Speech on 2 Sep 2015 at Hougang field
Residents of Hougang and from all corners of Singapore, good evening!
It is so wonderful to be back here to speak with you.
During my house visits in East Coast GRC, a few residents have asked me what the opposition can do for them in Parliament. Some think, if we only have a few elected MPs, we can’t get laws changed or prevent bad laws from being passed. We can only make speeches and hope for the best.
I believe that our value as an opposition party is not just about taking up more seats Parliament or making speeches. It is much more than that.
First of all, if you elect a sizeable number of opposition candidates into Parliament, it will send a signal to the PAP that all is not right with their policies and their attitude towards the people. On the other hand, if you give the PAP an overwhelming vote, they will take it that you strongly support their policies on manpower, immigration, public transport and healthcare, and they can continue on the same path.
Second, once we have a critical mass of capable MPs in Parliament, we would have more resources, time and manpower to scrutinise government policies more closely, propose better alternatives and put pressure on the government to implement these policies. We need enough MPs to be able to effectively examine the work of over 16 ministries, 66 statutory boards and many other government organisations.
Third, by sending a good batch of Workers’ Party candidates into Parliament, you are helping to build a stronger and more credible alternative party that can form a bulwark against any incompetent government that may arise in the future. No governing party lasts forever. History around the world is filled with governing parties which started out well, but eventually lost the support of their people. The real political risk for Singapore is not an opposition that causes gridlock, but not having an alternative to the PAP if it fails the people.
National Minimum Wage
So what are the policy changes that we are pushing for in this election?
I would like to invite you to read our Manifesto, entitled “Empower Your Future”. It is available for sale here at the rally or you can download it from our website for free. It is 46 pages long and contains over 130 proposals for improving the lives of Singaporeans.
Today, I will talk about one major economic proposal in our manifesto: The introduction of a national minimum wage.
What is a national minimum wage?
A minimum wage is the lowest salary that employers are legally allowed to pay their workers. A national minimum wage will apply the same wage floor across the country, instead of having it only apply to certain industries.
The minimum wage is not a new concept. The first minimum wage law was introduced in New Zealand in 1894 and now almost all countries in the developed world have minimum wages or some way of ensuring a wage floor. We are one of just a handful of countries that do not have a minimum wage.
Why do we want to introduce a minimum wage? There are many reasons, and I will outline just a few today.
First, we want to reduce poverty in our country. This is a basic responsibility of any government.
There are about 110,000 full-time employed Singapore residents who earn less than $1,000 per month. This is based on 2011 figures provided to me after I asked the Manpower Minister a Parliamentary Question. This means that together with part-time employees, there could be well over 110,000 Singapore residents who earn less than $1,000 per month or the hourly equivalent of $5.25 per hour.
Ask yourself: Can you support a family in Singapore with less than $1,000 a month?
According to the government’s Household Expenditure Survey, the average monthly household expenditure for the poorest 20% of households is $2,230. This means that even if both parents in a household are working but earning less than $1,000, it is still not enough to cover their expenses. According to another government statistic that I obtained in Parliament, a family of four on average spends $1,250 per month just to pay for basic needs.
I think most of us would agree that in the world’s most expensive city, which is what Singapore is according to the Economist Intelligence Unit , it is not reasonable to expect a household to live on less than $1,000 a month.
The second reason we are calling for a minimum wage is to encourage more people to join the workforce. There are currently many women and older persons who choose not to work because the wages they would earn are not able to cover costs like transport and childcare. So it is more worthwhile to stay at home and look after their children.
This is an untapped labour pool in our economy, particularly at a time when we are faced with a labour crunch. If we can encourage more people to enter or re-enter the workforce, it could help to improve economic growth and at the same time reduce our dependence on foreign labour.
Third, we have cannot afford to wait much longer for productivity to rise before raising the incomes of our lowest paid workers.
The PAP government set a target of achieving 2 to 3% productivity growth per year up to 2020. But for the last 4 years since the last election, productivity growth has been close to zero or negative. In fact, a minimum wage could push employers to raise the productivity of low-skilled jobs. It could incentivise them to provide better training for their low-skilled workers and introduce automation, to help raise workers’ productivity to match the higher wage levels.
There are other reasons for introducing a national minimum wage, and there are exceptions that are usually granted to reduce their negative impact on businesses. I do not have time to elaborate on them in my speech, but the Workers’ Party welcomes a national debate on this issue. We will be happy to address this issue in more detail during the course of this election campaign.
The national minimum wage is just one of the many proposals that we will be pushing for in Parliament, if you elect us as your representatives. Our goal is not to oppose everything the government is doing, but to work with the government to identify better solutions and to put pressure on them to implement those solutions, for the benefit of all Singaporeans.
Fellow Singaporeans, we stand at a critical moment in our history as a young nation. We are no longer a developing country that is struggling for survival. We have achieved enviable level of economic development and peace, due to the hard work of our pioneer generation and many others that followed, and our commitment to work together despite our differences. Yet there are segments of our population that have not reaped the full benefits of our economic growth. We need to do more to uplift the lives of these fellow citizens, and so create a more equitable society and dynamic economy.
The Workers’ Party has and will always stand on the side of Singaporean workers and their families. Please support us in this election, so that we can continue to push for more compassionate and sound economic and social policies.
Vote, for the Workers’ Party. Vote, to empower your future!