Newsweek – Singapore Swing

First spotted on LuckySingaporean’s Diary of a Singaporean Mind.
The island’s economy is booming. So why are so many citizens worse off than they were 10 years ago?

By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Newsweek International

Jan. 29, 2007 issue – Tiny Singapore, with its population of 4.3 million, is often lauded for the way it has embraced globalization to maximum advantage. In the last decade, the city-state has opened its doors wide to foreign investment and talent, slashed corporate taxes, offered incentives to nurture strategic industries (such as biotech, pharmaceuticals and financial services) and cut free-trade deals with a host of other countries. The payoff has seemed clear: over the past three years, Singapore’s economy has averaged 7.6 percent growth—a staggering pace for an industrialized state—and created new jobs at a rate any European government would envy.

There’s only one problem: average citizens have yet to reap the benefits. New statistics reveal that middle-class households have tasted none of Singapore’s spectacular growth, and that the island’s poorest 30 percent are worse off than they were five years ago. “Although we have seen very strong growth, we’re experiencing this new phenomenon of median real-wage stagnation and low-income decline,” says Yeoh Lam Keong, vice president of the Economic Society of Singapore.

This predicament is hardly unique. Wages and salaries are stagnating across the industrial world. What’s surprising is that even a country famous for its smart and transparent leadership has been unable to prevent the gains of globalization from flowing mostly to rich individuals and multinational corporations. In its bid to adapt Singapore’s economy to international competition, the government has tried hard to reduce business costs. This has meant slashing labor prices, which has helped push wages down. According to official figures, over the past five years Singapore’s wealthiest 10 percent have seen their income rise by 2.3 percent annually (and that doesn’t include nonwage earnings such as capital gains or dividends). At the same time, the poorest 10 percent have suffered a staggering 4.3 percent drop in their salaries each year. The government has also allowed employers to cut their contributions to Singapore’s Central Provident Fund, which pays for pensions, public housing, medical expenses and education

There’s only one problem: average citizens have yet to reap the benefits. New statistics reveal that middle-class households have tasted none of Singapore’s spectacular growth, and that the island’s poorest 30 percent are worse off than they were five years ago. “Although we have seen very strong growth, we’re experiencing this new phenomenon of median real-wage stagnation and low-income decline,” says Yeoh Lam Keong, vice president of the Economic Society of Singapore.

Together, these factors have led to lower-than-expected private consumption, which has risen by just 3 percent in the past two years. “Private consumer spending has been the weak link in this current expansion,” says Chua Hak Bin, an economist at Citigroup Global Markets in Singapore. This has, in turn, stung Singapore’s large retail sector. “It is evident that [they] are not the big winners from high growth,” says Manu Bhaskaran, a director of the U.S.-based Centennial Group.

Foreign competition is also hurting. Contractor Tan Boon Soo is one of many Singaporeans feeling the pinch. He installs windows for a living but laments “cutthroat competition” from contract laborers, who have flooded the island from places such as Indonesia and Bangladesh. Unskilled workers like street sweepers and security guards are also finding themselves undercut by immigrants willing to work for less. This is forcing native Singaporeans to change occupations or work harder for less money. “They talk about growth, but I don’t see it,” says Tan. “Maybe the bankers are doing well, but construction has not been. I’m worse off now than I was in 1997.”

All this could spell big trouble. “If these trends continue unchecked,” warns Yeoh, “we could begin to get the formation of an underclass [and] the makings of social instability.” Such an underclass was never part of Singapore’s grand plan. Now its leaders must figure out how to prevent one from emerging without relying on the kind of welfare programs they often deride. Last year the government launched an experimental workfare program that gave low-wage earners bonus pay of up to $780. Now Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government is con- sidering making the program permanent in an effort to thin the ranks of the working poor.

“We will try out different forms, but the principle will be the same—help yourself [and] we will help you,” the prime minister told lawmakers last November. “It’s essential for us to tilt the balance in favor of lower-income Singaporeans because globalization is going to strain our social compact.”

Lee has already announced that he’ll make Singapore’s rich-poor divide a major focus of his annual budget speech next month.

If knowing is half the battle, it could be an important first step.


About soci
Lived in Singapore for 6 wonderful years and has been blogging since 2003, under various names but always on Singaporean issues.

