THE idea of equal pay for equal jobs held by foreigners is one the labour movement is not comfortable with, as it would be unfair to Singaporeans, labour chief Lim Swee Say said on Friday.
Weighing in on issues that have raised debate since a group of Chinese bus drivers went on strike recently, Mr Lim said at a press conference that Singaporeans should be paid more as they incur significantly higher expenses in supporting their families here.
In contrast, foreign workers send a bulk of their money back to their home countries, where the cost of living is much lower.
"Therefore, the labour movement, the unions have expressed a lot of concern," said Mr Lim, secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). "We are highly uncomfortable with this idea of same job, equal pay, because we feel that this will disadvantage our local workers and their families."
Instead, employers should pay "fair and reasonable wages", regardless of nationality, he said.
There are two other factors that account for disparities in how foreign workers are paid.
First, those from "traditional" sources like Malaysia are paid more as they tend to stay on in Singapore, renewing their work permits and eventually even taking permanent residency.
"Over the years, they are able to accumulate their expertise, their experience and are thereby able to add more value to the businesses... Therefore, they are treated differently from the non-traditional sources," he said.
Workers from non-traditional source countries like India and China, however, will tend to stay in Singapore only for a few years.