Labour MPs at Budget Debate: Value Every Worker

27 February 2018, Tue

By Shukry Rashid

Heng Chee How: Value Mature Workers’ Wisdom and Experience

Labour Member of Parliament (LMP) and NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How spoke on mature workers, and that employers should value them for their vast experience.

With the ageing population, Mr Heng said that Singapore is heading for a “Triple Whammy” – a combination of a shrinking workforce, its impact on companies to operate optimally unless they increase productivity, and increased spending on healthcare.

He said: “The combination of these three factors will mean that the shrinking working population and companies will shoulder an increasingly heavier tax burden to support the reducing tax contribution from the senior population as they leave employment and as they incur higher living expenditures linked to ageing.”

To tackle these challenges, Mr Heng said the tripartite partners had agreed to extend the statutory retirement age, introduce re-employment, and raise the re-employment age ceiling from 65 to 67.

But these, he said, are not enough. First, across-the-board statutory re-employment age increase would likely pose different constraints for different industries and occupation types. Second, there will be a threat to employability due to skills obsolescence and skills mismatch.

In a time when skills requirements change quickly, Mr Heng said that workers must keep up with the times or find themselves “powerless”.

Mr Heng called for another tripartite committee to be convened to consider the road beyond 67 years old. He said the committee should work on effective retirement age as opposed to the statutory retirement age; consider whether there is still need for a statutory retirement age or a ceiling to the re-employment age band; and clarify the conditions in which the current re-employment could be raised further and the long-term targeted age.

He also urged the Government to work out recruitment plans and conversion programmes to induct mature workers into growing areas such as healthcare, eldercare and ageing in place (support services to enable the elderly to age in the comfort of their homes).

He added: “These areas of growing job opportunities are also where mature workers can play to their strengths.”

Desmond Choo: Uncover the Value That Youths Bring to the Nation

LMP Desmond Choo spoke on youths and the future of Singapore’s economy. He highlighted the importance of social and career foundations, especially for youths and young Singaporean workers and families. One way to prepare this group is through the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), but Mr Choo said businesses lack the capacity to adapt. An example is not being able to send workers to upgrading courses due to shortage of manpower.

Mr Choo, who is also NTUC director for Industry Transformation and Productivity, said the schemes announced in the Budget can help with this issue, but “there is still a missing link of a last mile connection of turning transformation plans into transformative actions.”

Mr Choo said many youths and younger workers have still not heard of the ITMs, and added that Singapore must ensure that they are a part of the ITMs. He suggested that the Labour Movement can play a bigger role in bridging the gaps through initiatives such as NTUC’s ULeap bite-sized training platforms, industry tie-ups and youth career networks.

Mr Choo also said more should be done to help young parents who are “double-sandwiched” – that is middle-income, and having to take care of young children and older parents. He urged the Government to consider making eldercare or family care leave mandatory.

He explained: “This could provide some relief to Singaporeans who must take care of family members who are not covered by childcare leave or parental leave.”

Patrick Tay: Value Every Worker by Keeping Them Relevant

LMP Patrick Tay spoke on the importance of protecting Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) in the economy of today. He noted that 70 per cent of workers laid off in 2016 and 2017 were Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs).

He said: “The trend is that the more degrees you have and the older you are, the more difficult for you to find employment after you have been laid off, are terminated from or leave your employment.”

He said structural unemployment, under-employment and unemployment are three challenges PMEs face today. There will be the three ‘Ds’ of digitalisation, disruption and demographics that will transform current jobs or create new ones.

Mr Tay, who is also director of NTUC’s Future Jobs, Skills and Training department, said that while some jobs are at risk due to digitalisation, there are still jobs which require human skills that machines cannot replicate.

On the topic of skills, Mr Tay said PMEs are currently at risk of skills obsolescence – with its half-life at five years. To mitigate that, NTUC is reworking the adult learning model.

He explained: “We want to develop modules which are bite-sized and just-in-time for continuous learning.”
To encourage workers to upskill, Mr Tay said that a similar form of SkillsFuture Credit, currently available for all Singaporeans aged 25 and above, should be extended to employers.

He said: “Why not tweak the employer-supported training funding formula by giving employers a similar SkillsFuture Credit for them to send their workers for skills training and upgrading?”

He also made suggestions to help employers and workers using three “Cs” – Change Mindsets, Communicate and Collaborate. On mindset change, he said employers should regard employee development as an investment rather than a loss when he leaves.

Collaboration between sectors is another move that can help companies transform and boost workers skills. He explained that NTUC has started to collaborate with industry partners, training providers and institutes of higher learning.

Communicating with the various stakeholders is also important, said Mr Tay, as it prevents job mismatches.
He added: “It is important to align all stakeholders and identify what the future jobs and skills are and communicate effectively to all.”

K Thanaletchimi: Value the Family Behind Every Worker

Nominated MP K Thanaletchimi spoke on the topic of women at work, and the importance of family-friendly workplaces. She said that society should embrace inclusivity and corporate social responsibility. She added that it is particularly challenging for women who often have to juggle work and family commitments.

Ms Thanaletchimi said that she is concerned about the slow adoption of the Tripartite Standards on Flexible-Work Arrangement, and hopes that companies do more to help female workers who often have to take care of the young and elderly.

She called on the Government to consider mandating the right to request for flexible work arrangement before more women at childbearing age fall out of employment, which will pose more problems as the population ages.

She also brought up the importance of caregiving leave.