One Response to Newsweek – Singapore Swing

  1. DAMARI says:

    Please sign our petition at–And pray for justice.
    Please help us if you can along with the Senator, the letter below were sent to the Senator
    Go to—, then type in “Working mother and Citibank ethics‘ for search .or,
    go to,
    then click on sign a petition
    go to the bottom of the page, click on all petition
    go down to the ‘w’ and click on Working mother and Citibank ethics
    at the bottom of the petition click on ‘ sign petition’
    Working mother at Citibank, how did they make the list of the “Best 100 Companies for Working Mothers? Fired for putting daughters needs first? Fired via UPS, 12 days before Christmas?
    Please forward to anyone that could help us, thanks.
    Keep this story going so we can get help. Tell a friend to tell a friend, how else can the little guy fight corporate America?
    Working mother at Citibank, how did they make the list of the “Best 100 Companies for Working Mothers?
    Please forward to anyone that could help us, thanks.
    Keep this story going so we can get help. Tell a friend to tell a friend, how else can the little guy fight corporate America?
    Please help us if you can along with the Senator, this letter was sent to the Senator:
    March 8, 2007
    To: Senator Barbara Boxer
    Also: Jason J Chan,
    1700 Montgomery Street, Suite 240
    San Francisco, Ca.94111
    Dear Senator Barbara Boxer,
    On, 3/7/07, I received a notice from Citigroup, HR Communications Unit in New York, regarding Corporate benefits for January 2007, I have included a copy with this fax to you..
    I am at the point that I feel this is harassment, why, because Citibank fired me on 12/13/05. It is very upsetting to me every time I receive these notices, it is a constant reminded of everything I have lost due to the unfair and unequal treatment of employees by Jeff Ursino and Citibank. I have already been sent my 401K check due to my termination, I am not contributing to this program so why does Citigroup keep harassing me with these notices. Remember that last October, 2006, Citigroup sent me a letter ( 10 months after firing me) thanking me for 5 years of services and looking forward to 5 more years, why, they fired me. I would have made it to 5 years, as I had no plans to leave the company, but I was fired 12 days before Christmas via UPS. That notice was again just another reminded of what could have been and what I have lost. Please ask Citigroup to stop harassing me with these notices for they are very upsetting to me.
    Also, on 3/7/07, I received a letter from your Director of Constituent Services, Eric Jose Vizcaino, regarding a letter I sent you and it states that my concerns are being forwarded to the Director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Suzanne M Ambrose, for her review. Again, Citibank attorneys explained to the DFEH, how and why they fired me and as I pointed out to you in an earlier letter, Citibank lied to them about me calling in on 11/15/05, Citibank states that I called in and said I would be out the rest of the week. Again this is a lie, I worked that day. Sheri Paulo, Employee Relations manager of New York for Citigroup, had told me that they said this due to being miss informed , when I brought this lie up to her attention, she said that they had been given bad information and that they would correct this by sending in another statement to the DFEH, and to my knowledge they never did and instead stand by their lie. I have sent you a copy of my time card for that week and other information regarding their statement to the DFEH. Why does Citibank tell the DFEH that I was fired and Ronan of the US Dept. of Labor that I am still employed. They also told Ronan that they would send me a letter explaining how I am still employed, but I never received this letter, why? Last June, Citigroup gave me stock, which I refused due to being fired and Chuck Prince office acknowledges receiving my letter explaining that I had been fired and that I should not have been issued the stock and they took the stock back. I have also sent you a copy of that letter in the black binder which I sent to your San Francisco office, did you receive this binder?
    Please , Senator Boxer, please help us get to the truth, it is as if Citibank doesn’t know what the left hand is doing or the right hand is doing, please help stop the harassment. How many more letters am I going to be sent by Citigroup informing me of everything I have lost.
    Sincerely, Damari Stratford
    To: Senator Barbara Boxer, Feb. 18, 2007

