Speech by Mr Lim Swee Say (3 Mar 2010, Parliament):
There is a story about this little frog. In the kingdom of frogs, every year, there is a carnival/competition. They will build the tallest tower in the world and they challenge the frogs to climb up to the top of the tower. It is very difficult, challenging and very dangerous.
Every year, hundreds of frogs, would try their skills to be the champion. One year, it happened again. These frogs kept climbing, but the other frogs down there kept shouting, “It is too dangerous. Come down. Stop climbing. Come down! Come down!” And one by one, the frogs went up half way, looked up, still a long way to go; looked down, “Wow! I am quite far from the ground.” So one by one, they started to retreat, except for one little frog. It just went on and on and no amount of discouragement could get him to turn his way. He went to the top and the whole town cheered, “Wow! Well done! Little frog!”
When he came down, a reporter interviewed the frog. Before the interview, the frog signalled to the interviewer to face him while interviewing him. The interviewer asked, “Everybody asked you to stop and come down. Why did you go all the way up?” The frog looked at the reporter and said, “Look. I am deaf. I cannot hear them.”
As a labour movement and tripartite partners working on the issue of low-wage workers, we face many difficulties. We get many discouragements including from hon. Member Low Thia Khiang. But we do not look at the cup and say that it is empty or half-empty. We look at the cup as half-full. Mr Low said that low-wage workers today are still suffering the fate of low wages. But let me share with him about the progress of the security industry. Four years ago, Prime Minister launched the Job Re-creation Programme (JRP) at the NTUC. After the launch, two security guards came to me at the reception – one young man and one lady. They like this JRP, and shared that the pay of security guards was too low. They hope we would help to up their salary at about $850 to $900 per month. This was four years ago. So we invited the SIRD, MHA, the union, the association and MOM for a dialogue. We embarked on a job re-creation exercise together. Today, four years later, the starting pay of security guards is $1,500-$1,700. Why? Because every security guard under the JRP must go through NSRS. If you do not pass the NSRS, you cannot be a security guard. And the entire industry went through the test and at the end of the day, more than 90% passed the test. Today, they are enjoying a better pay and a better job.
For landscaping, it is the same. Seventy percent of landscaping workers were foreign workers because Singaporeans found the job to be tough and pay was too low. So we worked with NParks. Under the leadership of NParks, we went on JRP. We sent the workers for skill qualification under WSQ. Who launched the WSQ? The Prime Minister did. That is the kind of commitment all the way from the top to do whatever we can to upgrade the skills of the workers, to redesign the job of the workers so that they can earn a higher salary. Today, they are earning $1,100-$1,300. They are multi-tasked and multi-skilled. As for cleaners, as I have just mentioned, we work on BSI.
Sir, it is not easy to crack these problems faced by our low-wage workers. But as a labour movement and as tripartite partners, we never give up. We are like the little frog, we are deaf to all these criticisms. You cannot hope for big changes. To change the plight of the low-wage workers, first, there must be short-term solutions – the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS). Do not underestimate how much support we are giving to the low-wage workers. Their annual salaries go up by about 20%-25% under the WIS. This is not a small sum. On top of that, we have all kinds of training. Just two days ago, there was another announcement of the Workfare Training Scheme (WTS). In other words, we are sparing no effort. Instead of telling us that low-wage workers are having problems, why not be part of the solution?
Yes, I am happy to hear that Hougang Town Council is paying attention to low-wage workers. I hope we can engage in healthy competition – PAP Town Council running as fast as we can to upgrade skills, jobs and welfare for the cleaners. Likewise, the Opposition ward to do the same. So that at the end of the day, the low-wage workers in Singapore will gain. I hope that it is not just the cleaning sector. Every sector of the economy can go through the same process.
Source – Singapore Hansard
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