Uplifting Lower-Wage Workers – PAP’s DNA


It is easy to take them for granted.  But without them, life will change.  We may not even progress the way we did over the years.

We are talking about Lower-Wage Workers (LWWs) and how they form the spine of Singapore’s efficient infrastructure, and how we are known internationally to be clean, green and safe.  

From cleaning, landscape, security to food delivery and lift maintenance, LWWs are the invisible hands that keep Singapore running efficiently.

The jobs have changed but not the Party’s DNA

PAP is a champion for LWWs’ rights since Day 1.

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew served as an advisor to trade unions such as the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union, and helped increased the wages of our postal workers.  

Trade Unions flocked to seek his help.  Eventually, he became advisor to well over 100 unions and clans.

To crystallise and remind all comrades of the tenet of championing workers’ rights, he wrote in an edition of Petir:

“We had grown up in the unions; we had built up our political following working on and through workers’ problems, fighting against unfair treatment and injustice.”

Even at an advanced age, he held dialogues with unionists.  A member of the Petir.sg team attended one of the last dialogues he held.  At that time, there was much talk about the need for unions to reach out to professionals, managers and executives.  Mr Lee said:

“Remember the base that you serve – the workers.”

Indeed, fighting for workers’ rights was how the Party got started and it subsequently laid the foundations of a symbiotic relationship with the National Trade Union Congress, which was established by the Party in 1961 and soon became the leading trade union organisation in Singapore.

Photo credit: Perjuangan N.T.U.C

NTUC had 55 affiliates with a membership of 102,000 workers, 65 per cent of Singapore’s workforce, by 1965. It soon grew to 120,000.

Even as jobs change with time, the Party remains committed to helping workers, especially LWWs.

What have been done

Much have been done over the decades. We implemented Workfare Income Supplement, effectively a negative income tax to give LWWs a leg up.  SkillsFuture encourage all workers to keep on learning and upgrading.  It is complemented by the Progressive Wage Model that put in place structures for upgrading wages, skills and productivity of workers in lower wage industries.

But the work is not finished.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke extensively on LWWs in his National Day Rally speech this year. 

PM Lee announced that Progressive Wage Model will be extended to retail, food services and waste management.  We will introduce a Local Qualifying Salary of S$1,400 for local employees, before the company can employ any foreign workers.  The extended Progressive Wages plus the tighter Local Qualifying Salary requirement will cover eight in 10 LWWs.

Helping Delivery Workers

PM Lee also fretted over the livelihoods of delivery workers, who are like employees but have no employment contracts with the delivery platforms.  They lack the basic job protection that most employees enjoy, like workplace injury compensation, union representation and employer CPF contributions.

He said: “Delivery workers, are for all intents and purposes, just like employees. The online platforms set the price of their product. They determine which jobs are assigned to which workers. They manage how the workers perform, including imposing penalties and suspensions.”

We need to ask ourselves: Who is delivering food in the rain? Who gets the brunt of the customers’ wrath when deliveries are not on time? Who is braving the pandemic to deliver food or grocery orders?

And yet power is heavily skewed toward the delivery platforms. We need to wrestle some power back to balance the scales for this group of LWWs.

Fortunately, PM Lee promised to address the issues to give these workers more secure futures.

No DNA Mutation 

This is a season of mutation – of viruses, and of beliefs of political parties all over the world. 

But comrades, the DNA of PAP will not change.  We have a symbiotic relationship with the NTUC.  We are a party with a long history of working alongside labour unions and fighting for workers. 

We must continue to fight for their fair and dignified treatment, and to give our workers better jobs, higher salaries and brighter futures.