Decent Work and Wages for All: Labour Day Message By Think Centre

Posted by under Labour Watch on 1 May 2002

Working long hours, Singapore workers have become mere "cogs" trapped in the survival struggle to maintain their livelihood. Women are generally paid less for the same job, and those born with physical or mental defects are shunned. Older workers are foremost rejected at job interviews. When economic growth fell, workers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) pay was cut. However, taxes go up in the form of GST. The poor are voiceless, hidden, unseen and unheard in this wealthy island state.

On First May, workers around the world commemorate the priceless achievement of the 8-hour workday. More than 40,000 Chicago workers and another 350,000 in other parts of America went on strike to demand 8-hour workday and better working conditions. The 8-hour movement, culminated in strikes on First May 1886, forms a historical chapter in the workers' solidarity and struggle for better working conditions.

It has been 116 years (1886 - 2002) since the Chicago workers paid with their lives for this victory of the working people. They struggled for the right to a decent and balanced life - eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours for themselves. May Day is a celebration of workers' solidarity, aspiration and struggle for decent working conditions, better wages, job security and a better life for all workers and their family.


Without a minimum wage policy, the pressure to work longer hours is rooted into low wages. Workers compete to accept longer hours and overtime to maintain living standards. In addition, they resort to part-time work to survive. Unemployment now stands at about 5% (around 100,000 workers). For older workers, especially above 40 years, finding a job gets difficult, as they cannot compete with younger workers.

Unemployment leads to insecurity. An unemployed worker's top priority is to find a job, which is the only means to decent income that provides basic necessities. For a Singapore worker, decent wages mean enough food on the table for the family and a house with utilities - mainly water and electricity - and education for their children. Being unemployed or facing job insecurity (fear of retrenchment) creates emotional panic in workers.

Employers are reducing pay and benefits to increase profit regardless of the plight of workers. Workers suffer low wages, increase in pressure and stress and job insecurity. The threat of unemployment creates tension and fear. For example, office workers take less time for lunch and leave office late falsely believing that this will ensure their job is secure.

Longer work hours mean poor family and social life, bad health and lack of time for retraining, leading to weak family and social ties, dysfunctional families, neglected children and increased divorces. Workers feel lousy and unhappy as they hoped to be better parents or friends. Longer work hours also obstruct meaningful participation in civil society and politics.

Workers in many developed countries enjoy shorter workdays without reduction in pay. Shorter workdays also mean more jobs for workers (ILO Convention No. 47: Forty-hour week 1935, established 40 hours work week).

Think Centre hereby makes the following 8-point recommendations to the Singapore government, employers and trade unions:

1. Implement a 40-hour work week and a minimum wage policy;

2. Reject the trend of longer work hours that undermines the purpose and spirit of the 8-hour work-day;

3. Protect against discrimination of older workers, especially those who are 40 years or older, gender, race and religion, physical disabilities and foreign domestic workers with a national job security net amend the labour law;

4. Support retrenched and unemployed workers through a national insurance scheme to have a reasonable living that will provide them access to housing, healthcare, retraining and other essentials for a decent human life;

5. Encourage more flexible work hours of work and shorter working hours in favour of workers, especially for working mothers and older workers.

6. Recognise the 1998 ILO Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work, especially on elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation;

7. Remove labour policies that are unjust and unfair to workers, such as:
- overtime work as requested by employees so companies need not pay double for work on rest days;
- salaries from overtime work are deducted for food and housing;
- employees working 11 hours daily for 30 days are allowed only 1 rest day per month for the first year; workers must have at least 1 rest day every 7 days;
- foreign workers refusing to sign their terms of contract have to pay their own return tickets home and the company liquidated damages of around S$1,000;
- prior permission required for marriage between Singapore citizens and work permit holders; work permit holders who have obtain skills and worked in Singapore for 4 years should be free to choose local partners.

8. Reduce costs for workers by not increasing GST for utilities and essential services such as food, water and public transport, and for next year increase GST from 3% to 4% instead of 5%. Further increase in GST to 5% should be made an election issue by the government at the next General Elections since it was not made an election issue in the last GE.

Think Centre

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