How Many Workers Can the Salaries of Singapore’s Ministers Pay For?

How Many Workers Can the Salaries of Singapore’s Ministers Pay For?
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What you need to know

While Singapore's prime minister shamelessly lays claim to a salary 167 times the basic wage of an outsourced resident cleaner, the government refuses to enforce a minimum wage.

Singapore’s government officials, from prime minister to parliamentary secretary, pay themselves among the highest governmental salaries in the world. Yet they still refuse to implement a minimum wage for average workers in the country. 

Among countries with a similar GDP per capita, Singapore’s workers earn the lowest wages.

One way of illustrating this inequality is by looking at the number of workers who could be supported by the ministers’ salaries. 

In Singapore, outsourced resident cleaners earn a basic wage of S$1,236 (US$900) a month, or S$14,832 (US$10,800) a year.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s base annual salary of S$2.2 million (US$1.6 million) can support the wages of 148 cleaners.

But Prime Minister Lee’s salary is more than that. Between 2013 and 2017, Singapore’s political office holders pocket an average of 4.1 months in bonus salary in addition to a performance bonus and an annual variable component (AVC).

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As the government holds that “there is no one to assess [the prime minister’s] individual performance,” instead of a performance bonus Lee receives twice the national bonus and the AVC, which works out to an average of S$2.475 million (US$1.8 million) between 2013 and 2017.

Inclusive of his total performance bonus, Lee’s salary could pay the basic wages of 167 cleaners.

Last year there were workers in Singapore who earned less than the basic wage of outsourced resident cleaners.

In 2019, there were 4,000 full-time employed resident workers in Singapore who earned a gross monthly income of less than S$500 (US$364), and there were 24,200 workers who earned between S$500 (US$364) and S$999 (US$727). Using the midpoint of the salary ranges to represent the average wage of these workers, there would be 4,000 workers earning an average of S$250 (US$182) a month and 24,200 who earned an average of S$750 (US$546) a month. 

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Singapore’s prime minister earns a salary that can compensate 733 of the lowest-income full-time workers who earn average wages of S$250 (US$182) a month. And inclusive of his bonuses, the prime minister’s salary could pay the wages of 825 of the lowest-income workers.

If we take the sum of the salaries for all of Singapore’s office holders and appointees, their total salaries would amount to an estimated S$47.201 million (US$ 34.36 million) a year. Including their bonuses, this would be an estimated S$53.6 million (US$39.01 million). (Salaries for ministers are tiered according to “experience and seniority,” so I calculated the salaries based on the time ministers entered parliament. For example, ministers entering in the 2020 election were given the lowest tier salary, the 2015 class was placed at the second lowest tier, and so on. It’s likely that at least some ministers are paid above their minimum.)

The total estimated salaries of government ministers could pay the wages of 3,182 outsourced resident cleaners, or 3,611 cleaners including the ministers’ bonuses. 

The estimated salaries of Singapore’s office holders would also pay for about 7,911 full-time low-income workers, if we take a group composed of 4,000 workers earning an average of S$250 (US$182) and another 3,911 earning an average of S$750 (US$546). Including bonuses, they would earn salaries amounting to about 8,617 of the lowest-income workers in Singapore.

Last year the gross median monthly income of full-time workers was S$4,000 (US$2,912) or S$48,000 (US$34,940) a year. Accordingly, the total estimated salaries of the office holders and other appointees could pay the wages of 983 middle-income workers earning the median wage, or 1,116 of these workers when including the bonuses of Singapore’s office holders.

The salaries of heads of governments (excluding the monarchs of oil rich nations) around the world add up to about US$20 million. Singapore’s office holders and other appointees earn in total about US$39 million. We might say that the salaries Singapore’s office holders are sufficient for the leaders of two planet Earths.

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Are Singapore’s office holders so extraordinary and capable that they should be paid twice the total salary of the world’s political leaders?

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Singapore’s office holders earn over four times more than the political leaders of the advanced economies alone. 

In other words, Singapore’s office holders earn a salary that is equal to the political leaders who oversee 60% of the world’s GDP. Do we believe that Singapore’s political holders deserve this?

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By any measure we can find, by any standard of comparison, Singapore’s office holders are overpaid.

While Prime Minister Lee shamelessly lays claim to a salary 167 times the basic wage of an outsourced resident cleaner, his government refuses to enforce a minimum wage for Singaporeans.

Singaporeans deserve better than these leaders who can’t be bothered to protect the most vulnerable in our city, basking in a salary several hundred times a minimum wage that should have been implemented long ago.


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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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