Failure of our progressive wage model: World class airport paying slave wages?

By: Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Changi Airport handled a record 58.7m passengers last year, 5.9% higher than in 2015” which states that “Changi Airport handled a record 58.7 million passengers last year, 5.9 per cent higher than in 2015.”

I used to work at the airport in the 1970s and whenever I’m at the airport – I try to talk to the low wage workers like the airport trolley handlers, baggage handlers, etc.

Progressive wage model plans for aviation industry

In this connection, a previous article in 2014 “Progressive wage model plans for aviation industry”states that salaries of 240 airport trolley handlers were already increased from about $580 to as much as $1,000 last August (2013)”.

We seemed to be so proud of this achievement of having increased the pay of these workers from $580 to – and I think here’s the catch – “to as much as $1,000″.

So, does it mean that some were still being paid somewhere between $581 to $999? And what about the other about 5,760 outsourced contract workers who were not mentioned along with the 240 trolley workers working under airport operator Changi Airport Group?

Moreover, the “from $580 to as much as $1,000” – was also subject to – “depending on their work attendance and performance” (“Pay doubled for airport trolley staff“, Straits Times, Aug 16, 2013).

Proud of this achievement or SHAME!

The article added that this rise of about 40 per cent of their wages is part of  National Trades Union Congress (NTUC)’s efforts to improve the pay of low-wage out-sourced contract workers (Note – only 240 workers out of about 6000 out-sourced workers).

We should be ashamed of the fact that after our much touted trade union movement and tripartite’s efforts all these years – our world class award-winning airport was paying such “slave wages” ($580) to as I understand it mostly elderly Singaporeans (“These workers, who are mostly in their 50s to 70s”).

Declining real pay for years?

And if and even when we achieve $1,000 pay for all the airport trolley workers, it may still be in real terms after adjusting for inflation, come to around a 40% decline in pay, compared to about 15 years ago.

It was also said that a progressive wage model will be developed by the end of next year (2015) for six types of jobs (“Currently (August 2013), about a fifth of 6,000 outsourced contract workers under airport operator Changi Airport Group are on the NTUC’s wage scheme (“progressive wage model”).

The fundamental flaw of the much touted progressive wage model to address the issue of low wages, may be that most of the workers in the job categories, like cleaners and trolley workers may never be able to progress up the career ladder, improve productivity, etc.

So much has been said about improving the wages for the low income workers over the years by the government. But has there been real progress for them or is it all just arguably, overhyped statements and hot air to fudge the issues caused by our arguably, flawed economic and social policies?

Can’t find “airport trolley handler”?

In this connection, according to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) wages benchmarking tool – when I searched “airport trolley handler” – the result was “This occupation is not available for benchmarking, as we will only release data with sufficient coverage”.

Basic median salary $1,000?

When I searched “aircraft loader (e.g. airport baggage/cargo handler)”, “baggage handler” and “cargo handler” – the results were – monthly basic median salary $1,000.

Still only $1,000?

So, does it mean that it may still only be about $1,000 now in 2016 – almost the same as it was loudly proclaimed in 2013? So much perhaps, arguably, for real “progress” in our “progressive wage model”!

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