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Do Singaporeans deserve their salaries?

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Are Singaporeans asking for too much money in their jobs, or do they have no choice given the country’s stagnating wages, even in a growing economy?

This hot topic is being discussed widely online and within mainstream media, ever since Han Fook Kwang, managing editor of SPH’s English and Malay newspapers, wrote an editorial about wages failing to grow alongside the booming economy.

Then, this week, the JobsDB Asian Consumer Market Survey revealed more Singaporeans are becoming confident about asking for higher wages, with an increasing number asking for monthly wages of up to $7,500.

This makes sense to me – median incomes stagnant over a decade (a problem that isn’t unique to Singapore) and the working population who are affected start to demand their wages match the developing economy.

However, now people are talking about whether Singaporeans deserve to earn more money, and that’s a very different question altogether.

This was raised through a reader response received by Han and published in the Straits Times. In his response, the reader stated Singapore’s median income of $3,000 is fairly high compared with countries like Malaysia, India and China, and asked “Does the average Singaporean workers deserve this premium?”

“Is he/she really more analytical, creative, articulate and productive than our Asian counterparts let alone those in the developed countries of Switzerland and Germany?

“My experience and that of many of my friends and colleagues who have tried recruiting Singaporeans in this income bracket does not bear this out.”

He goes on to say local graduates are poor communicators, have little confidence and lack critical thinking skills. They look great on paper, but struggle to think outside the box.

“Singapore is not a developed country in the sense of Japan or Germany or Switzerland where the average worker is well-trained and of high quality,” he said.

(Read the full letter here)

While this way of thinking is something I have heard from various company heads and HR leaders in Singapore, these comments have been made in response to unique situations or specific industries – rather than lumping Singaporeans together as one ‘un-deserving’ bunch.

It’s a touchy subject and one with many, many factors. But I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter.

Is Singapore’s high GDP a product of high quality workers, or an influx of overseas companies setting up their HQ here? If the latter, does it mean Singaporeans are not deserving of their wages?

Or is it fair for workers to demand higher salaries to match a booming economy and a higher cost of living?

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Rebecca Lewis
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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