Singapore

Unionists take issue with Jamus Lim’s wage remarks

'Folksy wisdom and beliefs' comment by WP's Jamus Lim is regretful, and belittles work done over the years, they say

Remarks made in Parliament by Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim on minimum wage last week have drawn a strong response from several unionists.

In Facebook posts and a series of forum letters to The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, union leaders have accused Associate Professor Lim, an MP for Sengkang GRC, of belittling the work they have put into tripartite negotiations over the years.

They especially took issue with his choice of words in characterising their views on the issue of low-wage workers' incomes as "folksy wisdom and beliefs".

Prof Lim employed the phrase during an exchange with NTUC deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon on the progressive wage model (PWM) and minimum wage during the debate on the Government's strategies to tackle Covid-19 on Thursday.

Dr Koh had said the PWM - a wage ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels - has seen significant achievement.

He added that taking a negotiated approach with stakeholders, including veteran union leaders, is important.

"Research, reams and reams of data and research is good, but in practice, it's always harder to do because there are practical considerations," Dr Koh said.

In response, Prof Lim said: "With all due respect, as much as it will be lovely to always rely on folksy wisdom and beliefs by labour union leaders, at the same time, it's important to realise that when we talk about studies that show that the minimum wage does not lead to any appreciable increase in unemployment, this is based on careful consideration and not just beliefs."

In a letter to The Straits Times Forum page on Saturday, Mr Nasordin B. Mohd Hashim, the former president of the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union, said Prof Lim's comments were "regretful".

He said: "(The comments were) not just belittling our hard work all these years but also seemingly putting down the intricate issues involved in outsourced industries such as cleaning, landscape and lift maintenance."

'DISRESPECTFUL '

Mr Lim Teck Chuan, general secretary of the Metal Industries Workers' Union, in a letter to Lianhe Zaobao on Saturday, said he found Prof Lim's "tone and choice of words disrespectful to thousands of union leaders".

On Saturday, Prof Lim, in a Facebook post, said his argument about how "folksy wisdom" should not form the basis for policy was made in reference to beliefs held by some union leaders about the minimum wage, as cited by Dr Koh.

Said Prof Lim: "There are many areas where I respect the views of union leaders, such as their empathetic representation of workers under their charge, their ability to negotiate with business owners, and their hard work in support of workers' rights."

Prof Lim in a forum letter to ST published today, reiterated his view of unionists.

He said his disagreement with Dr Koh on what should be considered when making policy decisions "in no way diminishes my regard for unionists in these other ways, nor does it take away from my appreciation of their work in the past".

Employment