Wage differential between low and high end vocations unusually high in Singapore

One of the most striking factoids I’ve heard in a while was this: In Singapore, a construction worker earns about 9 percent of what a doctor earns, compared to Hong Kong where such a worker earns about 25 percent of what a doctor does.

Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, highlighted this in a talk he gave Monday, 16 January 2012, at a seminar organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). The institute had prepared the statistics for him.

Doctors in both cities earn about the same. Likewise, both Singapore and Hong Kong are open to foreign labour. Yet there is this disparity.

If we look at other developed countries, again, Singapore looks like the outlier. Ho said, “First, professionals like doctors and lawyers are paid slightly better in Singapore than the average of the IPS sample of developed countries. Second, our lower-income workers fare much worse than their counterparts in developed countries.

“In fact, in Germany and Australia where immigration policies are more restrictive, construction workers earn about — believe it or not — half the salary of a doctor.”

An excerpt of Ho’s speech was carried in the Straits Times, 17 January 2012.

Ho didn’t want to try diagnosing the problem, except to say that after looking at nurses, the wage gap closes as skills go up – which is not a terribly informative finding since it is true everywhere. It is the enormous gap between construction workers and plumbers on the one side and doctors (representing professionals) on the other that requires explanation.

Instinctively, readers would say supply and demand lie at the bottom of this phenomenon. Singapore’s open-door policy to foreign labour is the direct cause of such low wages in lower-skilled sectors. And you would be right. Nor is it confined to foreign labour. There are spill-over effects on many other low-skill jobs where Singaporeans also work in, e.g. cleaners, airconditioner servicemen, food service workers.

Indeed, one can certainly boost wages by restricting supply, However, unless skills and productivity rise, what one gets is smaller output (because fewer workers) at a higher price. This is why many among us would say, let’s take a softly, softly approach. The middle class fear that if the wage gap closes, they will have to pay more for services that they consume. Cognisant of this, the government too is applying little more than the gentlest tap on the brakes.

What seems hard for Singaporeans to imagine is a worker in these industries being far more productive than he presently is, thereby earning more without sacrificing output. This inability to visualise how we can get the same done with half the people is holding us back. We take half-steps to address the problem, because we are fearful of withdrawal symptoms should cheap labour come to an end.

I said half, because Ho Kwon Ping said half. He cited something a Korean construction company told him as they were building one of our casinos. The Koreans had noticed that their subcontractors in Singapore had twice as many workers as would have been needed in Korea.

Just the other day, I saw an example of “the Singapore way”. A worker who had injured his back told me it came about from a fall while carrying 50-kg sacks of cement up makeshift stairs.

The immediate question I had – which is not particularly relevant to this article – was why he flouted the safety rule that no man should try to lift more than 20 kg. He had no choice, he said. His boss would fire him if he did not do as told. The small point of relevance here is that our foreign labour policies are so careful to please employers, they give carte blanche powers to bosses to fire workers at will; in the same way, our policymakers may be paralysed with fear when it comes to telling them that going forward, they need to pay workers more and use fewer of them.

However, more pertinent to this article was the worker’s answer when I asked him why it was necessary to carry sacks of cement up rickety stairs in the first place. There was no lifting equipment — was the answer.

And there you have it: a vicious cycle.  Assured of plentiful supply of cheap labour there is no incentive to mechanise. The result is that human beings are used as mules. Is it any wonder that our productivity is abysmal?

Lest the more hard-hearted among us see the issue merely as one of comparative cost of human muscle versus cost of machinery, I will hasten to add that relying on large numbers of low-skilled workers – not just foreign ones — generate a variety of social costs too. Overcrowding and social friction have been mentioned many times. Businessmen may not take these costs into account, but everybody else on this island pays the price for him.

But I want to add two more costs. The first is that — and here I am referring to low-wage Singaporeans — creating an underclass by paying workers in certain vocations a less-than-living wage breeds resentment. It changes the tenor of society. The rich actually feel more insecure when they are surrounded by the poor.

The second springs from the case of the worker with the injured back. He and other injured workers then put demands on our healthcare system. As we all know, in healthcare, costs can be considerable and bed capacity already very limited.

At the end of the day, it is a fallacy to think low-wage workers are cheap.

