From ‘$3k a month to wash dishes?They want the job’, 14 Sept 2012, article by Goh Chin Lian, ST
BARELY a day after Sakae Sushi confirmed an offer to pay dishwashers $3,000 a month, some 300 enquiries and applications have poured in. They came after the restaurant chain made headlines for saying it could not get workers at that salary, which is more than twice what an average dishwasher earns.
Yesterday, the company gave more details while urging only “serious” applicants to contact it. “We would like to emphasise that this position includes other cleaning responsibilities, not just dishwashing, and is very physically demanding,” it said in a Facebook post.
Brand and communications manager Gregg Lewis said the dishwashers need to work 12 hours a day, six days a week – from 10.30am to 10.30pm with breaks. This differed slightly from the nine hours a day that Sakae Sushi chief Douglas Foo had told the media previously.
…The latest news about a 72-hour week sparked a fresh round of debate, with some netizens wondering whether it flouted the Employment Act. This says workers cannot work for more than 44 hours a week, excluding overtime and breaks. Mr Foo said last night that the $3,000 package includes overtime pay for the extra hours and does not contravene the Act.
…Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam commented on Facebook: “Sakae Sushi boss says they are offering $3,000 per month for dishwashers but can’t find people?” Said National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Ong Ye Kung: “I am surprised at $3,000 there are no takers.”
The success of Sakae’s business model of selling tiny plates of Japanese food at low prices depends on how quickly you can turn over your plates to keep a moving conveyor belt stocked. In 1987, you could be a dishwasher for more than a decade in a hotel restaurant but still earn a measly $700 a month, which is almost a quarter of what Sakae Sushi offers today. Compare this to sweepers and cleaners earning less than $500 per month back in 1982, a pay packet that’s almost the same as what some toilet cleaners STILL get in 2010 ($600), 28 YEARS LATER. If you look at basic salaries of other low-wage workers THIS year alone, the $3K deal may also be attractive to supermarket assistants ($1140), cleaners (a shocking $500 a month) and even security guards ($1000), as long as you’re willing to absorb the backbreaking 72 hours strain.
But it’s not just other low-wage workers that Foo may be drawing into his kitchens with this sumptuous offer. In 2009, the New Paper reported a range of relatively higher-skilled jobs which pay less per month compared to Sakae dishwashing, including being a PRE-SCHOOL teacher, hospital attendant and lorry driver. It even pays better than being an SBS driver (up to $1600), or a server/chef ($1500, $2000) in an Indian restaurant. If this trend spreads to other eateries, the typical dining experience would be sparkling glasses and cutlery but crappy food and service because all the decent waiters and chefs have turned to the dishwashing business to pay the rent. I’d also have trouble taking my date home in a cab or bus, or finding a urinal that isn’t flooded to the brim with piss, for the same reason.
It’s interesting to see who these 300 applicants are, and this public appeal for dishwashers may be siphoning skilled labour out of other industries where important, though low paying, work still needs to be done. Perhaps K Shanmugam shouldn’t just view Sakae’s salary in isolation as a sweet deal, suggesting that it’s madness not to snap up the offer, without reviewing how this will skew the labour force if spun out of control. As Law Minister he should also realise how Foo is stretching the number of working hours allowable in the Employment Act to its limit (12 hours a day, one rest day a week). A minute of overtime more and he’d be fined for slave-driving. It’s also against the law to work more than 72 hours of overtime in a MONTH, and you do 28 hours of OT a week alone as a Sakae dishwasher, at supposedly 1.5 times the hourly basic pay. If you do the math, assuming a base hourly rate of $10 an hour, that equals 10×44 = $440 a week’s base pay or $1760 a month. With the additional OT pay of ($15 an hour) $1080 from a maximum of 72 hours a month, you get a total of $2840, just below $3K. So as attractive as $3K sounds the way Foo and ministers spin it, you’d have to consider whether a rate of roughly $1o/hr is worth your while.
However, endorsing long hours for seemingly higher pay just seems contradictory to this work-life balance the rest of the PAP is pushing in the name of procreation. Like what unskilled jobs are paying, talk is cheap, and nobody will take the government’s word for more family time seriously if nobody’s going to amend the Employment Act. If the minister thinks this job opportunity is too good to miss, perhaps he should give it a shot himself before recommending it to Singaporeans, though it’s something some leaders may actually excel in, considering how they always tend to ‘wash their hands’ off important matters or ‘wash dirty linen’ of Opposition politicians in public.