking the first step towards implementing progressive wage model for our workers?

Even if you are not directly involved with service sourcing or human resources, have you been making efforts to reduce the workload and expectations of our low wage workers? As a customer, have you at the very least given these workers a smile or a pat on the back for a job well done?

If the answer is no, it is perhaps time to stop complaining and reflect what you should have done to play your part. Remember actions speak louder than words, make sure you walk the talk.

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