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While it is encouraging to hear that SMRT has taken steps to ensure that its non executive employees are remunerated more fairly, we are concerned that the basic wages of these employees are still determined based on their nationality, with Singaporeans being paid the most, followed by the Malaysians and Chinese nationals, who are paid the least. The principle of equal pay for equal work is a fundamental labour right and should be the basic principle of any human resource practice. An often cited argument that migrant workers should be paid less is that the bulk of their income is sent back to their countries of origin where the cost of living is lower. This argument does not make sense because if cost was really the issue, then wages should be determined by an individual’s employee household expenditure and not by nationality.
Migrant workers, including the Chinese nationals who were working under SMRT paid thousands of dollars in recruitment fees which would have taken them up to a year to pay off. As a corporation of international standing, SMRT should ensure that they engage recruitment agents which do not charge migrant employees any placement fees, which is in line with international standards established by the International Labour Organisation.
The government, unions and employers need to realise that the principles of equality and non-discrimination are essential components in our current drive for better productivity in the work place. When employees feel that they are fairly treated and have a stake in the company’s performance, they are more likely to contribute positively to the work environment. Those who are exploited and discriminated against are more likely to resign, and move on to companies and other countries with better work prospects and employment protections. When we allow wage discrimination by nationality, it undermines the meritocratic system that we as a society claim to uphold.