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In Parliament: Absentee payroll, discrimination based on religious wear, and more

Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo, and Minister of State for Manpower, Zaqy Mohamad answered a series of Parliamentary questions this week, on the following topics:

  • Adoption of abesentee payroll
  • Employment discrimination based on religious wear
  • Correlation of private sector bonuses with civil service bonuses
  • Malaysians working in Singapore
  • Food delivery riders' transition to using PMD alternatives
  • Securing jobs for Singaporeans through the ITMs
Their answers, relevant for employers, have been summarised below.

Adoption of absentee payroll

Absentee payroll funding is a relatively newer topic brought up in Parliament, raised this week by MP Zainal Sapari, regarding absentee payroll under the Workfare Training Support (WTS) Scheme.

To clarify, absentee payroll covers 95% of an employee’s hourly basic salary, and is disbursed to companies for employer-sponsored training upon application.

In response, Minister Teo provided the required data, i.e. over the past five years, an average of around 3,000 companies and 31,000 workers have benefited from absentee payroll funding each year under the WTS) Scheme. The average amount disbursed yearly is about S$6 million.

A detailed breakdown of the disbursement is below:


Further, below are the industry sectors with the most number of companies benefiting from absentee payroll funding (broadly sectors with a higher proportion of low-wage workers):

  • Administrative and support service activities (1,228 unique companies from 2010-2018)
    • Examples include cleaning, security and landscape services
  • Manufacturing (1,184 unique companies from 2010-2018)
  • Accommodation and food service activities (1,130 unique companies from 2010-2018)
  • Wholesale trade (874 unique companies from 2010-2018)
  • Other service activities (847 unique companies from 2010-2018)
    • Examples include hairdressing, beauty and other personal care services.

Employment discrimination based on religious wear

MP Assoc Prof Walter Theseira raised queries about the refusal by employers in the retail sector to interview and/or hire a qualified job applicant on grounds that he or she wears articles of religious faith, and whether such actions constitute an employment violation.

Minister Teo clarified that all employers are expected to abide by the principles of fair employment practices set out in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP), which make it clear that recruitment and hiring practices are to be based on merit and the ability to perform the job.

She affirmed: "Religious wear should generally be allowed at workplaces, unless employers have uniform or dress code requirements which are suited to the nature of their work, or for operational and safety reasons."

In the past five years, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) received 16 complaints around the wearing of religious articles (less than 1% of all the complaints received). Most of them, she said, arose due to insensitivity on the part of the employer or interviewer in communicating company’s dress code and practices.

"All the employers have heeded TAFEP’s advice and made the necessary rectifications to their employment practices," she noted.

Also on the topic of discrimination, MP Theseira asked about feedback exercises with workers filing discrimination or workplace harassment reports and their satisfaction with follow-up action taken.

To this, Minister Teo shared that TAFEP continues to investigate all complaints received. Where warranted, cases are referred to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

"Where action has been taken against the employer, TAFEP will keep the complainant updated on the outcome. Many have been thankful and appreciative of the help and support to address their concerns," she added.

Correlation of private sector bonuses with civil service bonuses

To MP Leon Perera's question on tracking private sector bonuses, Minister Teo shared that the performance of companies themselves and individuals were employers’ main considerations when determining private sector bonuses, as shared in MOM's 2018 report.

"These factors are not affected by civil service bonuses," she clarified.

Malaysians working in Singapore

The focus of MP Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar's question was around the number of Malaysian workers working in Singapore, and the sectors they are employed in.

To this, Minister Teo affirmed, that while MOM publishes annual statistics on local and foreign workforce numbers, "however, MOM does not provide a breakdown of the number of foreign workers by nationality as it is not in Singapore’s interest to do so."

She went on to provide more details: "Malaysian workers can be found across all sectors. This is not surprising, since our work pass framework allows Malaysian workers in all sectors, subject to the respective sector’s Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) controls."

Food delivery riders' transition to using PMD alternatives

MP Rahayu Mahzam inquired about the efforts made to work with food delivery companies to provide job search support for delivery riders affected by the PMD ban.

"Various Government agencies worked together with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and food delivery companies to come up with the Transition Assistance Package, or TAP for short, to help food delivery riders transition to using alternatives to e-scooters, or to other jobs," said Minister Teo.

However, since riders do not need to inform the food delivery companies when they have decided to stop taking deliveries, there is no clear-cut way to track the number of affected riders who have become unemployed.

Instead, the Minister has been proactively reach out to those who may be looking for other jobs. For instance, Workforce Singapore (WSG) and NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) have deployed career coaches on-site at food delivery companies on more than 70 occasions, and have organised a curated job fair to assist affected riders. The food delivery companies have been disseminating information on these career events to their riders.

Minister Teo shared that to date, more than 180 affected riders have approached WSG and NTUC’s e2i for job search support.

Securing jobs for Singaporeans through the ITMs

The jobs created by the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), and the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners, was the topic of MP Pritam Singh's question to Minister Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for Manpower.

For context, the 23 ITMs were launched progressively from late 2016, with the majority launched only in 2018. While changes in workforce profile depend on structural and cyclical factors, Minister Zaqy noted it will be more meaningful to look at employment outcomes over the medium to longer term.

As such, between 2015 and 2018 (i.e. before the launch of ITMs, to 2018), total employment (excluding foreign domestic workers) in these sectors grew by 19,500. This was made up of:

  • Increase in employment of Singapore Citizens (SCs) by 39,300;
  • Increase in employment of Permanent Residents (PRs) by 8,600; and
  • Decrease in employment of foreigners by 28,500.
Within the same period, the training participation rate of the resident labour force aged 15 to 64 increased from 35% to 48%. From 2016 until September 2019, WSG and e2i have also helped 93,000 locals move into new jobs through the Adapt & Grow initiative.

He elaborated: "These numbers are encouraging because we have been making the effort to secure jobs for Singaporeans. We are making progress on this front."

Photo / 123RF

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