Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim delivered his maiden speech in Parliament on Sep. 3, sparking a verbal sparring match between him and several People's Action Party (PAP) MPs.
Universal minimum wage
Lim's speech during the debate on the President's Address touched on the need for policymaking in Singapore to be more compassionate.
He also reiterated a suggestion for a universal minimum wage, which has appeared in his party's GE2020 manifesto.
Lim acknowledged that Singapore has a form of minimum wage via the Progressive Wage Model.
However, he advocates for more to be done to make it universal by implementing an across-the-board minimum wage.
"The employment impact of a minimum wage will likely be very limited," he reasoned.
Gan Siow Huang: Minimum wage will have impact on employment
PAP MP Gan Siow Huang was the first to respond to Lim's speech, saying she disagrees with his view that minimum wage can be implemented with minimal impact to unemployment.
She said that there's a real risk that low wage workers in Singapore may lose their jobs should a universal minimum wage be implemented, and that this policy has a good intention but "unintended consequences".
Vikram Nair & Zaqy Mohamad: What is this minimum wage?
PAP's Zaqy Mohamad also brought up the economic trade-offs involved in a universal minimum wage.
He questioned Lim: "What is the definition of living wage or minimum wage the Workers' Party subscribes to?"
He also said that different sectors have different income levels, and one should look at different levels, such as income, productivity and the amount of wages that each sector can afford.
Similarly, Vikram Nair also asked for the exact level of minimum wage that Lim would propose for Singapore.
He also asked if Lim was aware of any countries with a minimum wage that has a lower rate of unemployment than Singapore.
Lim responds to Gan, Zaqy & Nair
Responding to Gan, Lim acknowledged that "such a policy may not be ideal" at this very moment, but he said that we could "come together and agree" that this is a principle that we want to roll out.
In response to Zaqy's suggestion on differentiation across sectors, Lim said that one runs the risk of a system becoming "gamed" when a system is being "over-engineered".
He pointed out that workers could be substituted between sectors, and employers might try to "game the system".
Lim also said that he "does not know" what is the "appropriate level of the minimum wage" and said that is why we need a national commission to study and understand this better.
However, he emphasised that based on extensive economics studies, "the unemployment impact is either very minimal or statistically insignificant".
Tin Pei Ling vs Jamus Lim
PAP MP Tin Pei Ling also echoed Gan's concerns, asking if Lim would concede that implementing a minimum wage now would have unintended adverse consequences on our economy.
Tin also asked Lim to clarify how the minimum wage should be implemented, and if he has a specific proposal on how to improve youth employment in Singapore.
To which, Lim said that having a minimum wage does not necessarily imply adverse consequences.
And while he does not have a specific policy in mind for youth unemployment, he highlighted the need to better understand the phenomenon of youth unemployment in a time of recession because we aren't sure if the unemployment is justified.
For instance, he said, these people might choose to take up more education and delay entry into the labour force.
Sitoh Yih Pin vs Jamus Lim
Sitoh Yih Pin also asked Lim for clarifications regarding his suggestion that it is now time to "remortgage his properties" given the low interest rate.
"I can tell you that is how people start getting into trouble," he said.
Lim clarified that there are instances where if you borrow against low interest rates, and invest in something that will give you high returns, that could work out to be better for your balance sheet in the long run.
To which, Sitoh said that Lim is living in a state of "euphoria", and "assuming that tomorrow will be better than today".
SM Tharman intervenes
Following Lim's exchange with the PAP MPs, WP's Leon Perera also asked several PAP MPs for clarifications to their questions.
This prompted Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to enter the debate, saying that he would make a "brief intervention".
Tharman emphasised the government's view that it is important to raise the wages of our lowest paid workers.
He also offered "a bit of advice", saying that one should "avoid strawman arguments, like saying that the government is only interested in efficiency and not equity".
Read more about what Tharman said here:
Top photo via gov.sg, CNA screenshots
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