Labour MPs share ideas for EP quotas, 'right to disconnect' legislation, and more: Your 10-min HR update

Labour MPs share ideas for EP quotas, 'right to disconnect' legislation, and more: Your 10-min HR update

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With the Debate on the President's Address currently underway in Singapore's Parliament, we've had the opportunity to hear various perspectives and ideas to shape Singapore's workforce and labour landscape. 

From MP Patrick Tay calling for tougher enforcement on Triple Weak companies to MP Melvin Yong citing a 'right to disconnect' legislation on work calls after office hours, and MP Seah Kian Peng's call to grant civil servants and officers in statutory boards more authority to exercise discretion, we sum up key updates on the Debate on President's Address.

We've summed up some of the key updates for you in one quick dossier. Scroll through below for the various topics of discussion.

Patrick Tay, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) and MP for Pioneer SMC focused on the rights of Singaporean PMEs (professionals, managers and executives), and addressed growing concerns for a fair and level playing field.

He submitted a two-fold approach for strengthening the Singaporean Core:

  1. First, the hiring of foreign PMEs must be based on merit – on their contribution to Singapore and how they complement our local workforce;
  2. Second, we must equip local workers through relevant and timely reskilling and upskilling to help them remain employed and employable.

He put forward five things to keep in mind while strengthening the local core:

  1. Ensuring Singaporean PMETs are not left behind by the raising of EP and S Pass qualifying salaries
    1. He noted that since the announcement for raising the salary criteria for EP and S Pass holders, concerns are that employers would merely raise the salaries or repackage the C&B of their foreign PMET staff, to keep within the boundaries of the rules. To compound matters, Singaporean PMETs working alongside these foreign PMETs performing similar or same jobs may not get a similar pay hike, thereby resulting in parity issues.
    2. He further pledged that unions would watch closely the actions of unionised companies, and encouraged workers in non-unionised companies to become union members, for greater protection.

  2. Strengthening the Singapore Core at ALL Levels through strengthening hiring culture, practices and changing mindsets
    1. ASG Tay shared that strengthening the Singaporean core of PMETs must be at all levels of the hierarchy and not merely addressing entry or lower level PMETs. Boosting the hiring culture, practices and changing mindsets across the various organisations which hire foreign PMEs must be at the backbone of these efforts, which is require a change of mindset among the CEO, CHRO, and all other organisational leaders.
    2. He urged MNCs to offer regional and global opportunities to Singaporean PMEs, as well as groom them as part of their leadership identification and development processes.
    3. Equally, he called for Singaporean PMEs to step up. "Increasingly, all Singaporean PMEs must embrace overseas opportunities as possible opportunities and be open to them regardless of where they are at, in their career life-stage."

  3. Augmenting the Fair Consideration Framework
    1. On the intra-corporate transfers (ICTs) exemption, ASG Tay took cognisance that ICTs make up less than 5% of EPs in Singapore and that this exemption is necessary in view of Singapore's Free Trade Agreements’ obligations. "However, I urge for more transparency on who are these PMEs who fall within this ICT exemption for greater transparency and accountability," he shared. 

  4. Strengthening enforcement against Triple Weak companies
    1. ‘Triple weak’ are companies with highly disproportionate number of foreign PMEs, weak commitment to nurture and strengthen the Singaporean Core, and weak relevance to Singapore’s economy and society.
    2. Besides administrative and penal sanctions, ASG Tay noted enforcement can come in the form of revealing or publishing the ‘triple weak’ watchlist which MOM and TAFEP maintains, so that the potential reputational loss would serve as a deterrence. "As a pilot, this can be applied to companies that remain on the watchlist after a period of time (such as one year) and have failed to improve or show concerted efforts to strengthen the Singaporean Core."
    3. He also suggested imposing mandatory audits and penalties such as removing preferential tax and other benefits including curtailing the award of public sector contracts on companies with discriminatory hiring practices and high proportion of grievance cases if no improvement is made within a stipulated period of time.
    4. He also urged the members to consider the feasibility of a Fair Employment or Anti-Discrimination legislation in Singapore.

  5. Possible tougher measures such as EP Quota
    1. Should the current added measures and suggestions do not bear fruit in eradicating a nationality bias and a shrinking watchlist, the labour movement has previously floated the idea to look at relevant quotas.
    2. Per ASG Tay, the quota could have two tiers: the first tier consisting of “higher-skilled PMEs” with significantly higher salaries, and the second tier consisting of “mid-skilled PMEs” who are at the median salary range of the sector/industry. With this two-tier quota, companies will still be able to hire foreign talents with specialised skillsets to drive technology-based initiatives. 

He concluded: "It is time to pivot and supplement our first-class hard infrastructure with an upgraded soft infrastructure. Proper safeguards for our Singaporean PMETs must be put in place to allow our tribe, the Singaporean Core, to flourish and uplift future generations of Singaporeans."

