Thursday, May 10, 2007

What is it like to be a low income worker.......

HE unionist answered with a smile when the Prime Minister asked if this year's bonus had been a good one.

"Six months?" Mr Lee Hsien Loong hazarded. The happy worker replied: "Seven."

More than one happy Singaporean unionist had recounted similar stories of an unexpected windfall come bonus time when they met Mr Lee at last week's May Day Rally.

"So, when people say the economy is moving but a lot have been left behind, I think it's not a full picture," said Mr Lee yesterday, talking to the media as he wrapped up his six-day official visit to the United States.


Isn't it great a PM who forms his opinion meeting happy unionists belonging to a govt controlled union who received 7 months of bonus. From that, he concluded that not many are left behind.

In the past when the economy booms the labor market would tighten up and wages of all workers would go up. These days with the floodgates open to foreign imported labor, I guess employers have alot more options. Given that corporate profits are at an all time high as a % of GDP and cost of living has risen....what happens to our low income earners...what is like for them in this current boom.

I bring to you this story from about her mom who received a set of brand new terms for her employment. What do elderly cleaners who work 5.5 days a week and not allowed medical leave ...get these days? $500 a month! This is what President SR Nathan gets in 20 minutes! Of course President Nathan is doing this important job of safeguarding our reserves, he must be busy counting our reserves, I haven't seen much of him lately.

What would a worker do if something like that happens? Complain to the MOM and get risk getting fired? Many simply swallow such terms. There is no choice, the employer can get Bangla workers to replace them if they express unhappiness.

Singapore is so lucky to have a big group of elderly low income workers without independent unions and easily replaced by foreign workers. This makes our business super-competitive and we have been ranked No. 2 according to today's Straits Times. USA is ranked number 1 and Hong Kong Number 3. Our lack of creativity + innovation and high cost of rental+utilities can be overcome by highly competitive wages. It is so competitive some workers probably live on 2 meals a day to make ends meet....thanks to them we are No. 2 this year....and if they can live on 1.5 meals a day, I think we can make No. 1 next year.

----------The Story--------------------------------------------------

My mom is working at the Tuas South Incineration Plant as a cleaner under the contract of a private cleaning company. The company pays her S$700 a month for a 5-days work week. The pay is not high, but at least reasonable. Now, the cleaning contract has ended for this cleaning company and the contract has been given to another new cleaning company. And so my mom's new boss had a meet-the-people session to tell the cleaners his rules:
1. The pay is reduced to S$500
2. Now it has to be a 5.5 days working week
3. There will be a cut in manpower as there should not be more than 3 people working at an area, regardless how large the area space
4. No annual leave and sick leave for the first year
And there was where my mom and all other old uncles and aunties got a shock... NO ANNUAL LEAVE AND SICK LEAVE FOR THE FIRST YEAR?!? Hello? These are not hyperactive teenagers we're talking about! This new boss is expecting all his 50-60 years old cleaners not to fall sick for one year? How realistic is this?!? And so what if they DO fall sick? Pay cut! Not a difficult guess right?

I'm wondering, how did the National Environment Agency (NEA) chooses their cleaning company to contract out to? Why is there such an obvious cost reduction effort from this new cleaning company? Is it because NEA is not paying them enough?And is the boss allowed to take away annual and sick leaves for his workers? Is the Ministery of Manpower (MOM) allowing this? If that is true, who is there to protect these old cleaning workers?So much for a good retirement in Singapore... WTF


Someone said...

A blog entry in Stressed Teacher makes a good point though. I would like the low income workers to be paid more. But would I sacrifice part of my salary to ensure that they were paid more? Most likely no.

We complain about workers being paid too little, but most of us are content to do only that. Move our mouths. Are we going to help them by personally donating? Are we going to hold rallies to highlight to the government? No, that's the opposition's job.

And I was part of the 33.3%, so don't call me a PAP sympathizer. It's just that most of us are lazy to do much to help besides blogging and complaining in Sammyboy or maybe the PAP65 blog.

Anonymous said...

Not happy with $500 and no sick leave? Then don't work as a cleaner. Got people force you to take the offer meh? oei, you are a cleaner leh, not an important minister like us! What u expect? 25% pay increment ah? wait longer lah. Only elites like us are entitled to be sick. You too poor to be sick, too bad.

And you, 33.3%, why you vote for losers? Say people, dunno how to say urself ah? Waste your stupid vote on losers.

