Saturday, 7 April 2012

Dilemma of Tharman: Respect the blur-collar and pay them respectively



It is a hard choice. Not only you have to respect the blur-collar workers, you must also compensate them with a respectively pay structure.  They too need to maintain a minimum standard of living. You can talk big and say I respect your hard work and I respect your contribution but I can’t pay you a respectable salary to maintain your quality of life.

It is likely to end up as a sweet talk.  In Chinese, we say 又要马儿好又要马儿不吃草 - we want to have a good horse but we also don’t provide grass to the horse. If the blue-collar workers are not paid a respectable living salary, they are likely to be ended up to be work horses. But how far can a hungry horse run and gain respect from others with its unstable movements?   

A small improvement but not enough

Perhaps, what Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam mentioned at NUS was an improvement - a lesson the PAP had learnt after GE2011.   A least, they now talk about respect.   

Treat blue-collar jobs with respect: TharmanSingaporeans have to rediscover that sense of pride in blue-collar jobs and regard them as core to the workforce if the country is to regard itself as a truly developed society.(Business Times 5 April 2012)

Howeverthis is not enough.  To live in a developed society, you need to have a minimum income to support your family. You can’t say thank you I appreciate your effort but I can’t pay you more because your productivity is low.   I am not concerned about your living standard and if you continues to be less productive, you will have to receive low pay and you have to find a way to support yourself otherwise some one will replace you. 

Unequal distribution of economic cake 

This is how we divide the economic cake. A big and out of proportion share will go to those who are considered as calibre and productive.  Those who are less productive will receive a small share, a smaller proportional share.   In order to prevent a worsening distribution of the share, developed countries introduce minimum wages.  That is why factory workers, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics and cleaners etc are paid based on minimum wages.

Of course, in order to do that, the business owners and management will have to cut their share in the economic cake. How big is the cut? It will have to depend on the negotiation between management and union, sometimes government also get involved.   But based on the philosophy of the PAP, cutting the share of business owners and management will discourage entrepreneurship, business development and economic growth.  The less the capable and productive people get, the less they will want to be in business and in the long term, the economy will be affected and suffered.

Hence, the PAP has to reject minimum wages.  They have to make the rich getting riches, getting bigger sharing, and of course, rewarding the management including themselves well and above.  The end result is a bigger rich and poor gap. 

Respect but no action

This is how the dilemma comes into picture. Tharman can only urge people to respect blue-collar workers and appreciate their contribution. But he can’t go further than that. If he introduces minimum wages and blue-collar workers receive respectable salaries, then the share of business owners and management will have to be cut.  And the PAP strongly believes that these people will move out of Singapore and our economic growth will be affected.

This is Singapore economic model – no free lunch, no minimum wages, no handouts but a culture of responsibility, no productive no talk etc. But to sustain the model, the government is now calling for respect – inclusive society, no one left behind, trust the government, build partnership, social mobility etc. And most importantly, after the calling there is no action – no re-distribution of economic cake, no minimum wages, no unsustainable social welfare system, no Taiwan story etc.    

In fact visitors from China are very surprised to see our old aunties and uncles working at Changi Airport.  To many of them they really can’t imagine such a rich country likes Singapore to have senior citizens working as cleaners and earning such a low pay.  To them, especially those from big cities like Beijing or Shanghai, they are really and certainly better taken care of than our senior citizens.  However, rural immigrants to the cities are not that lucky and they are likely to have the same fate as our low productive senior citizens.

Tharman can, of course, continue to call for respect for blue-collar jobs, including those carried out by senior citizens. But without the corresponding adjustment to their pay to a respectable level, it is just a calling; it is just another broken promise. Our blue-collar workers and our senior citizen workers will continue not receiving their due respect in the society even in the eyes of the foreigners.

If foreigners see our society does not respect our seniors, how can they respect Singaporeans as a whole?   

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