What is the purpose of implementing a minimum wage? Minimizing exploitation of low-cost labour, even foreign labour, by employers. Is that the only way to minimize such exploitation? Certainly not! The only reason I will support such legislation, if it indeed comes to pass, is to bring unscrupulous employers who exploit such workers, both local and foreign, to task. Cry higher operating costs if you like. Consider this – inside every worker’s body, there is a person. Daniel Pink has articulated that the research shows that if we pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table, people will become more productive and creative. Yes, some jobs are labour-intensive, repetitive, arduous, etc., and we shouldn’t have to pay too much for them. Then start automating and have more highly-skilled personnel to manage such “menial” tasks! One of the signs of a rotting society is when people get slaves to do “demeaning” tasks like cleaning toilets, cleaning public areas, construction, farming, and the like. Slaves don’t exist anymore? Think again, my friend, you might be one yourself! What encourages such attitudes? A belief that some people are “less evolved” than ourselves. So, while I do not agree with a minimum wage, circumstance forces me to support it, at least for a season.
A much better way is to train our people to continuously increase our value to others. We shoot our mouths off about lifelong learning, when what is really required is increasing wisdom. While increasing our value to others, we need to recognize that there is absolutely nothing wrong with carrying out tasks that might make us dirty, cold, wet, tired, hungry and miserable at all! I would say that, even for top executives, getting their hands dirty is actually good for them. And good for the company overall. Hard physical labour stimulates thinking when it is carried out wholeheartedly, because the person involved is cognitively, kinaesthetically, visually and auditorily engaged. Ideas start flowing and better ways of optimizing and/ or innovating spring to mind. Experiencing the daily grind helps a top CEO to envision better. Much better than a game of golf, I dare say. I do not say that a top CEO spends too much time on the ground, but he has to be there, and people must experience him being there, often enough.
This minimum wage discussion does not even need to exist. As you treat your people like essential growth partners and not like “Human Capital”, your leadership qualities become even more crucial, and you’d better keep growing as a person and in value if you would like to remain where you are. Teach your children, the younger ones, the value of labour, and the immense value of experiencing as much of an organization as possible on your way to the top. Imbue in ourselves the value of serving others and elitism will fade. As a society, we are not there yet, but we can surely get there. Moshe Dayan, former Defense Minister of Israel, certainly walked the talk in one respect. His son served as a mortarman in one of the IDF units, not in some exalted leadership role or cushy office job. Adopt a similar mentality, and we would worry less about minimum wages. Each will be paid according to the value of his work. And if he thinks he is worth more, upgrade and do something else.