 

52 Responses to “Wage differential between low and high end vocations unusually high in Singapore”


  1. 1 Sgcynic 19 January 2012 at 00:27

    Our foreign workers are so well treated as to be given “leave” to help their bosses queue for bak kwa. They can “multi-task” and takes on specialised jobs at the casino in place of their bosses. Such win-win situation helps bosses to save on wage cost and help these workers remain productive. Uniquely Singapore!?

  2. 2 dylan 19 January 2012 at 01:33

    On a totally (almost) unrelated comment, I’d really wish to hear what you’ve to say about the Ministerial salaries debate.

  3. 3 tornadom 19 January 2012 at 04:02

    This article reminds me of a video on ted.com

    The topic is: How economic inequality harms societies
    Singapore is only mentioned once, early in the talk, but that is the most relevant portion to this article. I think everyone should watch it.
    There are many graphs in this talk to illustrate what indicators were used to indicate ‘harm’. Unfortunately I don’t recall seeing Singapore on most of the slides (which is a mystery)

  4. 4 Wy 19 January 2012 at 06:01

    Sidetrack, but somewhat relevant. It might be of interest to note the paradox of productivity growth, and the different concepts of productivity – labor, capital, total, etc. Productivity growth may kill jobs, not just for the foreign workers, but also for the locals.

    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2012/01/apparent-paradox-of-productivity-growth.html

  5. 5 ricardo 19 January 2012 at 06:52

    I believe Mr. Ho has also made this point in an earlier talk some time ago. If anyone can remember the link, please post it.

    He cited a project Banyan Tree did in either Oz or NZ where he was surprised to find the number of construction workers was about 1/10 that of a similar project in Singapore. Australian construction workers have far higher productivity than the average low paid foreign construction worker in Singapore because of his skills and the use of power tools. He is proud to call himself a bricklayer, carpenter or electrician and probably earns as much as a teacher.

    Despite what Mah Bow Tan said in his exit speech, it will be some time before, Singaporeans have similar facility. But Singapore is in a unique position to remedy this … National Service. We can produce large batches of skilled construction workers with high productivity very quickly if the PAP put their multi-million Dignified minds to this. In camp training for Construction Employers will open their eyes to this.

    This will give young Singaporeans an advantage over cheap foreign labour and is likely to decrease our soaring GINI index too.

  6. 6 Chanel 19 January 2012 at 10:37

    I wish to make 2 points:

    1) This government has injected the heroin of almost unlimited cheap foreign labour supply into local companies for so long that the latter are now hopelessly addicted. With these companies now so used to paying less for workers, they scream murder at any attempt to slow the inflow of foreign workers and/or raise wages to decent levels (i.e. wages enough to support a family liivng in S’pore). All the current talk by the government of the need to increase productivity and reducing our reliance on foreign labour are just that….talk. We have yet to see any significant policy change in that direction. This issue will surface again come 2016.

    2) My second point is about creating the right monetary incentives, incentives for our ministers to better look after their people. It is very disingenius of our ministers to not see that both the current and new ministerial salary schemes are (or will) putting in place the wrong incentives for our ministers. How would the minister feel the pain of ordinary S’poreans if his pay is pegged to the top 1,000 private sector earners? The wise Charlie Munger (partner of the legendary investor, Warren Buffett) once said that creating the right incentives for leaders is critical to getting the performance we desire. The incentives Parliament rubber stamped for our ministers are perverted to say the least. With this sort of pegging scheme, PAP should not be surprised when the same hot button issues surrounding the 2011 general election re-surface in 2016.

  7. 7 Rajiv Chaudhry 19 January 2012 at 10:57

    Some year’s ago I visited a friend of the family in Oslo and remember being struck by the fact that most of the houses on millionaire’s row were owned by plumbers, builders and the like. I was told that if you had a manual skill (mind you, in Norway you need to be qualified if wish to ply a trade), you were likely to earn more, not just the same as, office workers.

    In the current discussions on ministerial salaries, it is remarkable that not one PAP MP, not even the former MM, has spoken of a need to link political salaries with ordinary Singaporeans’ wages. This is, in my view, is the central problem and shows the bankruptcy of this government’s ideology.

