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Singapore Budget 2021 Debate: Labour MPs on PWM, support for WFH, workplace diversity, and more

Singapore Budget 2021 Debate: Labour MPs on PWM, support for WFH, workplace diversity, and more

Separately, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo shared updates on Singapore's employment trends, as well as expected severity of retrenchment in the coming months.

On Wednesday (24 February), Singapore Labour Members of Parliament (Labour MPs) came together to debate the recent Singapore Budget 2021, stressing focus on topics such as the Progressive Wage Model, support for employees in working from home, respecting diversity at the workplace, and more.

These are summarised below.

MP: Dr Koh Poh Koon, NTUC Deputy Secretary-General and MP for Tampines GRC
Speech focus: Uplifting lower wage workers, and supporting workers' training and business transformation

In his speech, Dr Koh shared more about NTUC's aspirations and ideas to expand progressive wages and practices to uplift lower wage workers (LWW), ensuring that wages and careers do not stagnate over time.

Specifically, he shared four key ways for faster and wider expansion of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM):

  1. Narrowing the wage difference between the 20th percentile and the median income or 50th percentile of wage earners;
    1. To include in-house cleaners and security officers in mandatory PWM.
    2. To adopt hourly wages for PWM.
  2. Enhancing the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) to provide an immediate uplift;
  3. Expanding sectoral PWM faster to cover more sectors; and
  4. Implementing ‘vocational’ PWM to cover remaining lower-wage workers in job roles that are distributed across multiple sectors.

He also mooted the setting up of a tripartite committee to ensure that any price increases flow directly into the hands of LWW.

Additionally, he highlighted how efforts of NTUC’s Training and Transformation Group in training the workforce and transformation of businesses via Company Training Committees and Operations Technology Roadmapping has been useful in the collective efforts to emerge stronger.

Dr Koh said: "In addition to the above recommendations, I call on the Government to shorten the income assessment period for WIS eligibility. Currently, the recipients must fulfil the WIS’ income ceiling in the prevailing 12 months before qualifying. This delays much needed support for lower wage workers.

"Shortening the income assessment period for WIS will ensure that we continue to support our lower wage workers in a timely manner, leaving no worker behind."

Further highlights of Dr Koh Poh Koon's speech here

MP: Heng Chee How, NTUC Deputy Secretary-General, Senior Minister of State for Defence and MP for Jalan Besar GRC
Speech focus: Protecting senior workers

As Singapore seeks ways to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, MP Heng shared how the country must also ensure to do so together with senior workers in mind. He proposed five measures to tackle this, including:

  1. Helping those in distressed sectors keep their jobs or proactively train them for new jobs;
  2. Strengthening the adoption of flexi-work arrangements;
  3. Raising the statutory retirement and re-employment ages and CPF contributions as agreed; 
  4. Strengthening health for senior workers; and
  5. Ensuring lifelong learning for lifelong employability.

MP Heng said: "If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that the perceived barriers to employing older workers can be overcome, and that older workers have once again proven their value and adaptability.

"The Labour Movement will continue to do our utmost to work with tripartite partners and senior workers to enhance their employment and employability. We must also ensure that the right HR practices are in place to tap the potential of senior workers and recognise their contributions."

Further highlights of MP Heng Chee How's speech here

MP: Patrick Tay, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General and MP for Pioneer SMC
Speech focus: Boosting employment and employability of vulnerable PMEs

With job security and employability identified as top concerns of PMEs, MP Tay reiterated the importance of having tougher measures to strengthen the Singaporean Core and curb discriminatory hiring. He urged the Government to seriously look at and consider anti-discrimination legislation to eradicate all forms of discrimination and discriminatory practices at workplaces.

He also suggested that it would be timely to consider introducing some form of transitionary insurance (i.e. unemployment insurance) to help workers who lose their jobs. 

MP Tay said:

We recognise the growing need to ensure PMEs are adequately protected, have access to good jobs and are equipped with the relevant skills. As we prepare for the next normal, it is important that we continue to entrench progressive and fair practices at workplaces and extend schemes to support local PMEs, especially the vulnerable workers.

"The Labour Movement and our unions can support local PMEs by working closely with employers to put in place multi-faceted support and strategies to enhance one’s job security and skills security through our company training committees and job security council."