Melvin Yong, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) and MP for Radin Mas SMC focused on the impact of technology. He highlighted how technology has the potential to significantly transform work and workplaces, and called for the following changes:

  1. While big companies, have the resources to plan for the future, SMEs are faced with a different reality. He thus urged the government to provide further support for SMEs in adopting technology and upskilling their workers

  2. With data literacy and coding becoming important skills that the young will need to be familiar with, he suggested making Computer Science a compulsory subject in secondary schools. He explained: "I am not suggesting that we train every Singaporean child to be a coder or IT expert, but to understand computers and be able to work with robots in the future workplace." 

  3. The low latency provided by 5G technology means that working from home will become the default, and remote working possibilities are endless. As such, he raised a question – will the Work Pass and Employment Pass system continue to be relevant when companies no longer need employees to be physically based in one location to perform the work?

  4. PMETs, particularly those in their 40s and 50s, have shared that it is not easy to juggle between their daily responsibilities, such as looking after their young children, managing the healthcare needs of their elderly parents, and trying to set aside funds for their own retirement needs. He hopes the Government will recognise this overwhelming “sandwiched” feeling and look into better support options.

ASG Yong also gave ideas on how to tap on technology to make our future workplace safer and healthier:

  1. With technology, dangerous work at the worksite can be done remotely, in a safe and comfortable location. He expressed the hope that the implemention of smart PPEs and wearable technologies can be accelerated, starting with the high-risk sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

  2. Citing the recent study by NUS which found that those who work from home faced higher levels of stress than frontline workers, he called to expand the list of Occupational Diseases under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), to include mental health illnesses related to work stress, as well as for the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Health to be expedited.

  3. With more working from home, he raised if it was a good opportunity to consider a ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation, where employees can negotiate with their employers on answering work calls and emails outside of office hours. He noted: "Similar laws have been implemented in other countries like Italy and the Philippines. Having a dedicated break can certainly help to reduce employee fatigue and burnout."

  4. ASG Yong urged special attention for freelancers, who do not enjoy the same WSH statutory benefits as employees, such as coverage under WICA, medical group insurance, and medical leave. The lack of adequate WSH protection effectively makes freelancers cheaper to hire, which pushes more companies to adopt such self-employed arrangements to avoid costs - a gap that needs to be plugged.

  5. Finally, he called for the Government to revisit his proposals for a mandatory WSH representative in every company. "We are already half a step towards achieving this, as companies are now required to appoint Safe Management Officers (SMOs), as they re-open for work."

ASG Yong concluded: "In my maiden Parliamentary speech in 2016, I spoke at length about the importance of tripartism – the crucial ingredient of Singapore’s success story. Five years on, tripartism is even more critical now, as we deal with this immense scale of change that is coming our way."

Seah Kian Peng, NTUC Enterprise Group CEO, NTUC FairPrice Group CEO and MP for Marine Parade GRC, in his speech, made two key suggestions: firstly, civil service to set less rules and exercise more kindness and discretion in helping Singaporeans in need; and secondly, companies and organisations who are doing well to help other SMEs that need assistance.

His first suggestion on discretion in the civil service was driven by poignant stories of one his residents' families, and how they had exceptional circumstances that needed to be looked into beyond the surface level. 

Thus, he said: "I ask for civil servants, and officers in statutory boards to be given more authority to exercise discretion. I also ask that they be given some leeway to 'make mistakes' that is, to err on the side of being kind. I also urge for all of us, members of the public, well to put it bluntly, to calm down!

"Every couple of days, there is a moral panic - someone showing how virtuous, how right, how generous they are, and how hard they fight for the underdog. Often, there is a villain of the piece - the rich driver of the big car, someone who is the wrong place, said the wrong things, the heartless hapless civil servant, or the politician. Politicians signed up for this and we must be tough enough to take whatever criticism whenever we are called to account.

"But for our agencies and officers, if they are to exercise greater discretion, it might perhaps be useful to have and rely on groups of volunteers and social workers who visit and assess hard cases, so those who fall through the cracks will receive the help they need in an expeditious manner."

He applied the same philosophy of kindness and looking out for each other to the world of business. Putting on his hat as Group CEO of NTUC Enterprise, he talked about how Orange Aid, part of NTUC Income, works with community partners through social investment in programmes that contribute to empowering youth-in-need through education, be it through financial assistance, bursary awards, and more.

Equally, he called out to companies and organisations who are doing well, to also help others especially the SMEs. For example, NTUC FairPrice has in place the SME Suppliers Support and Development Programme primarily to help small local SMEs. 

"Here, I would also like to make a shoutout to all to where possible, support local firms, local producers and local products. This in part to help our local economy, create jobs, strengthen our local products resiliency plans and more. At NTUC FairPrice, we too try to do our part. As an example, whilst Singapore imports some 75% of eggs from overseas [largely Malaysia], at FairPrice 55% of all eggs sold are from local farms," he explained. 

Photo / 123RF

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