Tackling income inequality should be Govt’s top priority

Our national productivity drive needs to start from the top. We currently have three very senior ministers advising the PM, three ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office—two of them without any portfolio—nine ministers of state and six parliamentary secretaries, most of whom are drawing multi-million dollar salaries. Does the prime minister of such a small country really need so many advisers and ministers assisting him?

This is my response to the Finance Minister’s Budget 2010 speech.

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Income inequality is one of the biggest challenges our nation faces. The median household income in 2009 was only 71 per cent of the average income, down from 74 per cent in 1999 [see note 1]. This means that the few very high income earners are pulling up the average, while the large number of lower income earners are pulling down the median. The share of wages in GDP has declined from 47 per cent in 2001 to 41 per cent in 2006 [see note 2]. The Gini coefficient–a measure of income inequality–rose from 0.436 in 1990 to 0.478 in 2009, indicating a widening income gap.

Increasing income inequality has been shown to coincide with higher divorce rates [see note 3] and crime rates [see note 4], particularly property crime. Singapore’s wealthy elites can no longer afford to simply turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor, thinking it will not affect them–because it will, eventually.

Reducing income inequality should be the top priority of the government. This government needs to pay more than just lip service to the goal of ensuring that all Singaporeans benefit from economic growth.

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Low Thia Khiang: Don’t cut pay of workers who reach 60

This was a speech in Parliament on 11 March 2010 by MP for Hougang, Low Thia Khiang, during the Committee of Supply debate, on the budget for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Read other Workers’ Party speeches and statements at wp.sg.

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By 2012, the re-employment legislation will require employers to offer re-employment to workers reaching 62 years of age, up to age 65, and eventually to age 67. However, the Re-employment legislation will not replace the Retirement Act of 1999.
The Retirement Act allows an employer to reduce the wages of older employees up to 10% on or at any time after the employee attains 60 years of age.
The 10% pay cut at age 60 was recommended by the Tripartite Committee on the Extension of Retirement and the justification then was to address the problem of the seniority-based-wage system.
With the Government’s call to increase productivity and the progress made in wage restructuring from a seniority-based wage system to a performance-based wage system, I would like to call upon the Government to review the Retirement Act of 1999 by removing the wage reduction option given to employers.
A wage system that moves away from seniority elements and towards job worth and performance is more than adequate to ensure an older worker is paid based on the value of the job and his contribution instead of his seniority. Given that the performance-based wage system will improve the cost competitiveness and employability of older workers, we should remove the wage reduction anomaly from the Retirement Act as older workers would have been paid market rate in the run-up to age 62.
Moreover, the Tripartite Committee’s recommendation that employer’s CPF contribution rate for employees aged 60-65 years be reduced from 7.5% to 4% and from 5% to 4% for employees aged above 65 years is sufficient to make re-employment worthwhile for employers.
Sir, any provision in our labour laws to reduce the wages of older workers upon reaching re-employment age will dampen the zeal of an ageing society to continue working beyond retirement age.

By 2012, the re-employment legislation will require employers to offer re-employment to workers reaching 62 years of age, up to age 65, and eventually to age 67. However, the Re-employment legislation will not replace the Retirement Act of 1999.

The Retirement Act allows an employer to reduce the wages of older employees by up to 10 per cent on or at any time after the employee attains 60 years of age.

The 10 per cent pay cut at age 60 was recommended by the Tripartite Committee on the Extension of Retirement and the justification then was to address the problem of the seniority-based-wage system.

With the Government’s call to increase productivity and the progress made in wage restructuring from a seniority-based wage system to a performance-based wage system, I would like to call upon the Government to review the Retirement Act of 1999 by removing the wage reduction option given to employers.

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Low Thia Khiang: Give part-time and contract workers have good training opportunities

This was a speech in Parliament on 11 March 2010 by MP for Hougang, Low Thia Khiang, during the Committee of Supply debate, on the budget for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Read other Workers’ Party speeches and statements at wp.sg.

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As at June 2009, there were 87,400 resident employees on short term contracts of less than three months and 156,200 residents on part-time employment. About half of these employees are in the older age group and the majority of them have lower educational qualifications, with a gross monthly income of below $1,000.

I am of the view that the number in this category of employees would increase over time because companies want flexible manpower and to be able to respond faster to changing demand and cost variations as the business environment changes. Secondly, as our society matures with an increasing number of ageing employees, more people may prefer such a mode of employment, as seniors may not want to work full time.

Contract and part-time workers may not necessary be low wage and low productivity. Some studies have shown that part-time workers can be as productive as full-time workers and companies employing part timers do not necessary suffer low productivity. I understand that in the Netherlands, in which a relatively large share of the workforce works part-time, achieves high labour productivity. Hence, I believe that there is much room for improvement in productivity and income of our contract and part-time workers.

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Economic growth should benefit all, not just the rich

By Avery Chong, Gerald Giam, Nathaniel Koh, Watson Chong and Yaw Shin Leong

Singaporean workers are facing their most challenging period since Independence. Thousands have lost their jobs since the current economic crisis began last year, and unemployment is expected to continue rising through 2009 and beyond. Many workers have been forced to accept salary cuts or go on unpaid leave to help their companies stay profitable.

These workers should be saluted for their resilience, perseverance and adaptability in the face of enormous challenges. Singapore’s prosperity and economic progress were achieved primarily through the sweat of our workers.

The Government always claims credit for Singapore’s economic growth during good times, yet conveniently blames the global downturn when our economy takes a nosedive. However the facts tell a different story. Singapore was the first country in Asia to slip into recession last year. Our GDP is expected to contract 8.8% this year  — much worse than almost all our major trading partners (see Annex A for the economic forecasts for our top trading partners).

The Government’s economic model may no longer serving us well, and we need to start a national conversation to discuss alternative economic models to take Singapore to the next level of progress.
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