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Debate on President's Address: Young Singaporeans, workplace flexibility, and essential services workers

Debate on President's Address: Young Singaporeans, workplace flexibility, and essential services workers


Continuing our series on Singapore's Parliamentary updates from the Debate on President's Address, today we bring to you ideas highlighted by MPs Desmond Choo (focusing on young Singaporeans and self-employed persons), Yeo Wan Ling (focusing on flexibility and non-traditional career paths), and Fahmi Aliman (focusing on essential services workers).  

Desmond Choo, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) and MP for Tampines GRC, spoke on the issues confronting young Singaporeans and self-employed persons.

Noting that younger Singaporeans are anxious about their job prospects and future careers, he put forward the following:

  1. Noting the Resilience Budget’s student loan repayment relief, he hopes the government can also work with private education institutions (PEI) and banks to provide similar relief for PEI students. He suggested MOM allowing students a longer moratorium to pay back their parents’ CPF monies used for their education.

  2. On the need to help the COVID-19 generation with greater job mobility, he encouraged companies to convert traineeships into permanent positions after the current nine months. The government can also customise incentives via the Jobs Growth Incentive to employers to hire these trainees on a permanent basis to reduce the job-skills mismatch. If the economy has yet to turn around after nine months, the option to extend the scheme can be considered.

  3. For some younger Singaporeans, he noted it might better to stay in school, further their studies or pick up new skills. For others, a second diploma or degree might be needed for greater job mobility over the next 12–24 months. He added: "I suggest that we can help to provide subsidies and loans for their second diplomas, degrees or masters."

For self-employed workers, he put into focus their lack of protection and income security:

  1. Firstly, he classified this demographic into two segments. First, the dependent contractors who depend predominantly on platforms for their livelihoods, such as those on ride-hailing or delivery apps. They are affected directly by platform companies’ policies such as incentive schemes or meeting service standards. Second, the freelancers. They are the coaches, and artists, and depend on service buyers.

  2. ASG Choo suggested two areas for closer examination. One, because existing laws do not allow them to be collectively represented, their voices might not be heard and interests not advanced. Thus, the divide in bargaining powers is vast, especially for the dependent contractors. He explained: "We need to establish if they are actually contractors or employees. And subsequently, the roles and responsibilities of the platform companies. This is needed if we want to see these industries or mode of obtaining services continue to thrive."

  3. Second, for freelancers, it is critical to establish the responsibilities of the service-buyers. The current mechanism to manage the fairness of contract terms is via small claims tribunal or a civil court process. "We perhaps require legislation on unfair contract terms to protect freelancers," he said, noting that in the interim, we need to have tripartite standards that guide service buyers and freelancers.

In her maiden speech as a Member of Parliament, Yeo Wan Ling, NTUC Director for U SME and U Family as well as MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, made a passionate plea for Singaporeans to be champions for kindness in the community, built on understanding and empathy toward the challenges others in our community might face.

"The incessant shouting you have been hearing at home could be a couple in financial distress. The tired homemaker who has been moving furniture at odd hours could have had her hours stretched due to having more people at home in the day.

"It is on us to open our hearts to the stories that run deep and to extend a helping hand to those in the community who might need it. Have we been too quick to judge?," questioned MP Yeo.

She added: "When we’re willing to listen, everyone’s a winner. Be it at home or at work, it would go such a long way if we all fostered an interest in each other’s lives and uncover the stories that lie beneath. I believe that Singaporeans will only be able to build a rich national identity when we allow ourselves to dive deep into the richness of the lives of those around us."

As such, with COVID-19 pushing more women into the workforce to support their families, she called for more flexibility in the workplace, such as telecommuting and flexible hours to allow women to better juggle their career and family responsibilities.

She added that the pandemic has replaced and redefined traditional career paths, stressing the importance of recognising and respecting non-traditional occupations and unconventional career paths. 

For his first speech in Parliament, Fahmi Aliman, NTUC Director of the Operations and Mobilisation Division Secretariat as well as MP for Marine Parade GRC, acknowledged the hard work done by essential services workers and caregivers during the pandemic.

"I am heartened that as mentioned by Madam President this government will continue to look out for our essential service workers and once this crisis has passed, I hope that we continue to value the work of our essential workers," he affirmed.

He also raised other important topics up for discussion, such as:

  1. Embracing change with the Progressive Wage Model (PWM): With the PWM currently mandatory in three sectors, he looks forward to expansion of the scheme into more sectors.

  2. Strengthening the social security net: With the Workfare Special Payment extended to include more workers, he shared further suggestions such as providing a higher WIS payout to workers in the essential services, to acknowledge their social value and to have greater differentiation in the pay-outs for full-time versus part-time workers.

  3. Supporting caregivers: With many caregivers struggling to cope with financial, physical, mental, and emotional stresses, MP Fahmi encourages businesses to adopt flexible work arrangements to provide them with the opportunities to contribute to economic success.

  4. Addressing mental health issues: Noting that many essential services workers are parents and caregivers, he proposed having more frank conversations on mental health issues. "As a society, it does us no favours to continue to tiptoe around mental health issues as they may have life-altering consequences. Instead, we should consider mental health and physical health as equally important and in tandem with one another," he affirmed.

  5. Madrasah education in Singapore: While the academic standing of madrasahs has improved over the years, he cited a need to find a sustainable model to uplift madrasahs and their students to further develop as educational institutions who will safeguard multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore. With the M3 Framework, madrasah students have also been able to reach out and understand the needs and concerns of the community - MP Fahmi stated that this opportunity for them to interact with others, share learning experiences and build friendships will help integrate them further in the community and more of such initiatives should be adopted.

Photo / 123RF

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