    This might be relevant to your article:

    http://sonofadud.com/2012/01/09/rajiv-chaudhary-on-ministerial-pay-missing-the-point/

    • 8 Poker Player 21 January 2012 at 22:34

      Excellent anecdote about the Scandinavian situation. Blows away the “productivity” rationalization for low wages seen in some comments here.

      An important ingredient here is an egalitarian mindset in society. The Scandinavians have it.

      BTW they also know how to make world class cell phones and jet fighters – to pre-empt those who like to stereotype societies that organize themselves along egalitarian line as commie losers.

  8. 9 Poker Player 19 January 2012 at 11:04

    “The middle class fear that if the wage gap closes, they will have to pay more for services that they consume.”

    Voltaire was more blunt:

    “The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.”

    It is not fear, it is unwillingness to give up existing privileges for a more egalitarian society.

    Litter less. Clean our own corridor. Take the bus or train more often as save the taxi for when you really need it.

  9. 10 Poker Player 19 January 2012 at 11:10

    “What seems hard for Singaporeans to imagine is a worker in these industries being far more productive than he presently is, thereby earning more without sacrificing output. ”

    And yet we seem to leave unquestioned the *existing* wages of certain “industries”. It seems lawyers need more protection than toilet cleaners. Why should toilet cleaners have to put up with foreign competition when lawyers can get away with keeping QCs out?

    • 11 Poker Player 19 January 2012 at 11:18

      I say if we can get our public toilets cleaned by Bangaldeshi labour, lets get our conveyancing done with Indian and Filipino legal expertise.

      To preempt the usual disingenuous replies about quality, I say the same thing the govt says for other services – caveat emptor.

  10. 12 ts 19 January 2012 at 13:38

    not to mention, some of them being used to queue up for bak kwa …

  11. 13 me 19 January 2012 at 14:30

    it benefits our policy-makers to keep the high incomes high, as their own salaries are pegged to them

    if the income gap widens, so what – higher income, higher educated folks are statistically more likely to vote against the ruling party anyway

    it benefits them to keep the poor people poor, and the rich people richer

  12. 14 anon 19 January 2012 at 15:35

    it is why other developed countries win us.

    i watched national geographic channel on how they build those big bridges n buildings. they rely more on machines than humans n can build faster n CHEAPER.

    then i watch the BTO flats being built next to my flat. so many workers n they work 6 days hor, the pace is still slow.

  13. 15 Han 19 January 2012 at 15:44

    A slightly tangential point:

    Mechanisation and raising productivity won’t do much for low-skilled workers who are unable to keep up. As much as we want everyone to skill up, we also have to acknowledge that there are hard limits to every individual’s capabilities. On top of that, since using technology also means you need less people to do the same job, you could very well end up having higher unemployment overall.

    Even supposed “high-skilled” industries are not spared: e.g. entertainment industry, publishing industry, etc.

    http://pandodaily.com/2012/01/17/confessions-of-a-publisher-were-in-amazons-sights-and-theyre-going-to-kill-us/

  14. 16 Viv 19 January 2012 at 17:36

    You’ve made an excellent about the abysmal state of productivity and how we are dependent on low-wage workers. However, if real wages are to rise (to narrow the income gap), then people will have to be prepared to pay more for services and goods, as you rightly pointed out. This is the case in Germany, Australia and many other developed countries, where costs are higher but wages are also higher.

    Interestingly, the German’s after-tax income is not much higher than ours, yet he still manages a decent standard of living despite paying higher taxes and more for goods and services. Why? Because of greater re-distribution by the government. Germans do not have to pay for the bulk of their healthcare costs, education and there’s even a monthly Kindergeld — Children Money — to help defray the cost of childcare. Oh, and they are still a lot more productive than we are despite a lack of cheap labour for their homes and in their construction sites.

  15. 17 Viv 19 January 2012 at 17:45

    To continue, I wouldn’t mind paying higher taxes if I get more in return socially, as in healthcare and education and childcare. At least I won’t have to go around with the knowledge that a couple thousand poor folk are deprived of medical treatment or enough wages to afford a roof over their heads. To critics who shun socialist policies/ redistribution through taxation, you’re already being taxed: through our embarassing labour policies and a means-tested healthcare system among other “small govt” ways.

