'When times are good, we work hard together to build up ... social capital, by being one of the most pro-worker nations in the world'
- Minister Lim Swee Say, National Day Message 2010
Not content with leading his storm troopers and clowning about in his Darth Zorro suit to the entertainment of Singapore's nurses and the ire of Singaporean netizens, the NTUC Secretary General has now set his sights on perpetuating the insidious mistruth that Singapore is "one of the most pro-worker nations in the world".
The black-masked member of Lee Kuan Yew's elite "Intellectual Class," who infamously coined the term "cheaper, better, faster" and sang the song "upturn the downturn" (see below), incidentally is paid more than $2 million a year for his costume-bearing antics and pretensions to the Singapore idol crown. Yet, Lim's assertion that Singapore is 'pro-worker' could hardly be further from the truth.
One of the most damning pieces of evidence contradicting Lim's assertion is Singapore's persistently low wage share of GDP. In 2000, a paper by the Singapore Statistics Department highlighted that Singapore's wage share was 42 per cent, lower than the United States' (58 per cent), Japan's (57 per cent) and France's (52 per cent). This low share accompanied conscious efforts by the Government to moderate wage increases and maintain high returns to investment from foreign multinational companies. It was thus not surprising that Singapore's company profit share was 48 per cent of GDP, higher than the profit shares of the same countries mentioned above, which were closer to 35 per cent.
A decade since the 2000 study, the situation remains pretty much the same. In 2008, Singapore's wage share was still a low 44.9 per cent. Furthermore, countries such as South Korea, New Zealand and Spain had a higher wage share than Singapore even though they reported lower per capita GDP. Indeed, the conclusions of the 2000 paper remain true today - that 'Singapore has First World per capita income but a Third World cost or productive structure.'
More recently, a report by UBS in 2009 reinforced the conclusions of the Singstat paper and added more damning evidence to debunk Lim's claims. The study revealed that on a list of 73 cities, Singapore is the 24th most expensive city, costlier than Chicago, Hong Kong and Sydney. Meanwhile Singapore's wage levels came in at a pathetic 40th position, just one position above Moscow, that was the 56th most expensive city on the list.
In his analysis of the UBS report, Eugene Yeo of the Temasek Review came to the conclusion that Singapore has the lowest wages and domestic purchasing power among the Asian Tigers, and that Singaporeans are paupers in a first world economy. His conclusions were not much different from that of the Singstat paper, and are certainly worth reviewing.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong, one of the few developed economies holding out on the minimum wage, voted to introduce a minimum wage in July 2010. Hong kong's minimum wage bill will ensure that its workers are paid at least subsistence level wages. In Singapore, however, the most vulnerable of society are being taken advantage of by being paid wages that do not provide a decent living. For instance, elderly workers are commonly paid less than $600 a month for a full-time job involving menial work. Patently, this is not sufficient to survive in expensive Singapore where the median COV for resale flats recently soared to $30,000.
But surely the most damning piece of evidence that shatters Darth Zorro's illusion to smithereens, is the Emperor's own statement that Singaporeans should "never retire". Lee Kuan Yew has declared that old people should 'remain productive' and that there 'should [not] be a retirement age' in Singapore. While their foreign counterparts in developed countries enjoy their golden years with the pensions that they have earned over their career, Singapore's old people are expected to work to their dying day. And all the while, their employers will reap record high profit shares of gdp, and their ministers will pocket multi-million dollar salaries and pensions.
Like his cabinet colleague Mr Mah Bow Tan, Lim Swee Say is either being disingenuous or is just plain stupid. The overwhelming evidence contradicting his claim, must lead one to conclude that Darth Zorro is either a liar or a fool - a foot soldier in Lee Kuan Yew's "Intellectual Class", that unrestrained and unchecked, will surely run Singapore into the Ground.