SINGAPORE — Plumber Tan Zhong He knows he is good at his job. He also knows that his services are valuable — why else would people call him to fix their leaks and unclog their toilets?
So it frustrates the 26-year-old when his customers try to bargain on his fees after he has successfully solved their water woes.
“If people ask for quality service they should be willing to pay more for it. We’re also earning a living, not doing charity, so good and cheap is not an option,” he said.
By and large, it seems that most Singaporean youths agree with Mr Tan that vocational workers like him deserve fair wages.
According to findings from TODAY’s Youth Survey 2023 — an annual survey that seeks to give a voice to Singapore’s millennials and Gen Zers on societal issues and everyday topics close to their hearts — 71 per cent of the respondents said blue collar workers deserve to be paid better than they are now.
The survey, which was conducted in August, polled 1,000 respondents aged 18 to 35.
This is the third edition of the survey and it looked at youths’ views on housing, the importance of a university degree, career development, the gap between blue collar and white collar wages, and civic participation.
BLUE COLLAR TRADES ARE ESSENTIAL WORK
Indeed, results from TODAY’s youth survey found that almost seven in 10, or 69 per cent, of youths believed workers in vocational trades are not accorded enough respect in society.
Mr John Tay, a white collar professional who works as partnerships lead at Singapore-based venture capital firm Tin Men Capital, is among them. The 33-year-old noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had thrust blue collar workers and the importance of their work into the spotlight.
“Right at the frontlines, alongside the healthcare workers, were the workers powering our essential services. We do have a responsibility to ensure that they get paid fair value for their work and the important roles that they play,” Mr Tay said.
Ms Anna Trinh, a training lead for home cleaning service Helpling, agreed, saying that blue collar workers should be accorded the same respect and recognition as other workers.
“After a long, demanding day of contributing to society, returning home to a clean and orderly environment is a well-deserved privilege. The individuals responsible for creating and maintaining that environment deserve appreciation and recognition as well.”
Echoing these sentiments, 30-year-old nurse Staffan Stewart recalled how some members of the public felt “terrified” upon seeing nurses on public transport during the pandemic and avoided them or even harassed them.
“It’s ironic how in nursing, we are dealing with life and death situations and are told that we are the frontliners, angels in white, and all the terms used to remind us that we are handling patients’ lives. Yet, despite all these, the salary that we get doesn’t reflect the importance of our skills.”
JOINT EFFORT NEEDED TO ADDRESS THE GAP
Mr Marcus Pang, a 27-year-old project coordinator at a local waterproofing company, believes consumers have to accept that if they feel blue collar workers deserve more pay, then they have to contribute, too.
But he added that the Government can also help to “elevate” this idea so it becomes a social norm, as current perceptions of vocational industries are deeply ingrained in society.
“You’re not paying them for that 20 minutes or one hour of work. You’re paying them for the years of experience that they have gathered over the years,” he said.
Similarly, Mr Tay, who works at the venture capital firm, believes that consumers have to “accept a new norm” if they believe the blue collar workers in society deserve better pay, though businesses should also be more open to sharing the pot when possible.
“Companies and corporations have a responsibility of being nimble in shifting profits towards workers who have worked to achieve the growth,” he said.
Others noted that for consumers to be willing to pay more for services, the scope of blue collar jobs must be “enriched” and professionalised.
This is the case in Germany, where workers in blue collar industries are respected as highly skilled craftsmen, said Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist from the National University of Singapore.
“The difference lies in their possessing a combination of complex skills, involving both cognitive ability and master craft skills,” he said.
“To bring about fundamental change, we would need to restructure the education system, to rethink education and training curricula, and to redesign jobs to incorporate head, heart and hand ability and skills.”
TODAY will be going live on Oct 19 and 20 to discuss the findings of the Youth Survey. Tune in to the webinars at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/today-goes-live-2023-2259246