Hi. I haven't written anything for a while because I'm busy clearing as much work as possible so that I can consume my leave at the end of the year. It is strange how companies give you more leave as you become more senior but also more responsibility at the same time - you're older and less able to work longer hours but the expectation is you get everything done anyway. Last few years it wasn't uncommon for people in my company especially the more senior ones to come back on days they took leave to get work done. Work life balance is a great idea but the practically difficult in a competitive society.
I have kept up with what is discussed in our National Conversation...and find that it is the same old things said for the 10th time. Still, I appreciate the proactive effort of Minister Heng Swee Keat to eliminate the banding in secondary schools - something I wrote about and suggested doing in my blog. Things that we can readily do -lets get it out of the way. The rest of the National Conversation, I find rather boxed in by stale ideas, narrow vision and the tendency to cling to the status quo.
Here is a segment, I will use as an example:
[Video clip of National Conversation]
In the video clip, Douglas Foo a highly successful local entrepreneur described his difficulty getting dishwashers. This part of video has caused a firestorm on the Internet because the job description given by Mr.Foo ($3K per month, 9 hours per week, machine automated) was not accurate and he is now accused of opportunistically lobbying for his own interest. The camera then turns to Josephine Teo who is the Minister of State for Finance & Transport. She appeared to have doubts and didn't know what to make of Douglas' claim. A quick look at our employment data will tell you what Douglas said can't be right because more than 100,000 workers in Singapore make less than $1000 a month[Link] and most of the 50,000 Singapore cleaners make less than $1000 a month - but the minister didn't catch him by throat for what he said. MP Sitoh then launched into a discussion about how productivity can make us less dependent on foreign workers. Productivity gains typically is about 2-3% a year in countries where there is no cheap imported labor and business have to compete by making better use of the limited pool of workers. Even if we can get productivity gains up to the level of other countries i.e.2-3%, we will only make a small dent on the dependence on foreign workers. If wages are linked to productivity gains of 2-3% we will also see little improvement for the low wage earners in the working class. So that particular round conversing produced no new ideas, some misinformation on the part of Douglas Foo and PAP MPs & ministers telling us to stick to status quo.
This topic has been discussed much deeper by economists, netizens and opposition members for a number of years. The problem is we have a 3rd world wage structure. The wages on top linked to profits and wages at the bottom depressed by imported labor. This is how we end up with this polarising income gap. Multi-millionaire Douglas' problem of hiring dishwashers is secondary to this problem. Douglas has difficulty getting his dishes washed but hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans find it hard to make ends meet. Surely dishes get washed in Finland, Switzerland and Australia where imported labor is not so readily available. The broader question we should ask ourselves is whether it is worthwhile to have businesses that don't generate good quality jobs for Singaporeans, dependent on foreign labor to compete and survive to be located here. We have finite resources in terms of land, housing and transport, we do a lot better if we host businesses that makes the best use of our precious human resource and pay good wages. Giving our businesses access to cheap foreign labor is a race to the bottom - it is a wealth transfer from those who have to compete with foreign labor to business owners. It will not result in shared prosperity and has led to Singapore having the biggest income gap among developed countries with 400,000 workers who make so little working they need Workfare to stay afloat.
The question now is how far the PAP govt is willing to go to fix these problems. Minimum wages? Shock therapy? They have kept the current model for economic growth going for far too long and there are only hard choices left. Doing too little will only guarantee rising dissatisfaction and anger. We just need to see what the income gap has done to the Hong Kong society to understand this. There is a widespread distrust of leadership and it doesn't matter who they put on top and what he does. They implemented minimum wages successfully this year but the income gap is so wide even such major changes are not sufficient to address the issue. Corrective action in Singapore should have been made 6 years ago or even earlier. Now business have become dependent on foreign labor and major change will affect them and incremental changes will not solve the problem. Ultimately, we must understand that prosperity in our society is shared by workers getting good first world wages for the job they perform....and that is the way to grow the middle class and reduce poverty in our society. ...that is what a first world economy has to strive to achieve otherwise what is the whole point of being a first world country - people will stop supporting a system fails to achieve this.