20130607 All civil servants deserve decent wages

All civil servants deserve decent wages

The Straits Times front page article dated 7 June, “Extra $70 raise for lower-wage civil servants”, is belated good news for the lowest wage civil servants.

The article attempts to cast the civil service in a good light without putting into perspective how such a pathetic situation where more than 10 per cent of civil servants are not earning decent wages to support a family. It also tries to make the $10 more than the NWC’s recommended $60 for workers earning less than $1000 into a big deal. Truth be said, the slumbering NWC appears to have finally agreed to Prof Lim Chong Yah’s proposed ‘shock therapy’.

Even Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, former GIC chief economist, had advocated “an immediate hike in Workfare payouts to allow all low-wage workers to take home at least $1,500 a month”.
This is not an unreasonable amount, taking into account the very high cost of living in Singapore.

More than a year ago when Prof Lim raised the proposal, ministers and business associations chorused their disapproval of such an approach.

Although PM Lee had also disagreed, Lim Swee Say, supposedly the Union Chief, went one step further with his exaggeration – Prof Lim’s proposal was “very risky”.

Perhaps Lim Swee Say should call a press conference to inform the government of this “very risky” move.
Otherwise, his credibility will continue to decline at a faster clip than before.

The article appears to have been written to confuse readers. A table displaying the different/before/after increments would have been more effective than using only words.

Questions raised in this article:
– why are there even low wage civil servants when CEOs and directors in the civil service are the highest paid in the world?
– why have low wage civil servants been paid an average increment of $30 per year in the past when the government should have known this amount doesn’t even cover inflation (of necessities)?
– who were the union members of the civil service and will they be held accountable for screwing up the lives of thousands in the civil service?
– why did the civil service not improve the job scope/productivity for low wage civil servants to enable them to earn decent wages? (since the government has always exhorted businesses to increase productivity for years)

With 5600 Division 3 officers and 3600 Division 4 officers, the additional wage bill works out to $5,712,000 per year. (5600 X 40 plus 3600 X 70)
The government could show its resolve to narrow the 2nd highest GINI coefficient in the world by reducing the increment/bonus of directors/CEOs.

The government has back peddled on its insistence to link productivity gains to pay increases for low wage workers/civil servants. However, this is step in the right direction but clearly insufficient because wages have been suppressed by unions for years. With runaway housing prices and high inflation, it will take years of better than NWC recommendations to allow all civil servants to earn decent wages.

Many low wage civil servants dedicate their lives to the civil service and they certainly deserve better treatment from a caring government.

Phillip Ang

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