Further highlights of MP Patrick Tay's speech here

MP: Fahmi Aliman, NTUC Director, Operations and Mobilisation Division and MP for Marine Parade GRC
Speech focus: Expanding PWM, and promoting the welfare of migrant workers

MP Fahmi Aliman called for enhancements to the higher Workfare Income Supplement Scheme to help uplift workers in the essential services sector, as he encouraged service buyers to adopt progressive practices such as outcome-based contracting.

He reiterated NTUC's ambitions in expanding the PWM to other sectors such as pest management and strata management, as well as urged the Government to review legislation on migrant worker accommodations and mandate electronic payment of salaries to better protect and improve the welfare of migrant workers.

On that note, he noted that the the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA) ensures that the accommodations of foreign workers are regulated and must comply with a list of requirements to ensure the health and safety of their residents. However, FEDA only applies to larger dormitories that accommodate 1,000 or more workers.

Thus, he shared:

I would like to call upon the government to consider a review of this policy and increase the scope to dormitories that house lesser than 1,000 workers. This move would ensure that more or all the foreign workers in Singapore will be housed in accommodations that are regulated and meet the minimal provisions for their health and safety.

Further highlights of MP Fahmi Aliman's speech here

NMP: Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab, NTUC Vice-President, General Secretary of Union of Power And Gas Employees and Nominated MP
Speech focus: Protecting the Singaporean Core, expanding PWM

In his first speech as a Nominated Member of Parliament, NMP Abdul Samad stressed the importance of having a strong Singaporean Core and urged companies to make local workers the "employees of choice", and to ensure the workers are future-proofed through necessary training.

In addition, NMP Abdul Samad shared: "PWM's philosophy also applies to the middle-wage workers. In fact, many of the unionised companies in the oil, petrochemicals, energy and chemical industries have a structured career development plan for their employees that is mapped to skills and salary ladder. This is akin to the PWM's value proposition and has allowed many workers to achieve sustainable wage growth through upskilling and career progression.

I believe every responsible employer has a career development plan for your workers. Beyond having that career development plan reside in the individual company, I would like to echo NTUC’s aims to have PWM in more sectors and call for sectoral agencies to work with employers, unions and professional associations to implement the model, beyond the existing sectors.

Further highlights of NMP Abdul Samad's speech here.

MP: Yeo Wan Ling, NTUC Director, U SME and Women & Family Unit, and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC
Speech focus: More respite care support for caregivers, and supporting working women

MP Yeo emphasised the need to offer women greater choice, protection and potential in the workplace. To help women alleviate their caregiving responsibilities, she called for an in-community registry of professional caregivers to provide women access to short-term respite care, as well as additional subsidies to help primary caregivers relieve the financial burden of seeking assistance.

She also suggestsed for the government to establish a resource centre where women can explore new career options, seek mentorship opportunities, expand their network and provide guidance to others.

MP Yeo said: "As we support women with their responsibilities at home and eagerly beckon them into the promised land of the workforce - work must be done to ensure that the land of opportunity does not turn into the land of the opportunistic. Workplace harassment spares no gender, but women undoubtedly bear the disproportionate portion of such incidences.

Plenty of women go to work every day, looking forward to maintain a livelihood, support their families and fulfil their career aspirations - yet are forced by ‘necessity’ and ‘conventional wisdom’ to occasionally look over their shoulder in case of practices, actions or even speech that threaten to muddy the professionalism of their workplaces.

Further highlights of MP Yeo's speech here.  

MP: Desmond Choo, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General and MP for Tampines GRC
Speech focus: Support for youths in career and mental wellbeing, and strengthening the gig economy to protect freelancers

Addressing the job and financial concerns of youths, MP Choo continued his previous call to incentivise employers to convert traineeship positions to permanent jobs. He also called for greater support to protect the mental wellbeing of youths, and to subsidise them on their second degrees/diplomas.

On strengthening the structures of the gig economy, he called for three areas of support for freelancers:

  1. Social protection
  2. Improving regulations
  3. Training support to ensure greater employment security.

MP Choo added:

There are difficult trade-offs in developing the gig economy, especially for the platform workers. This is a big piece of work that the country has to work on and the labour movement stands ready to support the Government's initiatives to better protect gig workers to ensure the development of the gig economy as a permanent fixture of our workforce.

Further highlights of MP Choo's speech here.

MP: Melvin Yong, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General and MP for Radin Mas SMC
Speech focus: Preparing for the future of work, and supporting workers to work-from-home

In light of the work-from-anywhere and work-from-home culture, MP Yong called for a rethink of current manpower policies, in particular the Work Pass, Employment Pass and Technology Pass systems. He also urged the Government to review the SkillsFuture Credit programme to encourage utilisation and equip Singaporeans with future-ready skills.

