ST headline asked if consumers will pay more to lift wages, S’poreans have better suggestion

Is rental the real problem?

Jonathan Lim | December 3, 2018 @ 06:46 pm

The Straits Times hosted a roundtable discussion on Nov. 30 regarding wages in Singapore.

It involved Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh, former labour chief and cabinet minister Lim Boon Heng as well as NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari.

You might possibly recall Koh’s interest in the topic, especially and more specifically that of Singapore’s lack of a minimum wage.

At the discussion, Lim and Zainal both argued against minimum wage and suggested that the government’s Workfare Income Supplement as well as the Progressive Wage Model were better alternatives.

Recently in end-October, Koh raised the issue during an Institute of Policy Studies conference with Manpower Minister Josephine Teo:

S’pore’s income inequality gap is “problem of success” that is “difficult to overcome”: Josephine Teo

Following Koh’s complaint about The Straits Times‘s coverage of that segment, Lim and him sparred over this on Facebook as well.

Ambassador Tommy Koh says Straits Times coverage of IPS conference biased, S’pore leaders jump in, take sides

Basically, they’re all pretty passionate about this issue.

After the roundtable on Friday, ST published an edited transcript of the discussion titled “Are consumers and businesses prepared to pay more to lift wages at the bottom?” on Sunday.

Can higher wages come from elsewhere?

While the roundtable discussion was centred on wages, readers were prompted by the article’s headline, which asked whether they were prepared to pay more to support raising wages, to bring up the ongoing hawker culture debate.

Their reactions and suggestions posted in comments to ST‘s Facebook post, therefore, focused on things they thought would help hawkers more:

Others pointed out that there were multiple layers of costs for businesses:

Rental does not directly affect food prices: Amy Khor

Responding to several questions in Parliament on Nov. 19, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor previously said rentals paid by hawkers do not “directly affect food prices”.

She shared figures from a 2014 study done by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) that rental only took up 12 per cent of hawkers’ costs. 76 per cent covered manpower and the cost of raw materials.

Khor added that hawkers “generally price food according to what the market can bear”, and food prices are influenced by competition in the vicinity and the demographic profile of customers.

“The median rental of stalls in SEHCs is about S$2,000 per month,” said Khor, “not $4,000 per month as some media reports have claimed.”

Amy Khor: Rental does not “directly affect food prices”, takes up 12% of hawkers’ costs

Top photo adapted via screenshots from Straits Times, ST Facebook page


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