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Remarks by SMS Zaqy at Third Alliance for Action for Lower-Wage Workers Workshop

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State, Singapore Management University

1. Good afternoon and thank you Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Mr Lawrence Wong and all of you here today. It has been more than a year since we started the Alliance for Action for Lower-Wage Workers (AfA for LWW), and it is wonderful to see many familiar faces today. This is a continuation of our efforts into the second phase, and I see some of you have been trying out ideas and had achievements and successes that I commend you for.

2. This is the way forward for Singapore, with Progressive Wages and the Tripartite Workgroup for Lower-Wage Workers, where we first started the AfA for LWW. It is about trying to convince employers, that this is a new social compact that we need; something to bridge the wage gap, inequality and bring social cohesion in Singapore. We often think about society in terms of wages and economics, but we have to talk about the social values and the inclusive Singapore that we want to build. Otherwise, we will start seeing unrest, society breaking down, the wage disparity and its impact on society. When we talk about Forward Singapore, it’s also about the social compact that we want to build moving forward. On the policy front, the Government, labour movement and employers have worked out the progressive wage structures and agreed on how we want to bring wages forward, but that’s just one part of the equation.

3. There is a whole social dynamic where we need society to come in. The Progressive Wage Mark that we’re introducing towards the end of the year is also one aspect in which we want people to recognise and support companies that do good to support lower-wage workers. This is where we can test whether Singaporeans have bought into this. To some extent, all of us want cheap and good, but is it good for the lower-wage workers? That is the question we sometimes have to ask ourselves.

4. On another front, there are many ongoing initiatives, and some are good ones that we want society to think about. We want ground impact, and this is where members of the AfA for LWW can count on us to help them to scale. There are resources from our network, and this is where we think we can value-add so others can also understand and buy in.

5. Beyond this, we hope to spread our initiatives to make a difference in how society perceives our lower-wage workers. As Progressive Wages uplifts them in their respective jobs, the element of respect and understanding for their work is part of social cohesion. Other aspects like rest areas, working conditions, making sure they get their rest hours, should be second nature to us as we think of them as employees who need rest and respect in their roles and not be treated as second class citizens. I do get feedback on concerns about lower-wage workers earning close to the middle income in years to come. That is where I think we should change our perspective and blur the lines more. Hopefully in time to come, we will not have such stratification in society.

6. As DPM shared about Forward Singapore; it is about how we work with all of you, Singaporeans at large, in charting our way forward and the kind of society, workforce and relationship between employers and workers that we want to build. These matter, and everything you do here, will make a difference. I look forward to your continued contributions and projects that we will discuss later. I look forward to seeing how we can support you, given our resources and networks, to see how we can expand your ideas to create impact for society.

7. With that, I want to say a big thank you to all of you for staying the course. Let’s move ahead together with Forward Singapore. Thank you.