Member of Parliament (MP) Ang Hin Kee asked Singapore's Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo (pictured), a series of questions around the female labour force participation rate (LFPR), to which she responded on 11 February 2019.
Minister Teo shared that the nation's female LFPR for ages 15 and over has moved up in the last ten years, from 56% in 2008 to 60% in 2018. In the past three years, it has remained steady at around 60%.
Moreover, about 6% of female residents in employment are self-employed, which the Ministry defines as own-account workers who operate their own business without hiring any paid employees. The majority or about 70% of the regularly self-employed women took on their jobs as their preferred choice and primary form of work.
She added that when compared to the OECD countries, Singapore has improved from 17th to 9th place in the decade.
On the key challenges faced by women, Minister Teo said: "The challenges that women face in seeking employment are similar to what men also face, such as the lack of necessary work experience, qualifications and skills."
However, she pointed out that compared to men, a larger proportion of women looking for jobs cited the lack of flexible work arrangements (FWAs) as a challenge. Addtionally: "Like their male counterparts, self-employed females may be subject to payment disputes and loss of income in the event of prolonged illness or injury."
She cited the following government initiatives to help more women join and stay in the workforce:
- Adapt & Grow initiative for job matching, training subsidies and salary support
- WSG’s Careers Connect or NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i)’s career centres
- MyCareersFuture portal to find jobs best suited to their skills
- Tripartite Standard on FWAs to encourage more employers to offer FWAs
- Funding support for employers, through the Work-Life Grant, of up to $105,000 per company
- Voluntary mediation services provided by Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM).
In another question, MP Gan Thiam Poh asked about whether the Government can incentivise employers to encourage their employees to take part in exercises for their long-term benefit.
In response, she shared: "The Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC) works with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to promote the Total Workplace Safety and Health approach.
"The WSHC and HPB provide incentives to employers to conduct health screenings, help workers to manage health conditions, promote ergonomic techniques for lifting loads, and institute workplace exercise programmes."
Minister Teo cited the following existing initiatives:
- HPB’s SME Health+ and Workplace Alliance for Health schemes, which provides co-funding of up to 70% for SMEs and up to 50% for non-SMEs, programmes conducted by pre-approved providers.
- HPB’s National Steps Challenge, which encourages participants to accumulate at least 10,000 steps a day and 150 minutes of physical activity per week, also features a corporate component.
A series of questions were also raised about CPF withdrawals, CPF payouts, and using CPF for housing by MPs Patrick Tay, Walter Theseira, and Png Eng Huat, respectively. The Q&As are summarised below:
Q. Can the CPF Board allow withdrawals, after an account holder turns 55, for their payment of annual premiums of endowment policies which will go back to CPF upon maturity?
A. For members who have not set aside the required Retirement Sum, CPF Board will consider allowing them to use their CPF savings to pay the endowment policy premiums on a case by case basis.
The exception is those with endowment policies with regular premium payments which were available for sale under the CPF Investment Scheme before 2001. CPF members age 55 and above who had purchased such policies can continue to pay for their premiums using their savings in the Ordinary Account after setting aside their cohort Full Retirement Sum, or Basic Retirement Sum.
Q. Has the Ministry studied allowing greater flexibility for eligible CPF members in choosing monthly payout amounts; if so, what are the results of such studies; and the policy considerations involved in allowing such greater flexibility?
A. Members can consider the following options if they wish to receive higher payouts:
- Set aside a higher amount in their RA, up to the prevailing Enhanced Retirement Sum (ERS). This can be done by topping up their RA in cash, or transferring CPF savings from their own Ordinary or Special Accounts or from their family member’s CPF accounts to their RA.
- Start payouts later. This will increase their payout quantum, duration or both.
- CPF LIFE Escalating Plan. Lower payouts at first and subsequently higher payouts that increase at 2% every year.
- Members can also further adjust their payouts through CPF transfers and cash top-ups.
"Overall, we have to carefully balance providing members with flexibility to meet their diverse needs with the need to keep the CPF system adequate and simple," Minister Teo clarified.
Q. As of January 2019, how many members have reached their CPF Withdrawal Limit for their properties and are using other means to service their housing mortgages; and the number of members who appealed to use their Special and/or Retirement Accounts to service their properties and of this number, how many have been given approval to do so?
A. Number of CPF members who have reached their withdrawal limits: Currently, about 740,000 property owners use their CPF savings to service their housing instalments. Of these, about 6,000 (0.8%) property owners have reached their withdrawal limits for housing and are using other means to finance their mortgage.
Number of CPF members who appeal to use Special and/or Retirement Account savings: The Special Account (SA) and Retirement Account (RA) savings are safeguarded for members’ retirement needs, and generally cannot be used for housing purposes.
That said, CPF Board exercised flexibility in some cases. For example, CPF Board has allowed CPF members to use their RA savings that originated from their Ordinary Account (OA) to pay for their housing on appeal, even if their RA savings are below the BRS.
In 2018, CPF Board granted about 8,000 appeals to use their RA savings for housing. The Board took into account the member’s retirement adequacy and outstanding loan amount in deciding whether an exception could be made.