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    Jun 02, 2014

    NTUC, bosses agree to disagree

    THE labour movement wanted more, but employers would not budge.

    Giving an unusually candid insight into talks on wage guidelines for low-wage workers, labour chief Lim Swee Say admitted that the situation had reached a "deadlock".

    His revelation comes just two days after this year's national wage guidelines were released by the National Wages Council (NWC). It proposed that workers earning below $1,000 a month get a pay hike of at least $60.

    Such a guideline has been in place for the third year in a row. The recommended minimum built-in increase to the low-wage workers' monthly pay was $60 last year, and $50 in 2012.

    Mr Lim shared that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) pushed to raise this salary ceiling to benefit low-wage workers to "maybe $1,100, maybe $1,200".

    But it could not reach an agreement with the employers, who questioned if such a guideline was still necessary.

    "I'll be very frank that this year, actually there was no consensus between the unions and the employers' representatives," said Mr Lim on the sidelines of an appreciation event for pioneer-generation taxi drivers.

    He added: "On the part of the employers, there is some sentiment that in fact this year, we should drop this guideline on low-wage workers... For NTUC, we feel that (the guideline) has been very useful, helpful and, therefore, we should think about expanding it further."

    He noted that the number of low-wage workers has dropped since the guideline was implemented.

    According to the Ministry of Manpower, there were some 117,500 Singaporeans and permanent residents who are full-time employees earning a basic monthly wage of $1,000 or less last year, compared to 150,000 in 2012.

    On the other hand, employers were concerned about the tight labour market and cost of business.

    But Mr Lim stressed that NTUC's concerns about the cost of living and employers' concerns about the cost of business are "actually two sides of the same coin", and not "a fundamental conflict".

    As a result, the agreement was that the quantum rise of $60 would remain, but so would the wage ceiling of $1,000.

    The Government, the employers and the unions will now form a taskforce to "look ahead" when it comes to giving input for future NWC guidelines. An agreement on a desired framework could be reached this year.

    In response, Singapore National Employers Federation president Stephen Lee was tight-lipped about the negotiation process but said SNEF "supported and endorsed fully the consensus reached by the NWC".

    Meanwhile, asked about the current debate on the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system, Mr Lim said that the labour movement "will keep pushing for more opportunities" for older workers, and workers should continue working as long as they are able to, and as long as they want to, so that they can save for their CPF.

    He said: "Our message to Singaporeans is a very straightforward one. CPF money is your money. But the question is, do you want to spend that money at the age of 55, at the age of 60, or at the age of 65?"