Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Singapore’s battle with inflation

As its neighbors play salary “catch-up” the city-state could face further worker unrest as wages fail to keep pace with inflation

By Shamim Adam  /  Bloomberg

The city-state avoided falling into a technical recession after second-quarter GDP data was revised to show the economy grew. The S$240 billion economy is forecast by the government to expand about 1.5 percent this year and 1 percent to 3 percent next year.

The dispute between SMRT and more than a hundred of its bus drivers from China led to the repatriation of 29 protesters, while five others were charged in court for instigating the strike. Of the five, one was sentenced to six weeks in jail on Dec. 3, while the rest were allowed bail after appearing in court last week.

WAGE DISPARITY

At the core of the disagreement was a disparity in wages that the company pays the Chinese nationals and their Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts. Even before the strike, SMRT, the island’s biggest subway operator and one of its two main bus companies, had said that rising wage costs would impact its profitability.

The incident highlighted lingering public resentment over the presence of some foreigners in the country, even as it showed overseas laborers demanding better treatment from their Singaporean employers.

In a snap poll of 313 Singaporean citizens conducted by a government feedback unit and released after the strike, about eight of 10 respondents said the Chinese drivers should be “punished to the full extent of the law” and authorities have “acted swiftly” to bring the situation under control.

For Hussin, who has to support his wife, child and mother in the Bangladeshi city of Khulna, the repercussions of asking for higher pay may be more than he can afford.

“Not happy, also no choice, have to work,” he said. “I want to ask my boss for more money, but I am scared he will scold and tell me to go back to Bangladesh. Maybe after my contract is over, I will look for another company that pays me more or go home.”

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