I had posted two status updates on Facebook on my thoughts of our wages and CPF in Singapore, which I have reproduced here.
Spoke to a nice old lady working at a coffee shop.
She shared how tired she was as she had to start work at 6am every morning. Auntie had stopped work for 4 years but went back to work because she said that prices of things have increased, so she has no choice but to go back to work.
I asked auntie if she has CPF. She said she has but it’s not enough. She still has to take care of her parents, pay the utilities and household bills and buy daily necessities. Auntie is more than 60 years old but still has to work to support her parents.
Auntie earns $1,100. She has children but says that even her children do not earn enough for themselves, so she has to support herself.
She also said that her wages are low but blamed herself for not being able to have a good education.
I thought to myself – in other countries which have a similar cost of living to Singapore, the lowest a Japanese earns is $2,000. It is $3,000 in Australia and $5,000 in Norway. Yet, auntie earns only $1,100 and the average cleaner in Singapore earns only $850.
It is not just about her education level though. If wages had kept pace with our economic growth and inflation, a low-income Singaporean would be able to earn at least $2,000 today. But why has this not happened?
If the auntie had been paid fair wages, she would have been able to save enough to retire by now, and she would have enough to use. Wages for the low-income workers in Singapore haven’t grown for the past 20 years. It is impossible for them to earn and save enough to cope with the rising costs in Singapore.
Also, our retirement funds, the CPF, pays the lowest real interest rates in the world. It might be no wonder that with the low wages and CPF interest rates, that many Singaporeans are today unable to retire.
It’s also sad to hear that the auntie’s children are not able to earn enough, even for themselves. It’s something I hear many younger Singaporeans talk about. Also, it’s sad that auntie’s parents have to rely on her, instead of their retirement funds for retirement.
At the end, you ask – what happened to our wages and retirement funds? Why didn’t they grow to catch up with the cost of living, but yet why did prices escalate out of control?
Singaporeans are a contended lot, but when our lives are at stake and we thus ask rationale questions, it is only appropriate and reasonable that the government answers us.
Why did our wages and CPF not increase fast enough? It is time the government needs to be transparent and accountable with us on these issues.
According to a study, the poorest 30% of households spend 105% to 151% of their incomes.
According to a survey conducted by The Straits Times, two-thirds of middle class Singaporeans earn enough to buy what they need, but nothing else more.
This means that at least 50% to 60% of Singaporeans only earn enough to make ends meet. 30% of Singaporeans do not have enough to use. Another 30% have just barely enough.
When we look at this in terms of wages, about 30% earn less than $2,000. 60% of Singaporeans earn less than $4,000. Does this mean that Singaporeans need to earn at least $2,000 to $4,000 to be able to live, even in the most basic way?
In countries with a similar cost of living, the minimum wage in Japan is $2,000, it’s $3,000 in Australia and low-income Norwegians earn $5,000.
Is it time for Singapore to set a minimum wage for Singaporeans?
Up until now, the government has still refused to define what the poverty level is, or what the amount required for subsistence living is.
However, we know that the qualifying salary for the CHAS medical scheme is $1,800 and for the Workfare Income Supplement, this is $1,900. Does this mean that the government recognises that the poverty line is around $1,800 to $1,900?
If 30% of Singaporeans are earning less than this, does this mean that 30% of Singaporeans are living in poverty?
If 30% of Singaporeans earn less than $2,000, does this mean we need to gradually phase in a minimum wage of $2,000 at some point? (Note: this is where Japan is at now)
It is time the government is transparent and accountable to Singaporeans. What is the official poverty line? How many Singaporeans are earning below poverty wages?
Importantly, how are wages in Singapore determined, and why has wages for the poorest in Singapore not grown for the past 20 years, even as Singapore has now grown to become the most expensive city to live in, in the world?
It is time the government is transparent and accountable to Singaporeans.