In his speech at the?MOM (Ministry of Manpower) Committee of Supply 2020, Singapore's Minister of State for Manpower. Zaqy Mohamad (pictured above, in centre) stressed on the need to champion fairness at the workplace.

Affirming a host of measures to provide fair support for both employers and workers, he rolled out plans to enable inclusive growth for lower-wage workers as well as persons with disabilities, and the proposed expansion of the progressive wage model (PWM) to other sectors beyond the four current clusters.

Some of the highlights of his speech are summarised below for HR leaders to note:

(all dollar values are cited in Singapore dollars)

Updates on mandatory PWMs: Over 78,000 workers benefited so far

  • The PWM has benefitted over 78,000 workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors by boosting their wages and providing clear paths for career progression.
  • Between 2013 and 2018, real median monthly gross wages of full-time cleaners, security officers and landscape workers grew cumulatively by around 30%, 31% and 32% respectively, higher than the 16% for median full-time resident workers.
  • Given this level of progress, a PWM for the lift maintenance sector was announced in 2018, and there are plans to make this mandatory in due course.
  • In response to calls to expand the PWM to more sectors,?a tripartite cluster has been appointed to include escalator technicians under the lift PWM. Together, close to 1,300 resident lift and escalator maintenance workers stand to benefit.
  • The Tripartite Cluster for Lift & Escalator Industry, the fourth such cluster, will aim to submit its recommendations by the end of the year.

Going forward on PWM: The new approach

"We will not stop at these four clusters, and intend to expand the PWM to more sectors," affirmed Minister Zaqy.

Sharing his experience so far, he said the sectors that implemented PWM have found that a mandatory approach, where a regulator imposes a uniform obligation to comply with the PWM, delivers results most readily. If government agencies are themselves large buyers of such services, government procurement policies can also help to kick-start the process.

However, the vision of progressive wages is more far reaching than this. "It is a vision that every sector should have a clear ladder for better jobs, better skills and as a result, better wages."

As such, Minister Zaqy announced the following series of steps, going forward:

  • The intent is to not only extend mandatory PWM to a few other sectors, but also to sectors where we may not be able to apply mandatory PWM.
  • This will help create a virtuous cycle, where companies that voluntarily pay progressive wages and provide job progression pathways to their lower-wage workers, are recognised and rewarded by consumers who support them by purchasing their products or services.
  • MOM is actively working with tripartite partners to explore how to expand the PWM in new sectors and with a new approach. More will be shared once the economic climate and business conditions are more favourable.

Workfare Skills Support (WSS) scheme for lower-wage workers

In terms of support to lower-wage workers, Minister Zaqy highlighted the following developments:

  • The Workfare Training Support Scheme, or?WTS, was introduced in 2010 to encourage companies to send their lower-wage workers for training, and encourage workers to upgrade their skills. So far, WTS has benefitted over 12,000 companies and 270,000 individuals, and disbursed over $550mn.
  • The WTS will be replaced with a new Workfare Skills Support, or WSS. This is in light of the old WTS having duplicated some features of SkillsFuture, such as course fee subsidies of up to 90% and credit for training.
  • Under the new WSS, course fee subsidies will no longer be provided. Instead, WSS will provide more support for workers who complete training leading to full qualifications under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications, or?WSQ, and Academic?CET?Qualifications systems. As such, those who acquire full qualifications are more likely to earn higher wages.
  • The Training Commitment Award for lower-wage workers who attain a full qualification will be raised to $500, from $200. Its annual cap will also be increased to $1,000, from $400.
  • The training allowance will be raised to $6 per hour, from $4.50, to offset the opportunity costs of workers? training. The eligibility for training allowance will be tied to to courses which are more likely to lead to better employment outcomes.
  • The new WSS will commence on 1 July 2020.

Enhanced scheme to give a boost to persons with disabilities (PwDs)

The following plans are underway to improve employment and employability of PwDs:

  • MSF?set up the Enabling Masterplan workgroup comprising public, private and people sector representatives, last year, recognising that training and job redesign are key to helping PwDs stay employable.
  • Companies such as?Eureka Call Centre Systems (EurekaCCS) are tapping on the Job Redesign Grant to purchase keyboards with larger font keys and high colour contrast, allowing employees with vision concerns to work more productively. In total, EurekaCCS has 14 employees with disabilities, who make up 87% of its workforce.
  • ODP TG will be enhanced to provide stronger funding support to employers who send their PwD employees for training, and PwDs seeking to upgrade themselves. This implies:
    • Course fee subsidies will be raised from 90% to 95% for eligible training courses curated by SG Enable;
    • Training allowance for both unemployed and employed PwDs will be raised to $6 per hour;
    • A training commitment award of $100 per completed eligible training course will be introduced.
  • The SEC and ASEC will expire this year, and be replaced by a new Enabling Employment Credit, or EEC. This will be given to employers that hire Singaporean PwDs earning below $4,000/month. This will cover about four in five of current PwD employees.
  • The EEC provides a wage offset of up to 20% of the employee?s monthly income, capped at a maximum of $400 per month.
  • In addition, employers hiring PwDs who have not been working for at least six months will receive an additional 10% wage offset, capped at $200 per month, for the first six months of employment.
  • Workfare Income Supplements (WIS) has been further enhanced from 1 Jan 2020, with a higher qualifying income ceiling of $2,300 per month and higher maximum payouts of $4,000 per year.

