Sunday, July 7, 2013

The great salary debate

Jul 07, 2013


In his commentary (“Do S’porean workers deserve their wages?”) last Sunday, managing editor Han Fook Kwang quoted a reader who wrote to him questioning the capabilities of Singaporean workers and if they deserved the wages they were paid. Some business owners – both local and foreign – feel the same way as they think workers here lack drive and skills, said Mr Han. And there are no quick fixes or easy solutions to this issue, which will require fundamental changes both in the economy and in the education and training of Singaporeans. The article elicited more than 20 responses, with some readers bemoaning Singaporean workers’ poor grasp of English, their attitude and lack of thinking skills. Others said the comparisons were unfair, and that workers here deserved to be paid more. Here are some of the responses.

[I've only included two. Selection was... arbitrary. These are not necessarily the best, but I just wanted a sample. ]

Workers deserve their pay - and more

It is unfair to look at Singapore's median income of $3,000 in isolation and jump to the conclusion that Singaporean workers do not deserve their wages.

Income and cost of living go hand in hand. While $3,000 would be deemed sufficient in Singapore, it would not be enough for someone living in cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Sydney, Oslo and Melbourne.

Being the sixth most expensive city in the world, Singapore should be compared with similarly ranked cities, and not low- cost cities like those in Malaysia, the Philippines, India and China.

Singaporean workers not only deserve their wages, but also need to be paid more.

[You state your hypothesis. Now make your case...]

It is wrong to compare a city-state with a country with many cities. Incomes of workers in the five most expensive cities are at least twice those of Singaporean workers, while their property and car prices are cheaper, and they have comprehensive social welfare systems.

The presence of 7,000 multinational corporations and foreign talent contributes considerably to our gross domestic product, but without the collective efforts of the critical mass of Singaporean workers, we could never have achieved good growth.

[.... and nothing. Beyond a bald statement, nothing. The previous article gave more specific examples. Your defence was along the lines of... "but Singapore prospered, what!" There is no question that Singapore as a nation, as a country has prospered, but the charges are very specific: poor language, poor communication, weak reasoning or critical skills, and lack of confidence. Now, to be fair one need not address every single or even any of these charges. But what is the defence? "Collective effort". The charge is poor quality, and the defence is "we got quantity". 

I think the case is made... we can't even argue properly, critically, and reasonably.]

Singapore may not excel in many fields, but it has become one of the world's largest oil rig builders, and our oil refineries, airport, waterworks and powerhouses are manned by local engineers and technicians.

[Again, the issue isn't our engineers and technician, but our inarticulate, uncreative, uncritical graduates. While we may be the largest rig builder in the world, how many Singaporeans are in rig-building, even indirectly?]

Singapore will slowly but surely learn to reach the next stage.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi


Defensive mindset must go

All concerned Singaporeans should read and re-read managing editor Han Fook Kwang's commentary.

Arising from the issue of our median income stagnating at $3,000 per month, the question is whether this reflects the true worth of Singaporean workers vis-a-vis others.

The unique circumstances in Singapore peg our median income at the current level. We count our blessings and thank our far-sighted leaders for the blissful state they have brought us, but we need not apologise for it.

However, the reader who responded to Mr Han's earlier commentary ("When wages fail to grow along with economy"; June 16) pointed out numerous hard truths about Singaporean workers.

Issues that cannot be ignored any longer include many local graduates' inability to converse in good English, lack of confidence to interact in group situations, poor reasoning and critical thinking skills, and a reluctance to venture abroad, as well as the fact that the average worker here is not as well trained as those in Japan and Germany.

[It is interesting that our graduates' English skills are considered poor. ]

I know these to be fair observations, having worked in two global companies in the past 32 years.

I agree with Mr Han that there are "no quick fixes or easy solutions" and "it will require fundamental changes both in the economy and in the education and training of Singaporeans".

However, I would go further to suggest that efforts should be made now to change the defensive mindset of many Singaporeans from an early age, both at home and in school.

By being humble and accepting that we have to learn to speak well, interact better, think harder, learn the job well and be adventurous in our career choices, we will be taking a giant step forward in turning us into a world-class workforce.

By defending the current system and practices on the basis of flattering rankings that we have received periodically, we will continue to sell ourselves short.

Not only will our median income stagnate, but so will our intellect and job skills relative to our neighbours' and competitors'.

Yeoh Teng Kwong

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