“As a developed country, while we are concerned about the economic growth, it should not be at the expense of social needs. About 50 per cent of our population are women, and increasingly, men too are embracing caregiving roles. It is hence essential for the Government to look at this from a broader viewpoint.”

Speaking in Malay, she also called for more allocation of lactation rooms in all new commercial buildings and industrial workplaces with offices. She added that Singapore has among the highest gestational diabetes rates globally and women with are up to seven times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. This risk, however, can be reduced by breastfeeding for a longer time.

Ms Thanaletchimi also touched on a “return to work” programme. She said that although it was launched specifically for matured women, the programme can be more targeted. She also suggested to customise the approach of training induction, work trial and mentorship within the 23 Industry Transformation Maps.

Ang Hin Kee: Supporting Freelancers and the Self-employed

LMP Ang Hin Kee acknowledged that new technologies bring dynamism to the economy, but added that with only vague and non-transparent guidelines, freelancers are potentially at risk.

Mr Ang opined that it is perhaps timely that Government agencies review the operations of platform intermediaries and consider getting them to take on more responsibilities.

He hopes that more can be done to support freelancers such as getting companies to adopt guidelines like the Tripartite Standard on the Procurement of Services from Media Freelancers.

He also brought up the issue of alleged tax evasions by freelancers. He said that these allegations of tax evasions by under-declaring income should be made to the relevant authorities as it is the only way the issue can be properly dealt with.

These allegations should not “wedge a divide” among workers, and that nobody should undermine their integrity “by making unfounded broad sweeping statements" about their tax declarations, said Mr Ang.

Mr Ang, who is also executive advisor for both the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, said the associations have been working with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to explain the process of filing income taxes properly to freelancers and the self-employed.

Zainal Sapari: Low-wage Workers’ Contributions Must Be Valued

LMP Zainal Sapari spoke on low-wage workers (LWWs), and that more should be done to help them even though much has been achieved in recent years. To tackle their main concern of retirement adequacy, he suggested that a CPF review committee be set up to review the employer’s CPF contributions for older workers after they reach 55 years old.

With the shift from a seniority-based wage structure to a work value structure, and the longer life expectancy, he suggested “the possibility of working towards having one universal rate for employer’s CPF contribution till the age of 65 years old”.

He said that union leaders are calling for a mandatory Annual Wage Supplement for all workers. He added that mandating it will increase salaries of LWWs by 8.3 per cent.

He added that union leaders think more can be done for LWWs to cope with medical costs.

He said: “The current provision of the Employment Act only requires employers to pay for the medical consultation fees when a worker sees a doctor for outpatient treatment. There is no requirement for employers to pay for their employees’ medication costs.”

He urged tripartite partners to consider amending the Employment Act to include better medical coverage for workers by making employers pay for non-chronic outpatient treatment at polyclinics or company-appointed clinics.

Melvin Yong: Value the Life of Every Worker

Speaking on workplace safety and health (WSH), Labour MP Melvin Yong said that with a shrinking workforce, each working adult is expected to contribute more to support the older generation thus making them an asset.

Although workplace fatalities are down, he said that “every death is a tragedy and every accident is preventable.” He said that more should be done to ensure that workplaces are safer and suggested better near-miss reporting to reduce the occurrence of an accident.

He also asked if Singapore should consider having a mandatory WSH officer in every company to reduce workplace fatality. For a start, he suggested to make it compulsory for companies to appoint a WSH representative as part of the certification for BizSAFE Level 3.

Mr Yong also suggested that the Return To Work (RTW) programme which is currently limited to small- and medium-sized enterprises, should be extended to large companies too. The RTW programme should also be extended to cover vocational rehabilitation too.

He also said that the “health” part of WSH is often neglected as more emphasis is usually given to workplace safety. To take better care of workers’ health, he gave the example of the National Transport Workers’ Union which has managed to work with 45 of its canteens to introduce brown rice at subsidised rates. He also hopes that more employers can make free annual health checks part of staff welfare benefits.

Mr Yong also touched on the importance of mental health, which “can take a toll on even the most strong-willed individuals.”

He said: “As we work on the major physical health pillars under the umbrella of occupational health, the benefits to mental health should also be examined in the coming years, as our workforce adapts constantly to the rapidly changing economy.”

Seah Kian Peng: Value Every Singaporean and Create a Better Future Together

The Government should help ensure all Singaporeans are able to stretch their dollar so that they can lead better lives and achieve greater equality. This was the topic LMP Seah Kian Peng spoke on in his Budget Debate speech.

Mr Seah, who is also NTUC FairPrice CEO, said although complete equality is impossible, “we need to strive towards equality in basic human experiences.”

He cited a safe home, a good meaningful job, a chance for every child in Singapore to prosper and find their purpose in life as examples.

“What can we do … is to value each and every one of our Singaporeans and ensure that for generations to come, they are able to build better lives in this garden city we call home,” he said.

According to Mr Seah, this includes helping the most vulnerable and those with social needs such as the poor and people who lack opportunity.

Mr Seah also called for the Government to change its approach in dealing with Singaporeans who fall between the cracks of the system such as those in the middle-income group.

“There is much to be done in Singapore, to make our society more equal. Our simple socialism demands that we make difficult choices. We must recognise that even relatively well-off people can have legitimate experience of relative deprivation when compared to the very wealthy,” he said.

 

For the LMPs’ full speeches, please refer to the links below.

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