[Find out more about the Workfare Training Support scheme; the?Progressive Wage Model; and the Special Employment Credit]


Well-being of lower-wage workers: Rest areas, safekeep facility, and more

"Beyond inclusive growth, we want to promote a culture of care. It is important to uphold our workers? dignity, and to support them by giving them the respect they deserve," affirmed Minister Zaqy.

To this end, he announced the following initiatives:

  • After the launch of Workcare last year, the first focus area is access to proper rest areas. After launching the?Tripartite Advisory (TA), on Provision of Rest Areas for Outsourced Workers in December 2019, West Coast and Ang Mo Kio Town Councils, have partnered MOM to spruce up 20 rest areas for their outsourced cleaners, as a pilot initiative.
  • NEA?has worked with its cleaning contractors to provide lockers in 10 MEWR hawker centres, and will do so for the remaining 16 centres by end-2020. This will allow?sites with space constraints to provide a means for cleaners to safekeep their belongings.?NTUC Foodfare will also provide lockers in all 12 food-courts by end-2020.
  • All public agencies and Town Councils will lead by example, and have committed to adhere to the TA by end-2020.
  • To further accelerate the provision of rest areas in other workplaces, MOM will launch a new Workcare Grant later this year, with a view towards legislating this in time to come.

Workplace safety and health: Preventing accidents and injuries

In building a culture of care that enables safety and health of workers in Singapore, Minister Zaqy provided the following updates:

  • Details on the workplace fatal injury rate last year will be released in the upcoming 2019 WSH Statistics Report.
  • There was no dominant trend that contributed to the fatal accidents in November last year. Investigations are still ongoing.
  • This year, a framework will be established for public sector developers to disqualify unsafe contractors when considering awarding contracts. Later this year, designated work injury compensation, or?WIC, insurers will have access to potential clients? WIC claim records. Thus, insurers will be expected to set higher premiums for firms with poorer safety records.
  • While it is the case that every company should have representatives to champion progressive WSH practices, making this mandatory in every company may not be practical. He explained: "In fact, the WSH 2028 Tripartite Strategies Committee concluded that a prescriptive approach is not the way forward. The more prudent approach is to promote this as a progressive practice."
  • Support for the families affected by workplace accidents is essential. Thus, MOM will sensitise employers, including through the Institute for HR Professionals, because HR is usually the first interface with affected families.

Tackling workplace discrimination against persons with mental health conditions (PwMCs)

In response to calls to better support employees? mental well-being at workplaces, Minister Zaqy shared the following measures:

  • Sick leave entitlements can be used for both physical and mental health conditions. In issuing a medical certificate, a doctor should not indicate to the employer the nature of the patient?s medical condition unless the patient has consented to it.
  • For certain jobs, such as pilots and police officers, some mental health conditions may affect their ability to perform their job roles safely. In these cases, it is reasonable for employers to ask applicants for more information to make a holistic assessment of their well-being. Otherwise, employers should not be asking for information on the applicant?s mental health.
  • The recently enhanced penalty framework for discriminatory practices also applies to discrimination on grounds of a person?s mental health condition.
  • MINDEF and?MOE?already have well developed programmes to support their servicemen and educators, and other employers are encouraged to do the same.
  • A Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being will be formulated to educate employers on what could be done, including progressive practices such as providing access to anonymised external counselling service, or training supervisors to identify mental health symptoms early. This is aimed to be finalised in the second half of this year.
  • MOM will also work with tripartite partners and seek views from various stakeholders including members of the newly announced Youth Mental Well-being Network.
  • MOM is currently piloting?iWorkHealth, a web-based psychosocial assessment tool to help employers and their employees identify workplace stressors. It will be launched?later this year.

Supporting a fair workplace for employers and foreign workers

Minister Zaqy said: "We must always treat all workers fairly and inclusively. As the saying goes, 'treat others how you want to be treated'. This is especially important today, as we face the COVID-19 threat together."

As such, MOM is towards educating foreign workers on the COVID-19 situation and control measures. Materials such as posters and videos have been produced and are available in the workers? native language. In addition, MOM has been sharing bite-size information through its foreign worker ambassadors on a daily basis.

Photo / Zaqy Mohamad's Facebook?