While many companies have been requesting an increase in the quota due to the shortage of manpower, Singapore's labour movement has stated it strongly endorses the local government's firm stand in maintaining the overall ratio of Singaporeans to foreign workers to 2:1.

"We strongly support this intent and also the need to develop and maintain a strong Singaporean core at our workplaces," the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) stated in its list of Budget 2016 recommendations.

In order to support the local workforce, NTUC's top recommendation for strengthening the Singaporean core is for more stringent criteria to be implemented for the Employment Pass.

It stated that the Employment Pass criteria should be reviewed with "a view to meeting the variegated needs of the industries whilst incentivising industries towards building a strong Singaporean core."

It added that companies should be better differentiated between those which have shown commitment towards building a Singaporean core and those who have not.

"This is to ensure our workers have fair opportunities at their workplaces. At the same time, the government should tighten enforcement on companies that show no intent to develop a Singaporean core of workers."

Additionally, the labour movement feels that Singapore should "aim for an integrated career counselling system, starting from the preparation students receive in schools, and then to their workplaces so that they can constantly stay relevant to the global marketplace of jobs."

This is to ensure that the younger workers, especially the PMEs, as well as those currently in school are able to capitalise on the job opportunities of the future.

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Other than that, the Government should ensure that mature workers are enabled to stay in the workforce for a longer time should they choose to do so through "regular reviews of retirement and/or re-employment age, and continued vigilance against ageist practices."

To make sure that these workers are up-to-date on the latest skills needed, NTUC suggested: "We should also ensure our mature workers continue to receive access to continuous learning, employment and re-employment opportunities."

The labour movement also felt that more has to be done to protect the interests of self-employed and contract workers.

"The Employment Act should be examined to explore how to protect workers in “Contracts for Service” in addition to those in “Contracts of Service” it now protects," it stated.

For the self-employed, the labour movement also suggested that more should be done to ensure they have CPF contributions and hence the necessary medical and retirement resource support.

As for contract workers, NTUC suggested that "the government mandates a limit to the number of short-term contract extensions such that after a certain number of extensions, the employer is obliged to provide permanent employment to that worker."

"In line with this, we urge the government to outlaw unfair practices such as employers requiring a one day break in-between contracts so that the employee does not enjoy length of service benefits," NTUC recommended.

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Apart from the recommendation on strengthening the Singaporean core, NTUC suggested the government take up the following three key themes:

  1. Improving productivity
  2. Enhancing training and skills upgrading
  3. Improving retirement adequacy
NTUC's recommendations in these three areas have been summed up below.

Improving productivity

  • Mandate processes that achieve productivity increases (e.g. regulations to make new buildings easier for cleaning, security, maintenance).
  • Committees driving their Sectoral Manpower Plans must set productivity benchmarks for their sectors, focusing not just on new jobs but also include plans to upgrade the existing jobs.
  • The government should look at the productivity of foreign manpower such that only the most skillful and productive workers are retained or allowed in.
Enhancing training and skills upgrading
  • Keep up the support for workers by periodic reviews of the schemes under the SkillsFuture movement, including regular top-ups to workers' Skills Future credits.
  • The institutes of higher learning to roll out more modular courses for workers who have many conflicting commitments to balance whilst upgrading.
  • NTUC to work with the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) to shorten the timing required to certify relevant courses to meet the needs of the industries.
Improving retirement adequacy
  • Study if we should move away from the current structure of a single retirement age to a more variegated one beyond 62 to meet the diversity in capabilities of workers and industry.
  • Review the CPF contribution rates for workers above 55 years old so as to help them save more for retirement, and in the long-term, review the parity of CPF contributions across age bands.
  • Continually allocate more resources in making healthcare costs for Singaporeans affordable especially for outpatient and Intermediate and Long-term Care (ILTC) sectors.