A drizzle of inflationary pebbles?

464
Photo: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images - Source

By Mary Lee

Photo: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images - Source
Photo: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images – Source

A life-long lesson for the ruling People’s Action Party in how-not-to-win-votes has to be the White Paper on Population. Seen in calm hindsight, it was a typical policy paper, published after controlled feedback sessions with – one assumes – unemotional types eager to express an opinion to the government.

So the recent news of four to five per cent pay rises likely in all sectors, particularly services, and for Singaporean cleaners in the PAP town councils counters all the negativity stirred up by the White Paper 6.9 million population target in 2030. These could also be pebbles in the calm pool, causing the water to ripple just as rocks of consumer price rises start to rain down. The drizzle of higher taxi fares has started. Will higher bus and train fares follow? We will know when a report is released tomorrow.

Particular mention of nursing and teaching assistants’ salaries rising have been made. So higher medical costs are not far off… Reason? Shortage of workers. Cause? Public outrage at the number of foreigners working in Singapore.

There has been a 129% increase in foreigners earning $2,200 and up in the past five years, according to manpower statistics. These figures do not include maids, construction workers or work permit holders who have no impact on housing and, except on weekends, put no pressure on public transport. It is the former group that has impacted on housing and transport. And no end to the pressure is in sight (they number just under 330,000 in June 2013).
Back in the ‘70s, when foreign investors were setting up factories in Singapore and needed masses of local women to work in their assembly lines, they provided buses to ferry them from and to designated spots in housing estates. Many still do. But employers of S-Pass or EP holders don’t have to do that because they are small enterprises.

So perhaps Singaporeans shouldn’t be targeting foreign workers. Their angst should be directed elsewhere.

Incidentally, should the PAP town council cleaning contractors claim they can’t get locals to sign up at $1,200 a month, they should pay the market rate for cleaners, instead of being allowed to hire foreigners for the unskilled job of cleaning (although I really like the cheerful young Bangladeshi who cleans my corridor once a month for $700!).