    • 18 Poker Player 22 January 2012 at 08:51

      Hear hear.

    • 19 Rajiv Chaudhry 22 January 2012 at 10:23

      The CPF minimum retention sum is also a heavy tax on one’s lifetime’s earnings. Most Singaporeans are not aware of this, since its not packaged as a tax. We have the worst of both worlds since, on the one hand, we are paying the tax (it is effectively a tax since we cannot touch the amount) but on the other, the payouts stop once the minimum sum is exhausted. This is Singapore (rather PAP) style old-age care.

  16. 20 low wage vote who? 19 January 2012 at 20:15

    “The first is that — and here I am referring to low-wage Singaporeans — creating an underclass by paying workers in certain vocations a less-than-living wage breeds resentment.”
    yawning bread

    But it hasn’t reach a stage where it affects majority votes for the PAP at elections.

    Just last May, PAP still has a comfortable 60% majority vote, despite these low-wage SIngaporeans among voters.

    Unless low wage Singaporeans are a minority. And if so, then PAP cannot be that wrong.

  17. 21 SWISSKAM 19 January 2012 at 21:28

    Sad.
    It is a nation of coolies. Some are coolie masters and these people in charge do exploit the coolies and they know best.
    Just rewatch the 1980s TV serial by Channel 8 if you want to see how this system works.
    It is exactly the oppression of coolie communities that leads to the expulsion of British who transferred power to non other than a Brit-trained aristocrat. Who? Yes him.

    Now the govt MPs are paid millions while they do not care or want to care to do anything to make mean income of common people (aka singaporeans , whether locals or new import) to a better income. they increase their own salaries, dipping their fingers into the honeypot from COE, ERP, Stamp duties, etc…Casino?

    It is a doomed society unless you are part of the elite.
    Become the elite or just shut up and go to Australia.
    coolies there can afford half a doctor’s house.

  18. 22 swingtime 19 January 2012 at 23:15

    One important point of Ho Kwon Ping’s article is that the Govt has implemented policies to raise productivity in industries that are subjected to international competition but not in the domestic economy such as in construction. In fact, in 2010, the article Ho Kwon Ping contributed to Straits Times in 2010 on minimum wage, in response to articles by NUS’s Prof Hui Weng Tat and Tommy Koh on the same topic, was titled “Dilemma of a two-track economy”. However, this time round Ho Kwon Ping has not mentioned minimum wage at all.

    Our Govt is first and foremost obsessed with Singapore’s competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investors. They probably take the short-sighted view that restricting foreign worker inflow and allowing the wages of builders, waiters and cleaners etc to rise would increase costs, reduce our competitiveness and lower our attractiveness as an investment destination.

    For those who are interested, the links to the a/m articles are

    http://www.smu.edu.sg/about_smu/images/documents/hokwanping/ST_20120117_1.pdf
    http://kbkee.blogspot.com/2010/11/tommy-koh-dont-knock-minimum-wage-yet.html

  19. 23 Eric 19 January 2012 at 23:49

    I particularly like your punchline – the last sentence. It’s high for SG to implement minimum wage. LKY once said that SG’s competitive advantage is to produce First world products at Third world wages …

  20. 24 dope 19 January 2012 at 23:55

    Thank you for your excellent article — makes me think!

  21. 25 reservist_cpl 20 January 2012 at 00:41

    You are right, mechanisation is the solution.

    • 26 Poker Player 21 January 2012 at 22:45

      Not entirely. How much can you mechanize the cleaning of HDB corridors and public toilets and restaurant service etc?

  22. 27 Anonymous 20 January 2012 at 04:13

    Well articulated points as always. One of my immediate thoughts is that unproductive use of a large amount of manpower doesn’t necessarily make the case for having less manpower at a higher cost. It’s the productive use of the manpower that should be addressed.

    • 28 Poker Player 21 January 2012 at 22:49

      People! What decides pay is not (exclusively) productivity. It is the power relations within society! Don’t buy into the government’s framing and vocabulary of the issue.

      The import of labour lessens the power of local labour.

      The laws restricting political activity increases the power of those earning the highest govt salaries.

