“Singaporean First” and “Equal pay for equal work” cannot co-exist.

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.


About sgthinker

I'm a 40-year old Singaporean male, and this blog pens down my thoughts and feelings about Singapore's political happenings, government policies and society trends. I hope this blog will provide a moderate voice in the growing online debate about the state of Singapore's society. Some of the posts here won't be solely written by me, since there will be times when other writers are more eloquent at expressing their views, in which case I'll share their insights (along with my comments). The content on this blog is owned by me.If you wish to share or reproduce the content, please attribute it to this blog.
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8 Responses to “Singaporean First” and “Equal pay for equal work” cannot co-exist.

  1. Muhammad says:

    LOL! When in Singapore, do as the Singaporeans do. I truly hope from this year 2014 onwards, MOM’s new policy would greatly reduce the employment of more “talented foreign workforce” in many companies to welcome more talented Singaporeans, instead of talented foreigners. Are some Singaporeans that so bloody stupid to be jobless for months or years when most companies would like to see first in their resume how old are they? MOM should revise their policy again and again to doubly ensure that all talented Singaporeans should get the jobs first. Our social welfare should need to cut cost as well, agree? Think about it how would many jobless Singaporeans be able to clear their home mortgage before they finally retire? Would our government want the number of debtors of HDB to keep rising year after year? What repercussion may happen in the near and distant future? In time of future possible economic problem, which foreign nation may seriously come to our rescue without any delay? You decide! Period!

  2. Davey says:

    there is no conflict at all. sgthinker is indeed confused and selectively simplistic.

    apart from what sporescores says above is correct, advocations for both party to be paid equally for the same job is to DISCOURAGE employment of foreigners, as they are no longer attractively low costs. taking into considerations policy tools like added “levies and quotas” which is not considered part of the foreigner pay, it serves as “penalty” for employer to ensure they avoid getting foreigners, but only as a last resort due to demand or lack of equivalent qualifications.

    combination of above factors: equal foreigner pay and added levies will jack up foreigners costs to the employer, discourage foreign employment, therefore SINGAPOREAN FIRST.
    but if industry indeed need to employ foreigners for the same job, they shd indeed need to be paid equally, that shd include CPF.

    need to define clearly, added levies are not part of foreigners pay, these are employers costs which is transparent to the foreign worker.

    • sgthinker says:

      Sorry, but your comments demonstrate a fundamental ignorance of our current labor market.

      There is already very low unemployment among locals today. Even if you insisted on paying foreigners the same as locals, it will barely change the local employment rate and the fact that we still need lots of foreigners to run essential services that many locals do not want to work in. Since there is more demand for local labor than supply in certain business sectors, locals can command a higher salary than foreigners.

      Hence, it is absurdly naive to think that a policy that severely jacks up foreigner cost will be good for Singaporeans. This will merely increase the cost of labor for the entire country without really changing the locals’ pay, thus resulting in higher fares/tariffs/services. And such higher costs translate to higher inflation so locals actually suffer.

      • sporescores says:

        ‘sgthinker’ is again confused, this time between employment rate and wage. A high employment rate does not equate to high wages. On the other hand, paying low wages to foreigners suppresses the overall wage level and does not encourage companies to seek higher productivity. Even the government recognises this.

      • sgthinker says:

        Sorry spores, you have misread my post. Nowhere did I state that high employment equates to high wages. In fact, this entire post is not about high wages. It is about equal wages.

      • sporescores says:

        ‘sgthinker’, you’ve attempted to mislead by playing up the high employment rate in reply to Davey. So no, I did not misread your post. Again, a high employment rate does not mean salaries are not suppressed.

  3. sporescores says:

    You’re confused about what ‘Singaporeans First’ means. It means giving jobs to Singaporeans first if they can do it or through training. It does not mean paying a Singaporean more than a foreigner who is doing the same job.

  4. Pingback: Daily SG: 11 Dec 2012 | The Singapore Daily

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