What does a fair and inclusive society, where no one gets left behind, look like?
Dignity and appreciation for our lower-wage workers, and support for them to level up and progress. Truth be told, it’s easier said than done… The journey there requires a whole-of-society effort, with support from not just the government, but also employers, unions, service buyers, and fellow Singaporeans like you and me.
Our Labour Movement has been praised by the International Labour Organization for the many effective schemes introduced to support Singapore’s workforce. The Progressive Wage Model is but one of the programmes that have shown strong outcomes in supporting our lower-wage workers. PWM has increased wages by 37% in the cleaning sector, 29% in the security sector and 24% in the landscaping sector. The PWM helps to increase wages of lower-wage workers through upgrading skills and improving productivity. It has been implemented in the cleaning, security, and landscape sectors. There continues to be a big push to expand PWM to more sectors like retail and food services.
Workfare Income Supplement: Supporting our ‘invisible’ workers
As the tripartite partners push for faster implementation of the PWM, the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme provides an immediate uplift for vulnerable workers.
For Singaporean workers whose earnings are in the bottom 20%, WIS was introduced in 2017. It tops up their salaries and helps them save for retirement.
Since 2007, around $7.8 billion have been disbursed to almost 930,000 workers. In 2020, a year with many vulnerable hard-hit by the pandemic, $1.5 billion of additional Workfare Special Payouts were disbursed to around 500,000 workers.
Meet 49-year-old Mr Guna, cleaning supervisor
“My three children are the most important to me and I want them to have a good education. I will use the Workfare payouts to buy things that will help them in their education.” 49-year-old Mr Guna is one of the 830,000 Singaporeans who have benefitted from $5.5 billion of Workfare payouts in the last decade between 2007 and 2017.
Mr Guna is a cleaning supervisor. He works the night shift to spend more time with his family. This also allows his wife, who has health issues to rest at home. From 2020, Workfare enhancements will give Mr Guna up to $2,500 annually in cash and CPF payouts. In addition, he also gets GST Vouchers and U-Save rebates to help him and his family with their daily household expenses.
Mr Guna’s two elder daughters in primary school are on the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme. Each gets a waiver of standard miscellaneous fees, free textbooks and school attire, and public transport credit. His youngest son attends PCF Sparkletots Kindergarten and receives the Kindergarten Financial Assistance. They enjoy 99% of kindergarten fee assistance, paying only $1 monthly.
Mr Guna’s retired mother has a CHAS Orange card and receives subsidised care at CHAS clinics. SkillsFuture also allows him to look out for courses to upgrade his skills so that he can earn better wages.
As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Perhaps, that of the pandemic meant that there is probably greater awareness today on appreciating workers like Mr Guna, but there is still some way to go to make these invisible workers feel valued. The Government and Labour Movement have also pushed for organisations to support them better in their day-to-day work e.g. by providing them with proper rest areas.
They will continue to champion for low-wage workers to help them have better wages, relevant skillsets and more recognition. What can the rest of us do? Employers can help by accepting that the increase in wage will affect their profits in some way. And finally, as consumers, we need to recognise our vulnerable workers, and be prepared to bear some of these costs that come with lifting their wages and welfare. The million-dollar question is, are we prepared to do that?
We won’t be perfect, no society can boast of that. But we can be confident of moving towards a highly fair and inclusive society in Singapore through the implementation and refinement of balanced government policies, public education, and outreach to the individual level in support of our ‘invisible’ workers.