Think Centre 2016 Labour Day Message

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    Let us all commemorate the day in solidarity with millions of workers around the world. No matter where we live, whatever we do, this is an important day to celebrate the achievements of the workers struggle for the 8-hours work-day.

    Ever wondered how much the uncles and aunties who clean after we eat at food courts and hawker centres earn? The construction workers who build our homes, bridges and roads? Do we think that amount they get accurately reflects the true value of their contribution to our society and economy?

    Some of them may be our relatives or relatives of friends. Is it right that Singaporeans should earn that amount and can they really survive with that kind of salary? To the many guest workers who build and maintain our infrastructure and homes, are we grateful for their help and if so, are they adequately compensated for their work? Who gains the most from the hard work of these workers?

    Have we as a society pandered too long to employers and allow them to exploit the blood, sweat and tears of workers trapped by cheap labour here? Are we being fair? Why are there still people who repeatedly reject the call for decent work and minimum wage to be in solidarity with the working poor, how much more do they stand to gain? It’s time now to stop exploiting workers for cheap labour and call for the protection of both human and workers’ rights for all without discrimination.

    We need to develop regulations and implement minimum wage in all sectors of the economy to ensure that the needs of the workers and their families are taken care of. This will also help to reduce the widening gap between the rich and poor which in turn create many social issues that impact the whole of society. Most importantly, we need to harmonise our domestic labour laws with international labour standards to provide decent work for all as we integrate into the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

    Introducing a national minimum wage policy will help us identify officially those families and individuals that earn less than S$1500 per month and put in place targeted interventions, economic and social ones, to help them. Our country has one of the world’s highest GDP in terms of wealth but also among the largest Gini coefficient in terms of inequality, there is no denying that poverty is absolute and not relative in a country that has one of the highest living cost in the world. The National Wages Council (NWC) should heed the advice of its former chairman, the prominent economist Prof Lim Chong Yah, to push for raising the lowest wages.

    50 years of single-minded focus on economic development has made it almost impossible for a large segment of workers to find decent work and provide for their families. Most  Singaporeans work amongst the longest hours in the world. Wages remain depressed and stagnant for many while companies continue to increase their profits. The Ministry of Manpower just released their report which revealed that 15,580 workers were laid off in 2015, the highest since the global financial crisis in 2009. The number of redundancies also rose by 20% from the year before. This puts a lot of pressure on the local population as friends and relatives become unemployed.

    Struggling families in Singapore are made to depend on government subsidies and rebates, for their basic needs e.g. GST vouchers, subsidy for wages, subsidies for healthcare, subsidies for housing, rebates for utilities, vouchers for transport fares, handouts for pocket money for their school going children etc. Their working and living conditions must be improved to help them catch up with the rapidly increasing cost of living on this expensive island and inflation.

    According to the World Bank definition, the poverty line could be “set at 50 percent of the country’s mean income or consumption”. With the average monthly income of a Singaporean at S$4,622 (2013), the poverty line in Singapore should be set at S$2,300.

    The only way for real productivity to increase is to strengthen and build the resilience of workers through real strategic investments in their skills and capability and not just as an afterthought. For the longest time, the benefit of a company’s increased profits has gone to shareholders and directors, who even with rising operational cost would rather pass the burden to the consumers and workers than deduct their own salaries, bonuses of directors and top management. They would feed the shareholders and augment their own salaries first rather share more of the gains with workers. Many companies who have not invested in real innovation and productivity growth are now falling apart when the cheap foreign workers supply is turned off. We have enabled firms to make careless use of this cheap labour. Between 2010 and 2015 we averaged only 0.4 per cent growth. This may hint that the years of productivity gains we achieved before could have resulted from cheap labours’ contribution than from structural or process improvements. How then do we justify the high salaries of the stewards of the economy who despite their phenomenal remuneration have not really contributed to the betterment of our workers or long term sustainability of the economy?

    To protect the workers adequately, we urge the government to harmonise the Labour Laws with International Labour Standards as reflected in the 1998 ILO Declaration which spells out the fundamental principles and rights at work. This is a similar call to many of the countries that made recommendations to our government at the recent Universal Periodic Review conducted by the United Nations in Geneva.

    Think Centre urges the Government to amend or remove outdated policies to protect the rights of all workers and their families:

    1. Introduce a family friendly 40-hour working week;
    2. Implement minimum wage policy for all workers;
    3. Amend the CPF access rights to withdraw cash upon retirement age and during financial hardships;
    4. Remove all limitations on the right to organise workers e.g. Registrar of Trade Unions has excessive powers to refuse or cancel registration to obstruct the establishment of a trade union without offering any reasons;
    5. Ratify all ILO Core Labour Standards and harmonise national labour law accordingly;
    6. Recognize domestic work as work in the labour law;
    7. Recognise and protect rights of workers doing part-time and insecure work, including those employed on freelance basis or through outsourcing;
    8. Amend the 1973 policy which requires prior permission for locals to marry migrant workers who hold work permits. Instead, migrant workers who have resided in Singapore for at least 2 years should be free to marry locals.

    Think Centre would like to wish all workers and their families a happy Labour Day.

    Let us all commemorate the day in solidarity with millions of workers around the world. No matter where we live, whatever we do, this is an important day to celebrate the achievements of the workers struggle for the 8-hours work-day in the 1880’s, a day to reflect on the lessons of valuing people and workers, and a reminder to continue our solidarity to improve our livelihood.

    Together in solidarity with all workers!

    Source : www.thinkcentre.org

    P.O. Box 640, Teban Gardens Post Office, Singapore 916002 thinkcentre@hotmail.com www.thinkcentre.org

    Objective

    Think Centre urges the Government to amend or remove outdated policies to protect the rights of all workers and their families:

    1. Introduce a family friendly 40-hour working week;
    2. Implement minimum wage policy for all workers;
    3. Amend the CPF access rights to withdraw cash upon retirement age and during financial hardships;
    4. Remove all limitations on the right to organise workers e.g. Registrar of Trade Unions has excessive powers to refuse or cancel registration to obstruct the establishment of a trade union without offering any reasons;
    5. Ratify all ILO Core Labour Standards and harmonise national labour law accordingly;
    6. Recognize domestic work as work in the labour law;
    7. Recognise and protect rights of workers doing part-time and insecure work, including those employed on freelance basis or through outsourcing;
    8. Amend the 1973 policy which requires prior permission for locals to marry migrant workers who hold work permits.
    9. Instead, migrant workers who have resided in Singapore for at least 2 years should be free to marry locals.