  23. 30 Gerald 20 January 2012 at 08:41

    I think you have hit the nail on the head!

    Others may blame the gap on unconstrained import of ‘foreign talent’, but I think this is wrong for 2 reasons:

    Firstly, it is not just the construction industry that is dependent on imported labour. The healthcare system also has huge numbers of foreign professionals/doctors/nurses in the system – just witness the number of complaints regarding doctors/nurses that cannot speak the local dialect.

    Secondly, there are fewer barriers for a foreign doctor to work here, as opposed to a labourer (no foreign:local ratios, better class of visa with ability to bring his family, change employers, etc).

    So in fact, the foreign talent import policy affects both high and low end vocations.

    The difference to me, or to rephrase what you are saying, is what we do with them once they get here.

    For the professionals, we hire them on the same contract terms as locals. We give them the same pay (or even better, what with housing allowances and no CPF deductions). Then we give them the same equipment that we give our own locals, be it the fastest computers for the financial traders, the shiniest CT machine for the doctors, etc.

    For the labourers, we start by effectively enslaving them to their employer (if they lose that job, they lose their visa). Pay them wages we would be ashamed to give our grandmother, that wouldn’t even cover her transport from home to the construction site. Then we give them equipment from the era of our forefathers and samsui women – spades, wooden pole sand rusty wheelbarrows.

    Is it any wonder productivity is so hugely different between the two groups?

  24. 31 Poker Player 21 January 2012 at 22:51

    “For the professionals, we hire them on the same contract terms as locals.”

    Not true. Lawyers get special protection.

  25. 33 WinkingDoll 22 January 2012 at 23:11

    “For the professionals, we hire them on the same contract terms as locals.”

    I guess nurses aren’t professionals then. Nurses are paid according to the passports they hold even when they are doing the same job, with similar skills/qualifications and years of experience. This breeds resentment and disunity amongst nurses from various nationalities, including back-stabbing, bullying and politicking along nationalistic lines.

    The hierarchy of passport for nursing pay (as far as I understand):
    Western countries passport (e.g. UK, USA, Canada, Australia) = best paid
    Singapore/Malaysian passport = 2nd
    China passport = 3rd
    Filipino = 4th
    India = 5th
    Other South Asians = 6th
    Other South East Asian (e.g. Myanmar) = 7th

    Don’t believe? Just ask any restructured/private hospitals’ about their HR policy.

  26. 35 Poker Player 23 January 2012 at 08:48

    One thing not yet brought up in this debate – wage levels are determined much less by productivity than by a society’s prejudices – think the wage differential between genders.

    Notice that some of us are probably being subconsciously disingenuous when we bring up productivity for menial vocations. Do we even try to measure the productivity of peacetime generals, or ISD directors, or HR managers?

    Our society thinks that certain jobs are low status. We don’t allow a short supply to push their wages up. We prefer to artificially inflate their supply so their wages match their status.

    Stop importing toilet cleaners. The lack of people who want to do this job will push wages high enough for people to start seriously considering it as a career.

    But our prejudices disallow this solution. We bring in people barely above starving levels from other countries to keep wages low enough to match the status we ascribe to the job.

  27. 36 george 24 January 2012 at 19:32

    Little difference between this third world countries.

    From ensuring industrial peace to facilitate development through control of unions, the govt has abandoned its responsibility as enshrined in the aspiration of the national pledge and allowed carefully fine tuned principles and beliefs to mutate into a springboard for the exploitation of labour by the merchant class.

    Singaporeans need a ‘spring’-cleaning of our own to rid our country of this aberration before it takes root too firmly.

  28. 37 DetachedObserver 25 January 2012 at 00:02

    There are also other indicators that the malaise is even deeper and highly unbalanced. Consider, for instance, the competitiveness index ranking for Singapore. Every year, the mainstream media would gleefully parrot that Singapore ranks at the very top.

    However, once you go down into the details, it isn’t very pretty. If I recall correctly, our local companies rank rather poorly compared to their counterparts in the developed nations.

    The government keeps pinning the issue to the rank and file worker. Ironically, experienced management consultants would giggle and laugh at this since they have long realized the real truth. The issue is not the rank and file worker, but company management and organisation.

    Warren Buffet was right – “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out”.