Supporting NTUC's push to place workers into jobs, he announced the new Jobs Closer to Home programme to help match caregivers in Radin Mas to nearby jobs.

MP Yong noted: "As technologies like 5G and autonomous robotics begin to proliferate, Governments will have to confront a major dilemma – how much of the country’s key economic activities will be permitted to be run by companies and operated by a growing workforce domiciled elsewhere?

Our public officers will need adapt in the face of such major developments. But how many of our public officers today are ready to take on the challenges tomorrow? Are our public service schemes ready for the day where life expectancies in Singapore reach well over 90 years?

Further highlights of MP Yong's speech here.

MP: Seah Kian Peng, NTUC Enterprise Group CEO, NTUC FairPrice Group CEO and MP for Marine Parade GRC
Speech focus: Developing good online culture, and respecting diversity at the workplace

To develop a good digital culture amidst the pandemic, MP Seah talked about the need to improve digital literacy and infrastructure to protect Singaporeans against scams, provide hardware for good online learning, and free Wi-Fi and broadband access for all low-income families.

He also called on Singaporeans to be better attuned to and respect diversity at the workplace, and make sure to not leave anyone behind during the country's digital transformation journey.

MP Seah said:

As a country, we must welcome diversity; we must look out for each other and always make sure we bring people along in our transformation journeys and leave no one behind and most importantly, we must accord respect to all.

"These threats towards fragmentation and polarisation have become ever more important, as the reach of the Digital Empire grows. To combat the dark sides of this Empire, we must recall what we owe each other - an obligation, and a duty to respect each other. We must recognise the role each of us play in our public life and join together in this with maturity and common purpose."

Further highlights of MP Seah's speech here

Manpower Minister Teo on Singapore's employment trends, jobs growth and expected retrenchments 

In a separate update, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has responded to a parliamentary question by MP Eng Hua, on the latest resident and non-resident employment trends; areas of job growth and decline; and expected severity of retrenchments in coming months.

In her written reply, Minister Teo shared that total employment in the country had declined by 172,200 in 2020, reflecting the "significant impact of COVID-19 on the labour market."

Breaking down the data, she noted different outcomes for resident and non-resident employment.

  • Resident employment grew modestly by 9,300 in 2020 as the economy recovered and on the back of strong support for local hiring.
  • On the other hand, non-resident employment fell in all four quarters of 2020, and contracted by around 181,500, (or 16%) over the whole year.

"This means that all of the employment contraction was accounted for by the reduction in foreign employment."

Minister Teo also shared that the sectors with the largest cumulative increase in employment were public administration and education, and growth sectors such as infocommunications & technology, financial services, and health & social services.

Over the same period, the sectors that experienced the most significant cumulative decline in total employment were those more affected by COVID-19, such as F&B services, community, social & personal services, as well as arts, entertainment and recreation.

On retrenchment numbers, she shared: "In line with the broad improvement in the job market, the number of retrenchments in 4Q 2020 is expected to be about 6,100. This is lower than the 9,120 retrenchments in 3Q 2020, and is the first decline after five consecutive quarters of increase."

For the full year, the total number of retrenchments is expected to reach 26,570, higher than the 10,690 in 2019. "However, if we take into account the growing size of the workforce, the incidence of retrenchment for 2020, at 13 retrenched per 1,000 employees, remained significantly lower compared to past recessionary years.

"It remains to be seen if the decline in quarterly retrenchments will be sustained in 2021. For example, the air transport sector will continue to be affected due to the on-going travel restrictions and could face more retrenchments."

She then stressed that this year, the Ministry of Manpower remains focused on matching local jobseekers to job opportunities or helping them to reskill for new careers. 

She added: "I urge employers to continue tapping on Government support to hire and invest in the training of local workers. I also encourage our jobseekers to keep an open mind to new opportunities, and be prepared to pick up new skills to pivot to new careers that offer better long-term prospects."

In second written response, this time to MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang who asked about electronic salary payments for migrant workers.

To this, Minister Teo noted that as of January 2021, more than 97% of employers with foreign workers living in dormitories were paying salaries electronically, up from 76% before the requirement was introduced in April last year.

MOM is also in consultation with its tripartite partners on extending the requirements for electronic payment of salaries to more workers, including local workers and work permit holders who are not living in dormitories.

Photo / 123RF

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