Underpaid, overworked and…

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By Elias Tan

Singaporeans are, especially those in low-paying sectors, “grossly underpaid”. With these words economist and former boss of the National Wages Council Professor Lim Chong Yah sparked off a debate some time ago.

And now there is a lot of talk going on in online forums about Singapore’s economic growth not necessarily translating into higher wages.

An online survey conducted by JobsCentral found that two-thirds of Singaporeans say that their workload has increased. Of this number, 83 per cent said that they are stressed, while 60 per cent said they stay in their office for at least an hour longer three times a week.

In an interview with XinMsn in 2012, Ms Michelle Lim, Chief Operating Officer of JobsCentral Group, said: “Singapore’s workplace environment is a tough and demanding one.

Workers place career as one of the top priorities in their lives and often make personal sacrifices for job advancement.

“On the other hand, employers faced with increasing manpower cost embark on an unending quest for higher productivity. It is not surprising that our workers are feeling more stressed and are working longer hours,” adds Ms Lim.

It looks like labour chief Lim Swee Say’s notoriously misplaced slogan — Cheaper, Better, Faster — has finally made a point that he didn’t intend to make in describing the plight of most Singaporean workers.

Could it be that our ‘kiasu’ and ‘kiasee’ culture has a part to play in suppressing overall wages as Singaporean workers have already been working very hard, even pulling all stops just to earn brownie points for promotions and/or salary increments? Or that the influx of white-collar foreign workers and labourers, coupled with the high cost of living, has gradually depressed wages?

Whatever it might be, Singaporeans are definitely overworked and underpaid; even though the country’s GDP has gone up and up, workers’ salaries have stubbornly remained stagnant. And in the light of the rising cost of living, the average salary of a Singaporean worker – S $4,500 – is not enough to feed a family of, say, four. Not forgetting taxes, utility bills, grocery bills, conservancy charges and more. It seems like there is no end to paying and paying.

Needless to say, this is one issue that should have been addressed eons ago.

The question is: Why hasn’t the Ministry of Manpower found an equitable solution?