  29. 38 Poker Player 25 January 2012 at 12:59

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/steve-jobs-anti-poaching_n_1220244.html

    Quote:
    “The lawsuit accuses the companies of conspiring to keep employee
    compensation low by eliminating competition among them for skilled labor.”

    Still think it’s about productivity? Stop drinking the PAP and 1% Kool Aid.

  30. 39 Leuk75 25 January 2012 at 23:42

    It is really clear. By keeping operating costs unrealistically low and having a huge pool of low waged FTs, GDP goes up because there are more operators. Ministers and the top brass get their variable bonuses based on GDP (aka = topline). Ahem the bottomline and the cost (physical + social) of the huge pool of low wage workers are…….secondary anyway. No incentive for that!

    I still think that if easy access to low wage FTs are available, there will be no incentive to improve output and value added services. Just work the FTs like mules, why bother making them learn how to operate more complex machinery?

    Simply put, we have dug ourselves into a very deep hole and no one can see beyond the dark rim. We can only slowly climb our way out. Sure, there will be a tremendous effort (price to pay) for climbing out and getting to the light. But climb we must or we will all wither away in a hole. Putting the right incentives to the top brass will provide the right impetus to take the first steps to climb out of the hole.

  31. 40 pauls 27 January 2012 at 22:41

    I think it bears repeating that some of the dysfunctions in our system are borne of our ‘cultural framework’; Poker Player has alluded to the lack of an egalitarian mindset in Sg, and the snob value (or lack thereof) attached to certain vocations. To these I add our general lack of civic mindedness. It’s massively inefficient to have cleaners just to clear tables at informal eateries like hawker centres and fast-food restaurants, yet even when Singaporeans are entreated to bus their own tables after dining (e.g. at IKEA cafés), they rarely do so. (If I remember correctly Alex made such an observation in an earlier article.) It’s also inefficient to have trash collection at individual houses in private estates; it would be more efficient to have centralised dumpsters that several households share, but of course Singaporeans with an entitlement mentality will think it’s too much to ask them to walk a little to dispose their trash at common receptacles. And so on. To support these inefficiencies we need armies of workers, but these workers must be paid little so they don’t eat into profits, and so on.

    • 41 Rajiv Chaudhry 28 January 2012 at 12:25

      How did the (much maligned) LKY get people to stop spitting, flush after peeing, be courteous on the road, banish chewing gum from their lives and much else besides?

      It boils down to a lack of political will combined with an out-of-control rate of immigration. All the good done in the first quarter-century of independence has been undone in the past two decades, with little sign yet to an end to the downward spiral. We seem to be going down the development scale, instead of up. I don’t think there is anything intrinsically “cultural” about it.

      For example, there is no earthly reason why people should not be made to pay for their trash, with possibly an exemption for recyclable material. Many countries already charge for waste (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pay_as_you_throw). Our first generation leaders would not have shied away from taking steps, however unpopular. Not these days, it seems.

      PS I might be romanticising it, but I seem to remember years ago people cleared their own tables at Macdonalds. Perhaps somebody with a good memory can comment?

      • 42 yawningbread 28 January 2012 at 22:54

        Why are you harping on immigration and foreigners?

      • 43 yuen 28 January 2012 at 23:37

        I am not sure about “years ago”, but recent stories (more than once) say when some customers tried to clean up after their meals at hawker centres and elsewhere, they got scolded by old local people hired as clearners “hey, you want us to be out of jobs?”; so at least this has nothing to do with foreign labour

      • 44 yawningbread 29 January 2012 at 00:44

        I’ve heard a variant of this too🙂

        Some friends of mine, finishing lunch at a busy foodcourt and sort of taking pity on the cleaners who could barely cope with having to clear so many tables, thought they would help out and take their empty bowls, plates, etc, to the work station where the cleaners assembled all the dirty utensils. Instead of being appreciated, they were kind of scolded for “interfering” with the old ladies’ work. My friends were told off something along these lines: “You educated people don’t know where to put these things. You mix them all up in any old way. You cause me to do double work…” and so on. My friends were a little shocked initially, but in the end decided to laugh it off.

