Elderly Cleaner Earning $20/Day Begs This Question: Should S’pore Adopt A Minimum Wage Law?

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A sad story about the struggles of an elderly cleaner who earns only S$20/day has gone viral on social media, racking up about 20,000 shares.
Netizen Meng Shuen Koh had shared his encounter with the old lady on Facebook on July 27, though the post has since been taken down.
In a series of Instagram Stories, Koh wrote that the 82-year-old – who was referred to as “Ah Umm” in the post – wanted to get to Sentosa to find a higher-paying cleaning job (S$10/hour) as her current job at Tampines Hub pays barely enough to cover her meals and transport expenses.
She also revealed to him that she has had four major heart surgeries, in which each surgery would cost her about S$40,000. The old lady noted that she had to sell her house in order to pay for the exorbitant surgeries fees.
Her husband has passed away, and her only son died during an accident while serving National Service.
She claimed that the Government has promised to give compensation for her late son’s death (payout of S$300 per month) but has yet to receive “one cent” from the Government till today.


In the post, Koh went on to question Singapore’s minimum wage model, or rather, the lack of it. Calling the S$5/hour a “slave wage”, he said that nobody should be working menial labour at that rate.
Although the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has issued a clarification regarding the post, it’s still worth discussing the feasibility of a minimum wage model in Singapore.
Moreover, several opposition parties such as the Workers’ Party, Peoples Voice Party, National Solidarity Party and Reform Party have also pushed for a minimum wage or living wage policy in their GE 2020 manifestos.
More than 90 per cent of the countries in the world have already adopted minimum wage, so why isn’t Singapore doing the same?
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed this perennial issue in his online election rally on July 6, saying that calls for a minimum wage or a universal basic income are “fashionable peacetime slogans, not serious wartime plans”, referring to the Covid-19 crisis.
He said that a minimum wage would add to employers’ costs and pressure them to let even more workers go.
Think about it this way: who will pay for this increase in wages?
An increase in wages will increase the costs of operation for businesses in Singapore if they maintain the same number of employees.
Businesses could either offset these costs by absorbing the costs themselves, or by passing the costs on to the customers. This means that by imposing a minimum wage model, Singaporeans could see an increase in cost of goods and services.
The second concern is that, with higher wages, businesses might not be able to afford some staff and hence let them go to keep cost of operations down. This could then lead to an increase in unemployment.
Among other things, the Government has also argued that having such a system would adversely affect the Singapore economy’s competitiveness.
For example, PM Lee said at the inaugural DBS Asia Leadership Dialogue in July 2013 that a minimum wage will not solve the problems of low-wage workers in Singapore.
My belief has been that a minimum wage is not going to solve the problem.
If it is modest, it won’t do harm, neither will it do a lot of good. If it is high, well, then it is going to cause costs to employers and it is going to cause unemployment to the low-wage workers. So you are not really solving his problem, you are just going to transfer it somewhere else.
Minimum wage hardly bodes well for low-wage workers or the economy, particularly in an export-reliant city like Singapore, where natural resources are minimal.
While the sole purpose of this model is to serve low-wage workers, it could ultimately hurt them instead.
Rather than set a minimum benchmark, Singapore embraces a Progressive Wage Model (PWM) instead.
First rolled out in 2012 by the National Trades Union Congress, the PWM mandates that workers be paid a basic monthly wage based …
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