I have no sympathy for the way SMRT’s management has handled its foreign workers and the strike. But the debate over equal pay for Chinese bus drivers strikes me as an oddity, especially when the people lobbying for “Equal pay for equal work” are mostly the same people who were campaigning for a “Singaporean First” mentality during GE2011. It doesn’t take a genius to see that these two arguments conflict with each other.
There is an excellent post by the Institute of Policy Studies that discusses how pro-Singaporean worker policies (such as the foreign worker levies and quotas) naturally compete with the principle of equal pay for equal work. In the statement below, the red and blue text naturally conflict. “We face a dilemma because of competing social and policy goals: priding ourselves on meritocracy, wanting fair labour practices, wanting to narrow inequality, and also demanding that the government apply policy tools to quickly dampen the inflow of foreign manpower.”
In fact, you can ignore the rest of this post now and just click on the link above. But for readers who would like a summary, read on.
A “Singaporean First” policy naturally means that “Foreigners are Second”. Prioritising one group of people must be done at the expense of another group. “Singaporean First” can be justified by a number of reasons, such as higher costs of living, NS liabilities, voting rights and how some people are unable to afford emigration. But let us be clear that if you are espousing a Singaporean First mentality, you are also espousing a Foreigners are Second mentality.
“Equal pay for Equal work” means that results are the only things that count. We do not care about the background or nationality of the worker, which means that Singaporeans should not always be first.
It is disappointing that this simple fact is not recognised by many people. Many people in the alternative media have spoken out in support of the Chinese bus drivers, but these people were also fervently lobbying under the “Singaporean First” banner in 2011. Do these parties really know what they want? Can it really be that these parties have become so stupid that they can’t see the dilemma? Or are they merely opportunistically sniping away at the PAP’s policies and our local GLCs in a bid to stir up emotions and get more website hits? Very disappointing indeed.