Another dot in the blogosphere?

Unclean wages?

Posted on: June 4, 2018

The debate on whether Singapore teachers should get to park their cars for “free” while they are at work refuses to go away.

Some might say that the arguments are pointless because the Auditor General’s Office (AGO) has already determined that teachers must pay for parking. However, the prime issue is not about free parking, but about how such decisions are made.

A Member of Parliament (MP) critiqued the approach of implementing policy from an economic lens and urged “a conversation about reciprocity, trust, and relationships” instead [edited version of MP’s speech].

We need to insert and steer our values into the national conversation about prosperity and growth. We need to balance the economic reasoning with moral reasoning. We need to make what is cheap, efficient, and quick to what is fair, just, and right.

— Seah Kian Peng

The critique was countered in a parliamentary reply that included how the Ministry of Education had been transparent and consultative. I am not commenting on that claim because I do not wish to turn healthy skepticism into unreasonable cynicism.

I actually do not like how dependent we still are on cars. I expressed this conviction when I cycled to school when I was a teacher and took the bus to campus when I was a professor. I still take bus 11 (walk, bike), and rely on the bus and train now. So I do not really have a stake the parking issue.

I do, however, have a stake in the mindsets and well-being of our teachers and educators. I still operate as a teacher educator and I have long observed that pedagogical issues are not compartmentalised from economic ones.

The crux of the “clean wage” argument seems to be one of transparency — you should not get benefits that others in the civil service do not enjoy.

But teachers are civil servants like no other. Teachers do not submit claims for stationery that schools do not provide. Nor do they ask for compensation for treats they might provide students when both they and their students go the extra mile.

Speaking of which, how many civil servants claim lost family time, weekends, and vacation time because they have to:

  • make corrections on work they have to bring home?
  • plan for lessons before the work week?
  • chaperone kids for training, performances, or overseas trips?

If we cannot abide by having hidden benefits, how can we accept hidden costs?

Furthermore, some things cannot be compartmentalised, quantified, and paid for like parking spaces. Teachers give because they tend to be nurturing. Can we not take better care of them in return?

Viewed through an economic lens, a wage looks unclean if a teacher gets free parking. But viewed with a moral filter, slapping fees on such civil servants who already give so much and do not complain about now having to also pay for parking is filthy.

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