Anonymous said...

i really feel for those subjected to low wages as a result of their companies bidding for contracts with "incredible" budgets as my dad's one of these victims. SOmetimes i realli wonder why we can't have a min. income law or sumting. Getting ranked 2nd most competitive at the expense of our own pple is kinda the dumbest thing around other than our ministers being paid millions for doing wat i duno

Anonymous said...

To anon 10:32pm.

Not happy don't work?
You must be living in your own nutshell.

These people simply do not hav much choice given for their old age, little savings and no skills set.

With the floodgate open to foreigners, these people are subjected to more critical working terms.

Would i sacrifice my salary for them?
What is the point of sacrificing a small fraction of my pay to help 1 person?

This should be gov. job.
Their decision making affects thousands of unskilled workers lifestyle.

Would we want to hold rallies?
What is the point of holding rallies when power is with the dominant party?

We should reserved that for voting day.

Anonymous said...

I think they call this wage slavery.

Anonymous said...

So, what's the point of job rebranding and skills upgrading for older workers if they are unable to earn more?

No wonder the Government refused to increase public assistance from $260 to $400. Some day they are probably expecting the pay of older cleaners to go down to $400 and then, who wants to work anymore. The older workers might as well just ask for public assistance. What smart thinking from our million dollar ministers.

Protest? Ask the NTUC chief to lead. He represents the workers, not the opposition. Prepare to wait long long. Ask Dr. Chee what happens when you protest.

We are so lucky to have an enlightened tripartite partnership of the Government, NTUC and Employers taking good care of our older workers, so much so that older folks just fell in love with cleaning tables and washing toilets for ever lower pay, for the sake of the country's high competitive ranking.

What more can you ask!

Anonymous said...

this is ridiculous~!

$500 and with no annual/medical leave?!

the new cleaning company who most prob got the winning bid for the job quote real low and now its time for the workers to "pay back" the "lost profit" to the co!
total crap!

i believe the minimum leave entitlement under Ministry of Manpower laws should be 7 days! fight for your rights!

"An employee who has worked for at least three months is entitled to annual leave"

if this cleaning co is exploiting our old folks then they deserve a F spanking and sued!

Anonymous said...

badnews today. a certain Mr Lee is in the news for "hits" and "run away records ". The unfortunate unrivalling of his often guarded persona was judicially uncovered for public consumption. Mr Lee, being an extraordinary talent, had apparently neglected his civil duty to act conscientiously and care for the "downtrodden" and "beaten". In his obsession to be number one, or if you like - A-listed, he has committed the dispicable by abandoning adequate aids to victims of events beyond control. Mr Lee was probably too drunk with A-star power, successes, fame and amassed good fortune to have realised the value of another human life regardless. Those who judge Mr Lee called him 'cowardly' and 'irresponsible' - untrue to his calling reflected in his 'reel life'.Even Mr Lee loyal fann were let down by his pretentiousness. However, it will not stop Mr Lee, from appealing to judiciary powers, to backtrack on his long term( short term, if you like) agenda.
After everything unpleasantly said and done, the "show business" must go on for the sake of Mr Lee.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lucky Tan,

I'm not sure if many Singaporeans know this. Correct me if I am wrong but a lot of us are NOT COVERED by the Employment Act.

How many of us have subordinates? Not covered.

How many of us have access to the company;s "trade secrets"?
Not covered.

How many have access to view financial position of the company?
Not covered.

How many earn more than $1,600 a month?
Not covered under Part IV.

Technically speaking, companies can do what they want with their employees.

LuckySingaporean said...


Empowering workers in not done through just regulation and laws. It is a very dynamic process and related to how the people within the system are politically empowered.

Thank goodness we have entire groups and class of people who believe they have as much rights as robots in our economy - they will probably work until they die because they are paid so low, they have no means to save for retirement. As we became a 1st world economy, we also remove worker benefits such as retrenchment benefits were minimised, pension schemes were removed, ...and if you combine those things with the huge imported labor from 3rd world countries, we have depressed many lower income groups.

GDP growth seems to be the key goal. even if it means greater income disparity. Such unhappiness can be managed in Singapore, workers can't strike, they can't protest, they can easily be fired and replaced....they can be demonised by the papers as unreasonable....So the only thing our workers can do is JUST ACCEPT IT...and contribute to the GDP growth.

Singapore is so lucky to be able to focus growth and nothing but growth.

Anonymous said...

Its a pity for these old folks to put food on the table...a minimum wage scheme is the best for S'poreans especially the older workers.