SINGAPORE - A union which represents daily-rated workers has seen its membership nearly halve from two decades ago, and this shows Singapore's progress and the group's work in improving the labourers' pay through training, said Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Wednesday.
The Amalgamated Union of Public Daily Rated Workers (AUPDRW) had just 700 members as of December last year, compared with 1,300 when it was formed in 1992.
"As a result of the upgrading and the long-term efforts that have been taken, many daily-rated workers have moved up - they have secured jobs with better pay and long-term security," said Mr Shanmugam. "So in a sense, the union is a victim of the success of the progress of Singapore, and its own success."
He was addressing about 150 union members and representatives from donor companies after joining them for a fund-raising event at East Coast Park.
The daily-rated workers hold jobs such as grave-digging, outdoor cleaning and incineration plant maintenance, and have salaries that range between $1,200 and $1,700.
Mr Shanmugam, who also holds the Foreign Affairs portfolio and is an adviser to the union, paid tribute to their hard work, adding that many of these "unsung heroes" belong to Singapore's pioneer generation.
"Working together, daily-rated workers have laid the foundation blocks, the building blocks of Singapore - at times literally - so that we have what we have today," he said.
About half of the union's members are 55 or older, and the majority are employees with the National Environment Agency and the Singapore Sports Council.
AUPDRW general secretary G. Muthukumarasamy said the smaller number of daily-rated employees was due to the exodus of older ones who have retired over the years.
Many positions have also since been outsourced to foreign workers by contractors, and companies that hire these workers have also offered more contract- based jobs, he said.
Mr Shanmugam told reporters later that the Government has adopted a "comprehensive solution" to uplift such lower-paid workers. It has offered them help and subsidies in housing, education, employment and health care.
The multi-faceted approach has worked to "really push them up", though he stressed the importance of them also upgrading their skills. Pest control worker Jasmin Mohamed Ali, who earns about $1,200 a month, says he has benefited from various courses.
"I took a vocational licence to operate bigger vehicles; now I can also work part-time as a driver to bring in more money," said the 57-year-old father of four, who has only Primary 1 education.
The fund-raising event, which involved cleaning up the beach, saw more than $50,000 being pledged by donors and supporters, with Temasek Holdings contributing another $50,000 in a dollar- for-dollar matching donation.
The money will go towards student bursaries for children of union members, hospitalisation benefits and training programmes, among others.
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