In Australia, certain menial jobs such as house painting, plumbing and construction command some respect. And with salaries of A$17 (S$17.50) to A$40 an hour, one could earn a respectable amount in a rich, resource-endowed country.
In Singapore, however, many would shun these back-breaking jobs, to be shouldered by the less academically qualified or by foreign workers.
Unlike security guards or cleaners, who could learn to use technology to increase productivity, I wonder how we could improve productivity for house and wall painting, which ultimately sets the ceiling for their compensation.
To paint a whole house or undertake a public painting project is not cheap, for those renovating their homes or building owners refurbishing their premises, but it is not clear how much of the value is shared with the painters, especially the skilful seniors.
They are probably paid as menial workers. Over time, these painters will age and become slower, even if their painting skills remain impeccable, and they would have problems making ends meet.
In Chinatown, I saw two men painting a wall, probably to make way for new drawings. I do not know their nationalities. I was, however, impressed by the deftness of the Chinese man.
Using a long pole with a paint roller, he manoeuvred the roller from top to bottom and from left to right, painting a wide area quickly. The coat was applied consistently. I reckoned he must be a skilful painter.
I used to work as a painter during my teenage years and appreciate the level of competency of a wall or house painter.
We are helping security guards, cleaners and landscaping workers to move up the salary chain. It is time to do the same for other menial workers, such as painters.
Our society should embrace the vision in Budget 2015 of achieving higher incomes from deep expertise in every job.
This letter was written by Ee Teck Siew.
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