7th March 2013
Every good party needs a clown to provide the laughs, and it was Zorro Lim (not his real name) on the PAP roster yesterday.
At the Budget debate, NTUC Secretary-General Lim Swee Say rejected renewed calls
by several MPs, including Inderjit Singh and NMP Lawrence Lien, for a
minimum wage system. Instead of speaking up for the workers that he is
supposed to represent, he is strangely the one voicing the objection,
even if we know all along that the government is never keen on the idea.
This must be an absolute one of a kind. Nowhere in the world will you
ever find another union chief who argues against higher wages for
As mentioned in the above linked report, more than 90 per cent of
countries have some sort of minimum wage. But Zorro thinks we have a
system better than all these countries. Instead of a straightforward
policy, he prefers convoluted wage supplement systems that go by
indistinguishable acronyms like WIS, WTS, WTF, etc.
“With the WIS, WTS and Progressive Wage Model, we believe we now have
a minimum wage model. In fact, it’s more than a minimum wage model
whereby we can maximise the upside of low-wage workers and at the same
time minimise the downside,” was what he said.
If you can’t convince them, confuse them — as what Zorro did here
with this laughable smoke bomb he has thrown. He must have left the MPs
still scratching their heads at the end of the session as nobody could
possibly grasp what he’s on about.
A list of countries with minimum wage on Wikipedia
shows that even in countries that don’t have a national minimum wage,
there are minimum levels set by collective bargaining agreements. The
NTUC, on the other hand, is as reluctant as the stingiest employers when
it comes to recommending wage increments. Zorro will be proud that he
is in the company of a very select group of countries consisting of the
likes of Somalia, Tonga and Yemen.
Without a doubt, there are pros and cons to having a minimum wage,
and it is an endless debate that even economists can’t agree on. But
when the majority of countries, especially all the first world
countries, have such a policy, one would think that there must be more
right than wrong with it.
The bigger problem in Singapore, however, is not this debate on the
merits of a minimum wage itself. The problem is the role of the union
and these so-called Labour MPs, as how the mainstream papers describe
the likes of Zorro and MP Zainal Sapari who are involved in the union.
It is a term that gives them way too much credit.
Over the past two weeks, netizens have lambasted leaders of business
and restaurant groups for their lobbying against the tightening of
foreign worker supply. Even if we criticise them for engaging in their
usual scare tactics, we must realise that they are doing this to protect
the interest of their members.
Similarly, it is normal for MPs and NMPs to speak up for the
different groups they represent, whether in an official or unofficial
capacity. For example, MP Halimah Yacob touched on Malay issues before
she became Speaker of Parliament, while NMP Janice Koh speaks for the
arts scene. Yesterday, NMP Tan Su Shan warned against excessive curbing
of talent flow, which is not surprising given her private sector role
as a DBS Group Head. Everyone plays his part to ensure balanced
representation in parliament.
Everyone except our union chief.
And that is why we have problems of suppressed wage levels and an
increasing income gap. On one side, we have business groups and
pro-business MPs lobbying for the SMEs, but on the other side, there is
no one to fight for the workers. It is as lopsided as it gets.
Of course, we know the government wants the union in check, and Zorro
is there to do just that. But is it too much to ask that he speaks up
for workers once in a while? Can he at least pretend he has their interest at heart?
* The writer is a born and bred Singaporean currently residing in
London, England with his lovely wife. Despite the rather unfortunate
solemn face and reserved disposition, he has much to say on
sociopolitical issues that continue to plague his beloved homeland. He
blogs at http://www.voiddecker.com.