The Richest Man in MCC
By TAN Kee Wee
(MediaCorp 938LIVE’s Money Talks, Thursday, 17 July
2008, 7.50 am and 7.20 pm)
It’s not just food and fuel prices that are going up.
With the additional petrol surcharge from today, taxi fares
have also gone up. What this means is that our fixed salaries
will buy us less.
What can we do? For a start, we could ask our bosses
for higher salaries. If you have such a sympathetic boss, good
for you. The funny thing is, if all our bosses are as
sympathetic, and raised all our salaries, it may not be a good
thing. Let me explain.
In the 1970s, during the last two oil crises, when
inflation was also caused by high oil prices, workers in the
developed countries demanded, and got higher wages to
compensate for their diluted purchasing power.
Or so they thought. Soon after they got higher wages,
sellers of goods and services raised prices even further. One
fed the other. In the end, workers were no better off. It was
like trying to put out a house on fire by pouring petrol on
From the experience of the 1970s, the lesson learnt is
that one sector of the economy must eventually bear the pain.
If, it’s not the business sector, then the burden must fall on
consumers and salaried workers, namely, you and I.
To be fair, many businesses have tried not to pass the
higher costs to consumers. Presumably, they couldn’t do this
for long. In fact, some have come up with novel ways of
containing rising costs.
You may have noticed that your prawn noodle soup
seller may not be charging you more, but he has been giving you
less noodle and prawns for the same price. Supermarkets are
doing the same trick. They may not have increased the price of
a jar of peanut butter, but the amount of peanut butter in the
jar is less than before.
So, what can we poor salaried workers do about it?
Actually, we may have been doing something about it already.
According to the latest official statistics for the first
quarter of this year, Singapore workers got a net salary
increase of 3.6%, after adjusting for inflation.
At the same time, workers’ productivity fell 2.8%. If
we factor this in, the worker’s net salary increase was not
3.6%, it should be 3.6 plus 2.8, which equals 6.4%.
In other words, the Singapore worker is doing what the
seller of a jar of peanut butter is doing. He is giving his
employer less work for the same salary.
That may be one cheeky reason why labour productivity
fell in the first quarter of the year, and the whole of last
year for the matter. Another possible reason may be due to the
growing awareness of our health and well being.
About two years’ ago, one of Toyota’s senior car
engineers collapsed and died. According to a Japanese labour
bureau report on his death, the engineer died from working too
Apparently, in the two months leading up to his death,
he averaged more than 80 hours of overtime per month. Workplace
stress is common all over the world. But in Japan, it is an
especially serious problem. The Japanese have a term for this
“sudden death from overwork” syndrome. They call it “karoshi”.
And because of this, nowadays more and more Japanese workers
are taking it easy.
In Singapore, there could also be a growing
realization that a balanced life is preferable to one bent on
chasing after money, car and condo. I call this our national
obsession with “M-C-C”, money-car-condo.
This “take-it-easy” attitude may explain why the
productivity of Singapore workers has dropped. After all,
what’s the point of working so hard if you end up being the
richest man in “MCC”, which is short for the “Mandai
Crematorium and Columbarium Complex”.