Today Reports New Findings on Wages: Media Swaying Viewpoints Again

Today reported today, in an article titled, “Employers want makeover for National Wages Council (NWC)” that, “Most want more industry representatives; guidelines to be tailored for each sector”.

The findings are based on “a survey conducted last month by the Singapore Human Resource Institute (SHRI)”. 167 companies were polled. I couldn’t locate the survey results online.

These are the findings, according to Today:

Most employers here are dissatisfied with the way the NWC functions,

Even though they agreed with its latest guidelines: NWC  had recommended a minimum quantum of S$50 in raises for workers earning below S$1,000.

Most employers think NWC needs “a makeover – improvements are in order”. Only 10% thinks the status quo for NWC should remain.

Almost 75%  said more industry sectors should be represented.

Almost 75% say guidelines should be tailored for each sector.

About 66% said the NWC should “get feedback from industry associations and focus groups more pro-actively”

These are the more important snippets on NWC from Today: “The NWC was formed in 1972. In the mid-’80s, it moved away from issuing quantitative guidelines to qualitative guidelines – in order to allow more flexibility in wage negotiations and to accelerate wage reform.”

But what is said in these findings is not new.

Is it a case of the results informing the government of what needs to be done, or a case of using the results to justify what has already been done anyway?

In May, NWC chairman Lim Pin had recommended the following wage proposal to take effect from this month to at least June next year:

A “holistic” review of the labour-wage situation was conducted – taking into account business concerns over cost pressures and the global economic outlook – before the NWC guidelines were proposed, he said.Increase wages of those $1,000 or less a month by $50 or more, in addition to any percentage wage increase they may get – $50 was a “basic floor level” increment which companies should find “sustainable” over the long term. Focus was given to low-wage workers because Prof Lim said that MWC saw “a real need to uplift a portion of those low-wage workers’ pay”

Such workers could also receive a one-off lump-sum payment, to be determined by their employers, if their companies are doing well.

One thing that threw me off was that NWC had actually conducted a “holistic” review? Where were the review findings? 

Prof Lim also gave an indication as to why MWC would focused on “qualitative recommendations”:

We can’t mandate a number for everyone, given the uncertain macro-economic situation. This is why we have no choice but to come back to qualitative recommendations for the others.

But is this so? 

Thus the “findings” in Today doesn’t propose any new ideas at how wage changes should be managed. NWC had already recommended a targeted approach towards increasing wages – at the lowest income bracket. The “findings” reported by Today advocated for a similar proposal.

It almost seem as if the “findings” were selected to justify what the government wants to put on the table.

Were there any other findings, which could have said otherwise? I wasn’t able to locate the actual report to understand the findings in detail.

If we take a look at the rest of the article, we can see how the argument is once against framed – see in bold where the argument is headed:

Yes, change is needed, but we want it only for low-wage workers: Some, in fact, felt the NWC should undergo a fundamental overhaul – and focus on improving the lot of low-wage workers.”

Why? Becuase they won’t erode too much of our profits: Oneberry Technologies Chief Executive Ken Pereira told TODAY: “The workers at the lower end should be the main point because, no matter what industry they are from, the (wage) benchmark should be quite close. So there won’t be too much of an impact on the operating costs, no matter what industry they are from, if the NWC recommends a baseline wage rise.”

Yes, we hear you – we need to listen to more people: Amalgamated Union of Public Daily Rated Workers’ General Secretary G Muthu Kumar said having more representations from different industry sectors within the NWC would allow all to “reflect the situation on the ground and the problems faced by workers”.

But, we’ve said it before and we will say it again – NTUC is enough. Our control of the union(s) is enough: Port Officers’ Union president Benjamin Tang, however, felt that NTUC’s representation is “good enough” to cover the views of the different sectors. Still, he is in favour of the NWC issuing industry-specific wage guidelines “because not all sectors may be doing equally well”.

Let us reiterate – wage changes should be tailored: Choa Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, who is on the Government Parliamentary Committee for manpower, added: “I am beginning to see relevance in terms of having cluster-based or sector-based type (wage) recommendations because that also reflects the productivity gains, as well as the performance of each sector.” He also noted that as the Republic “becomes more interconnected with different economies, you have different impact to different sectors”.

Again, wage changes should be tailored: Agreeing, SESAMi and Abecha Chief Executive Ong Teck Soon said: “When some companies are down, there will be those who are doing well. You can’t apply one guideline to all sectors because then it would give employees working in sectors not doing well a false sense of security.”

Wage changes should be tailored. Get it?: Association of Small and Medium Enterprises President Chan Chong Beng, however, does not believe it is possible for the NWC to issue specific guidelines even if it wanted to. “There may just be too much disparity even among the different companies,” he said.

If we haven’t drilled it into you enough – WAGE CHANGES SHOULD BE TAILORED!: United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries President Francis Lim, who is an alternate member of the NWC, added: “The workers will be asking why some sectors will be giving a bigger raise than others. This may lead to job-hopping and some sectors may face an acute manpower crunch in the long-run.”

By the way, in this article, we have another agenda – we want to set the stage to look into amending the roles of NWC: Labour MP Zainal Sapari said the real challenge is to “relook how we could actually make NWC have more traction, especially in non-unionised companies”.

But no matter how we change MWC, we will not veer from what we have proposed – wage changes should be tailored: Fellow labour MP Ang Hin Kee stressed that whatever form the NWC takes, the methods to increase real wages will remain the same. 

Oh, and not forgetting, we believe, as we have said many, many times, increasing productivity should be the ONLY way to increase wages: He said: “It cannot distract us from having to … ensure that productivity is in place, older workers are hired, reemployment policy are followed through and that we try to attract women coming back to work.”

So, once again,

The mainstream media has used the technique of

  1. Taking objective statistics
  2. Then teasing out selected findings which will suit the government’s needs
  3. So that they can use the “objective” statistics to justify for an existing proposal that they had launched
  4. To influence Singaporeans to think that, since the statistics and experts say it is so, then so be it. It is so. 
  5. You have to believe. Because there is no where else you can read otherwise. 

So, what does this show?

Why was the survey conducted only among businesses? Admittedly, the survey was conducted by an institute focused on human resource and would necessarily survey the attitudes of business owners. But what about the workers?

This brings to fore some questions:

  1. Firstly, did the media (or the government by extension) aim to reflect the feedback of business owners because the government’s proposals are geared towards a business-friendly environment and thus the feedback from business owners would matter, more than anything?
  2. Did the media want to position the feedback from business owners as more legitimate because what do lay people know? We should only work.
  3. The media wants to sideline the feedback of workers because they will only be a distraction, since workers, it might be assumed, will ask for increased pay across the board, and will upset the proposal to have a tailored approach to wage increase. But is this so?

An analysis of this news report has shown, once again, how the media frames objective information in a subjective way, to shape Singaporeans’ thinking towards what is favourable towards the government and will allow the government to push through with policies which it already has in mind. This also gives them an opportunity not to have to gather feedback from Singaporeans, since the “objective” information have been validated by survey findings and “experts” in their fields. 

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