Given that close to 76% of retrenchments in 2018 comprised professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), MPs Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong and Ang Wei Neng raised queries in Singapore's Parliament on the reasons for these, and the trends ahead.

In response, Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo, pointed out that the 5,400 local PMETs retrenched in 2018 was the lowest level since 2014.

Even so, she stressed that companies are required to notify the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation of retrenchments. Based on the 2017 survey, around 90% of retrenching employers paid retrenchment benefits, while for more than 70% these amounted to at least two weeks of salary per year of service.

For nearly two-thirds of PMET retrenchments in 2018, Minister Teo put it down to sectors undergoing restructuring, namely Wholesale Trade, Financial & Insurance Services, Information & Communications and Professional Services sectors.

About seven in 10 retrenched workers who accepted assistance found new jobs within six months. Further, about 17,000 PMETs were placed last year, while about 5,000 of them participated in Professional Conversion Programmes.

"Nonetheless, there are PMET segments we are monitoring closely, such as mature PMET jobseekers as well as those who are long-term unemployed. Such groups receive more training or wage support under A&G programmes," she added.

Gender-related discrimination was the other critical topic raised by MP Assoc Prof Walter Theseira.

In the past three years, there were on average about 50 gender-related discrimination complaints reported to TAFEP and MOM annually, constituting 12% of the total number of complaints each year.

Minister Teo said the vast majority of these related to employers specifying their preference for a particular gender in their job ads. About half of these were substantiated following investigations; as a result, MOM imposed sanctions on the employers, such as curtailing their work pass privileges. For the rest, investigations did not substantiate the complaints.

In the last three years, TAFEP received an average of about 10 workplace harassment complaints each year. For those which do not disclose a criminal offence, TAFEP asks the employers to handle it internally by conducting an investigation, taking corrective actions and setting up future mechanisms. All the employers so notified had done so, this sanctions were not need to be imposed.

MOM also received about 70 pregnancy-related dismissal appeals annually in the past three years, related to being wrongfully dismissed or forced to resign, or denied of maternity benefits. About 50 per year were substantiated and resulted in compensation to the employees.

Assoc Prof Theseira raised another gender-related query, this time on women out of the labour force.

Based on MOM’s 2018 survey, of the 543,500 female residents aged 25 and above who are not in the labour force, about two in three cited non-caregiving reasons such as retirement, poor health/disability/old age and housework. About one in four cited caregiving (including childcare) as the main reasons they are out of the labour force.

Three in four (75%) of those providing caregiving (excluding childcare) are aged 50 & above. The majority had work experience; the median length of time since they left their jobs was nine years. Vast majority of those providing childcare are aged between 30 and 49, where the median length of time they have not been working was five years.

To support the return of women back into the labour force, Minister Teo cited the job matching services provided by Adapt and Grow, one of which is Career Trial, which enables jobseekers to try out jobs and assess new careers.

"This year, we are enhancing Career Trial to include part-time jobs. This will benefit women who are considering part-time jobs, in particular those with caregiving responsibilities," Minister Teo said.

Meanwhile, NMP Ong Teng Koon asked if the Ministry has any plans to review the eligibility criteria of dependant's passes for children by considering the combined household income if both parents are working on employment or S-passes.

To this, Minister Teo responded: "We have no plans to review this approach."

She cited the fact that there is no assurance that both parents will have continued employment in Singapore, thus the fixed monthly salary of the main pass holder is a more stable indicator for assessing the eligibility of the child to be granted a dependant’s pass.

The possible misclassification of workers as self-employed persons (SEPs) was another query raised.

In the last three years, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board received a total of 308 cases of suspected misclassification. In 160 cases, workers were assessed to be misclassified as self-employed persons (SEPs). On average, about 100 workers per year were found to be misclassified.

In all but two of these misclassification cases, employers made good their obligations when informed of the misclassification, and paid back the affected employees what they were due, including overtime pay and CPF contributions.

The two companies which refused to make the necessary payments to the affected employees were prosecuted. One subsequently fully settled the arrears out of Court while the other is currently appealing against its conviction.

The majority of these cases occurred in the contract labour suppliers, transport and logistics, construction and education sectors. The common occupations where such misclassification occurred include promoters, drivers, crane operators, service agents and carpenters.

The proportion of SEPs has remained stable at 8-10% of the resident workforce over the last decade.