      • 45 Rajiv Chaudhry 29 January 2012 at 11:09

        Because a) the problem appears to have become worse over the past 20 years (I am willing to be corrected on this) b) every civic issue from road traffic to public transport to availability of hospital beds has been magnified over the same period and c) the government does not seem to crack down with CWOs as often or as trenchantly as it appeared to do in the past.

        As I said, I might be romanticising it because the old days are always “good” but my fundamental thesis is that Singaporeans have been overwhelmed by immigration and this has upset the delicate work of civic education that started years ago. This is not to excuse Singaporeans from their own role in littering and other civic offences such as not giving up seats on busses and MRTs. Rather, what I am saying is that the government’s job of educating the public has become that much harder because of the sheer numbers of newcomers who bring with them very different habits and whole-life experiences.

        Consider the facts: the historical rate of immigration in the 140 years before independence was 13,000 persons a year. At this rate of immigration, it was possible for the newcomers to be assimilated into society so that they absorbed the culture and practices of the existing population and in time become one of them. Over the past 20 years, however, the rate of immigration has been 100,000 persons a year (2 million in total). When there is such large-scale immigration, the danger is that rather than being assimilated into the host population, the newcomers form racial enclaves (I resist the use of the word “ghetto”) and create sub-cultures which are more resistant to assimilation into the parent society. This is what has happened to the Turks in Germany.

        I am conscious that your article is about the wage-gap and not civic issues, and that my comments are more pertinent to your other article on littering. However, this is to address your objection and also to say I agree with Chanel in her comment on your Keep Clean campaign article that immigrants might be contributing to the problem by reverse influencing Singaporeans, instead of the other way around.

        Now for the objections ….

    • 46 Poker Player 31 January 2012 at 01:59

      Yuen says:

      “they got scolded by old local people hired as clearners “hey, you want us to be out of jobs?”; so at least this has nothing to do with foreign labour”

      In the same sentence he has:

      “hey, you want us to be out of jobs?”

      and

      “foreign labour”

      and he managed to connect them the wrong way?

      Why would they be afraid of losing their jobs if there were no foreign competitors? There aren’t enough locals who want jobs as cleaners!

      • 47 yuen 31 January 2012 at 10:36

        very simple: if all customers do their own clean up then there is no need for either local nor foreign staff to clear the tables

      • 48 Poker Player 31 January 2012 at 11:34

        What happens to the dirty dishes after customers put them at the designated places? Magic?

  32. 49 yuen 31 January 2012 at 22:05

    the stories I heard only concerns clearing tables; if you want to know about dish washing at food courts, hawker centres and fast food places, you need to go and collect your own stories

    • 50 Poker Player 1 February 2012 at 10:58

      Even playing by your rules, I can point out absurdities.

      This is my comment:

      “Why would they be afraid of losing their jobs if there were no foreign competitors? There aren’t enough locals who want jobs as cleaners!”

      You respond:

      “very simple: if all customers do their own clean up then there is no need for either local nor foreign staff to clear the tables”

      This only makes sense if clearing tables is all cleaners do. But it’s obvious that you know it’s not.

      Then you obfuscate:

      :”the stories I heard only concerns clearing tables; if you want to know about dish washing at food courts, hawker centres and fast food places, you need to go and collect your own stories”

      It’s obvious you are missing the point with that comment.

      • 51 Poker Player 1 February 2012 at 11:04

        And just in case you try another one – there is also wiping tables,- sweeping the floor – bringing the dirty dishes from the collection area to the dish washers – clearing the containers for waste food.

        And all this outside of washing dishes.

        Either you are being disingenuous or you take for granted the amount of work others do to make your life comfortable.

      • 52 yuen 1 February 2012 at 12:49

        getting rather carried away eh? look at what I said:

        >if all customers do their own clean up then there is no need for either local nor foreign staff to clear the tables
        >the stories I heard only concerns clearing tables; if you want to know about dish washing at food courts, hawker centres and fast food places, you need to go and collect your own stories

        and your conclusion

        >Either you are being disingenuous or you take for granted the amount of work others do to make your life comfortable.

        I take if you do not “take for granted the amount of work others do to make your life comfortable”; that’s very commendable; by all means clean up after you eat at food courts, hawker centres and fast food places, to show your appreciation to the local/foreign cleaners that work there


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