    Regarding your letter of February 5, 2007, thank you. You state that you will submit a formal inquiry to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and that this may take up to 4-5 weeks. In that case I have taken the liberty to put together this binder as to hopefully speed up the process or maybe just so you have it to review.
    In this binder I can show the Jeff Ursino was not fair and equal to all the employees and although others violated policy I am the only one he fired. Citibank did not follow their own policy much less that of the Ca. Labor laws and codes.
    I don’t believe that Citibank has been honest with their clients as well as the DFEH and DOL.
    Citibank did not submit a new statement regarding 11/15/05 to the DFEH and seem to stand behind their “ bad Information”. I worked the day they state I called in and supposedly stated that I would be out the rest of the week, not true. What else is branch 915, Jeff Ursino, Kathleen Munoz and their corporate attorneys in New York willing to lie about?
    Please help us get to the truth about why Jeff really fired me. Why does Citibank stand behind Jeff and his lies and much more? The teller that left about $10,000.00 out is still working their and to my knowledge was not written up and yet this was worse for the bank than me just wanting to care for my daughter and having my doctor call in for me.
    Jeff made error after error with the write ups and the firing procedure of Citibank. Why did Jeff Ursino and Citibank feel I wasn’t worthy of an exit interview? Why was I fired at home and not at my place of work? Why was I not given a verbal or informal warning as is Citibank policy?
    Please go through or have someone review my notes and proof of their dishonesty. Please help us and all those wrongfully terminated by corporate America.. It is time for Corporate America ethics Reform. Senator Boxer if I had been a bad employee I would have just walked away but I wasn’t. I have letters from clients that truly appreciated me and my work and even Citibank has acknowledge that I was great for the Carmel branch, so why fire me and throw me out like yesterdays trash? Because Jeff Ursino just didn’t like me and was out to fire me from the moment he threaten me with job abandonment before I had ever missed a Saturday. Why? As I told Dr. Lowell and all the other doctors I have seen, “this just doesn’t make sense!” I have spent the past 14 months fighting for my rights, please help me and my family, we need more moms like me that want to be their for their children and teenagers are children.
    I look forward to hearing from you, thank you so very much for writing back or at least someone from your office, thanks Jason J. Chan.
    Sincerely, Damari Stratford,1291 Ord Grove Ave, Seaside, Ca 93955-3119
    Cell 831-236-0112 Home 831-583-9077 Fax 831-393-9464

    THANK YOU (As of 2007 they never submitted the correct information)
    Mother fired by Citibank for no good reason
    I am searching for an Employment Attorney willing to work on a contingency basis. I was fired while I was out sick, the managers states in a note added to my personnel file that he had called me to see if I would be coming into work on Dec. 13th but yet with my letter of termination he returned to me the faxed in doctors note, faxed in at 3:44p.m. on 12/12/05 by my doctor, which clearly stated that I would be out from 12/12-12/16/05. He sent me my letter of termination thru UPS, which arrive on 12/15/05. The manager knew that I was out on work related stress and I had a workers comp case pending. The manager states that I was fired for not complying with my warning and I asked how I could comply if I wasn’t there to comply so then I get a letter from HR stating that I was fired for failure to follow the call in process but my doctor had called in for me on the 12th due to my stress level and blood pressure. The doctor had spoken to the supervisor on the 12th so they were aware that I wouldn’t be in on the 13th and my doctor has the notes on my file that she had made a call in for me. Citibank did not follow their own procedures when they fired me. The EEOC has given me the right to sue and the letter arrived on 2/17/06 so my 90 days have started. The DFEH has also launched their own investigation which Citibank received notice on 1/23/06 and should be responding to the notice any day now, (as of 3/8/06they haven’t responded). I had an outstanding performance history with the bank; I had worked there for 4 years 2 months 6 days. I was the head teller one of the notary and the only Spanish-speaking teller. I have at least 40 letters of support from Citibank clients and I can prove that the manager was not equal with all the employees and although he was aware of the teller cooking the books under the direction of the supervisor none of them were put on corrective action yet I was written up for missing my first Saturday and then again when I missed my 2nd Saturday although I had a doctors note to be out of work due to my blood pressure and stress brought on by the manage and the unfairness in treatment. I had been threaten with job abandonment but at that time I hadn’t missed any work long enough to be accused for this. Citibank violated code 132A of the worker comp law and I do have an attorney for that but they are unable to deal with all the other issues. I have a strong feeling that the manager never told HR that my doctor had called in for me nor did he share my doctors note with them, he is to get approval from HR before firing me yet fired me by 4:30 pm or so, I had also emailed him that day at 1:45 pm and explained that my doctor had spoken to the supervisor and faxed in a note, again he was aware that I wouldn’t be in. The manager had called my cell phone and left a message at about 10:25 am, he states that he called because I hadn’t called in a half an hour prior to my shift, which started at 8:30 a.m., why did it take him 2 hrs before calling me? And I would bet that the supervisor had made arrangements to have a teller there to cover my shift since my doctor called her. Please help my family and I. Sincerely, Damari
    Please forward to anyone willing to help us, thanks>

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