Progressive Wage Model may be expanded to middle-wage workers: NTUC

THE labour movement is looking to extend the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to middle-wage workers, even as it pushes for its implementation in three more sectors for lower-wage workers in the next 12 months, labour chief Ng Chee Meng said on Thursday.

Briefing reporters in a virtual meeting on the priorities of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) this year, he said: "We think we can do more with the PWM, not just necessarily for the lower-wage workers, but actually in higher-level spaces where we implement the philosophy of PWM even in middle-wage workers."

This could potentially bring workers in pest management, strata management and solar technology under the model.

Describing solar tech as a "sunrise industry" that is "not exactly a low-wage sector", Mr Ng, who is secretary-general of NTUC, said one reason for its potential inclusion is the increased demand for manpower.

In the course of matching displaced workers with employers at the NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), it created a career development plan for this industry, which helped to give workers an idea of what to expect in terms of skills and career progression.

"We have worked with a couple of employers, and we think we can build on the good work so far in developing the career development plans that we announced last year into the next step of the PWM to encourage Singaporeans to come into this sector to have a viable career," he said.

This would mean that workers, whether they are technicians, managers or system engineers, can expect "a certain matched wage growth together with productivity and skill growth", he said.

The PWM, mooted by NTUC in 2012, sets out the skills workers must attain in order to qualify for higher wages in certain low-paying sectors, including cleaning and security. It has also been pushed as the government's alternative to having a minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the three more sectors where the labour movement is to push for the PWM to be implemented for their lower-wage workers are waste management, food services and retail.

This could potentially bring about 80,000 lower-wage workers under the model.

Late last month, a committee was formed to oversee the implementation of the PWM in waste management, with a target to issue recommendations in the second half of this year.

In a statement on Thursday, NTUC said it hopes that the tripartite clusters for food services and retail will be set up soon, with recommendations released by this year, and implemented within two to three years.

"Especially for food services, we have workers who may well be working in hawker centres, ranging all the way to Michelin-star restaurants," Mr Ng said, noting that discussions have been ongoing since 2018.

"So the landscape is indeed variegated and our PWM proposals must be able to address not just simply raising the wages of workers, but ensuring the business interests of our employer partners are also taken care of," he added.

The labour movement is also considering "new ways of thinking" about the PWM, such as making it vocation-based, he said.

Beyond it, Mr Ng said the labour movement hopes to represent freelancers, including gig economy workers, in the near future.

"We find that in the Covid-19 aftermath, many of our freelancers really are left quite vulnerable... and we want to see how we can organise freelancers, even if we have to persuade the government to change laws for NTUC to represent freelancers, we will likely do so," he said, noting that they comprise a "sizeable" group of up to 250,000 people.

For senior workers, NTUC is looking at ways to help them continue working in the jobs that they want or to redeploy them in other sectors, although this will not be easy, he said.

"We will work with the government and employers to continue to look at the tripartite recommendations ... to raise the retirement ages, the re-employment ages and also CPF restoration, taking into account the impact of Covid-19," he said.

At the same time, work is continuing for the PME (professionals, managers and executives) task force.

"NTUC is particularly concerned about those in their 40s to 60s, as it may become increasingly challenging for them to find employment, should they need to make a career switch," NTUC said in its statement.

It added that the task force is working on recommendations and more details can be expected in the third quarter.