The labour movement hopes to implement the progressive wage model (PWM) for the food services and retail sectors in the next two to three years, to boost the earnings of about 70,000 low-wage workers.

This will nearly double the coverage of the model, which is currently mandatory in the outsourced sectors of cleaning, security and landscape maintenance, and covers about 80,000 workers.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) also wants to roll out the PWM in the near future to the strata management, pest management and solar technology sectors, said its deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon.

This could potentially benefit 5,000 workers in strata management and up to 3,000 workers in pest management, said Dr Koh during the Budget debate yesterday.

He did not give an estimate for the solar technology sector.

While most workers in the strata management sector are not low-wage earners, a PWM will ensure better wage progression and prospects as the outsourcing nature of the industry has led to some wage stagnation, Dr Koh said.

Discussions on developing a PWM for the solar technology sector have started, while talks with the pest management sector will begin this year, with NTUC aiming to submit a proposal to the Ministry of Manpower by the middle of the year.

Dr Koh also urged the Government and employers to consider implementing a “vocational PWM” for lower-wage occupations – such as those of clerks and logistics drivers – that cut across multiple sectors, through the skills frameworks that are already in place.

The labour movement’s calls to speed up the expansion of the PWM echoed that of its chief Ng Chee Meng, who last Thursday laid out NTUC’s priorities for this year.

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Introduced in 2012, the PWM is a wage ladder that sets out the minimum monthly salary for local low-wage workers, based on their skills and training.

It will be mandatory in the lift and escalator maintenance sector next year for up to 2,400 workers, while a PWM for the waste management sector is in the works for up to 3,000 workers.

Yesterday, Dr Koh noted that the PWM has led to wage growth of about 30 per cent in the cleaning, security and landscaping maintenance sectors over the last five years, compared with a 24 per cent wage growth for workers at the 20th percentile in the same period.

But the wage gap between workers at the 20th percentile and the median income level can be narrowed further, he said.

To achieve this, in-house cleaners and security officers should be included under the mandatory PWM, which covers only outsourced sectors. This should be done “as soon as possible because the framework and the mechanisms are already there”, he said

Dr Koh also called for a greater range of salary increases for low-wage workers over the next five to 10 years, so that workers can close the wage gap with those earning median salaries in their respective sectors.

“Our sisters and brothers in the bottom 20 per cent should not become a social underclass,” he said.

“A progressive wage is not about charity. A progressive wage is about recognising the dignity of our workers through their work.”

Dr Koh also suggested repurposing the Wage Credit Scheme to support companies as they transition to implement the PWM in the new sectors, especially small and medium-sized enterprises that have been affected by the economic impact of Covid-19.

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This was also suggested by labour MP Mohd Fahmi Aliman (Marine Parade GRC), who said that as the wages are increased, consumers may have to pay more for services as companies pass on higher costs.

To guard against companies that try to profiteer from increasing prices, a tripartite committee can be set up to investigate such allegations, Dr Koh proposed.

Nominated MP Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab, who is an NTUC vice-president, said that expanding the PWM to more sectors will provide a useful road map to attract fresh graduates and mid-career switchers, and develop and retain local workers.

  • Wage improvements in the works

  • Waste management

    • The Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management was formed last month to develop and implement a progressive wage model (PWM) for this sector.

    • To benefit up to 3,000 workers.

    Food services

    • First mooted in 2018. The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) aims to implement a PWM in the next two to three years.

    • To benefit more than 36,000 workers.

    Retail

    • NTUC currently engaging businesses and industry on near-term plans; hopes to implement a PWM in the next two to three years.

    • To benefit more than 34,000 workers.

    Strata management

    • To benefit more than 5,000 workers.

    Pest management

    • Discussions to begin with relevant agency on key milestones for this year to implement PWM.

    • To benefit more than 3,000 workers.

    Solar technology

    • NTUC starting discussions with relevant association to adapt the industry’s Career Development Plan for a PWM.





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