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NWC's new guidelines welcomed by unions, firms

This year's proposed $60 hike received praise from unions like the Amalgamated Union of Public Daily Rated Workers and employers such as the PAP town councils and the ASME. -ST
Elgin Toh And Toh Yong Chuan

Mon, Jun 03, 2013
The Straits Times

The latest NWC guidelines were announced at a press conference chaired by Professor Lim Pin (centre) yesterday

Unions and companies have welcomed the latest National Wages Council (NWC) guidelines, with many calling the $60 raise for low-wage workers fair and much needed.

But they were more circumspect about whether one particular NWC recommendation will be accepted in the private sector.

This is the call on buyers of outsourced services to allow contract values to rise so workers can enjoy salary increases before the end of existing contracts.

For services such as cleaning and security, the outsourced contract is locked in for an agreed period, sometimes up to three years. Contract values are settled before the start of the contract.

Therefore, in order for annual NWC recommendations, such as the latest $60 raise, to be implemented, the workers' employers - that is, the service providers - have to absorb it in their costs.

For smaller service providers already surviving on thin margins, the raise simply does not happen.

Acknowledging the difficulties faced by these providers, Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) chief Stephen Lee said the NWC made it a point to highlight the problem this year.

"Hopefully, the service buyers can allow for service providers to do some renegotiation to take into account (the raise)," he said.

As a major buyer of such services, the Government has already taken the positive step of promising it will "lead by example". But getting private-sector service buyers to comply may be easier said than done.

For instance, condominium management committees will be reluctant to pay more than what was agreed upon. They have to answer to residents, said Mr T. Mogan, president of the Security Association of Singapore. Agreeing that renegotiating contracts with private buyers is an uphill task is Mr Robert Wiener, president of the Association of Certified Security Agencies.

He said that while "there are some enlightened clients", for the rest, a renegotiation would have to be pitched alongside other service improvements - such as software or hardware upgrades to reduce overall manpower deployment.

This year's proposed $60 hike received praise from unions like the Amalgamated Union of Public Daily Rated Workers and employers such as the PAP town councils and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme).

PAP town councils issued a statement saying they will make sure their cleaners get the raise.

President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Thomas Chua said his grouping "appreciates the special attention being given to low- wage workers... as this is the group that needs extra help".

But given patchy implementation of last year's $50 raise - only three in 10 firms complied - those interviewed said more needs to be done to ensure firms fall in line.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) vice- president K. Karthikeyan suggested naming and shaming firms that were profitable yet did not give the raise.

Asme president Chan Chong Beng said workers should not let intransigent SME bosses get away by pleading ignorance about the NWC guidelines. He said: "Know your rights. Do something to pressure the boss and highlight that you should get what you deserve."

Citing how unionised companies have a much better record - 80 per cent last year - of complying with NWC, labour MP Zainal Sapari said one of NTUC's approach is to unionise more firms.

"One way is for workers of non-unionised companies to join the union. If there is sizable membership in a company, we will unionise it."

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