Wages in the marine industry could be changed to give rank-and-file workers higher basic pay while lowering typically high variable bonuses.
Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Lawrence Wong (above) said that the newly formed Marine Engineering Cluster within the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is relooking the wage system in order to strengthen the Singaporean core of workers in the marine industry.
The Marine Engineering Cluster comprises four existing unions in the marine industry: Keppel Employees Union, Keppel FELS Employees' Union, Sembawang Shipyard Employees' Union and the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees' Union.
Unionised workers in the marine industry usually receive 30 per cent of their total pay in bonuses.
The Marine Engineering Cluster is urging for variable bonuses to account for 20 per cent of total pay, while basic pay and a monthly variable component make up 70 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.
Singapore's marine and offshore engineering cluster contributed S$5.7 billion, or 11.8 per cent, of the country's GDP in 2010.
While the cluster is a valuable sector to Singapore, its workforce is not being renewed because younger Singaporeans are turned off by the low basic pay, long working hours and demanding working environment.
The changes to workers' wages will help offshore and marine companies to attract and retain local talent.
"Nowadays, with better technologies, more efficient work processes and more stringent safety requirements, there may not be a need to rely so heavily on over-time work. This will also give workers a better work-life balance," said Mr Wong yesterday at the Marine Engineering Cluster National Day Observance Ceremony.
At the same time, the wage overhaul may find resistance within the industry.
The status quo practice of paying higher variable bonuses has its merits of helping offshore and marine companies - which have a high fixed cost - of surviving during a severe downturn.
However, with the oil and gas boom, there is no time like the present to rethink how wages have been paid.
"The industry is booming with strong orders lasting for a few years, meaning profits would be high, thus paying more into basic wage is sustainable," said Heng Chee How, deputy secretary-general of NTUC and Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office.
Mah Cheong Fatt, executive secretary of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees' Union, said that the Cluster and unions are working to "get buy-in" from major yards and have them "set the industry standard" for others to follow suit.
Mr Wong noted that some companies have already increased their employees' basic salary by more than 10 per cent.
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