Ng Chee Meng: Addressing Workers' Concerns

15 May 2018, Tue

By Ramesh Subbaraman

Singaporean workers, we hear you!

That’s the rallying response by NTUC Deputy Secretary-General and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ng Chee Meng when he spoke on the second day of the debate to thank the President for her speech to Parliament.

Mr Ng was making his maiden speech in Parliament in his NTUC capacity on 15 May 2018 where he emphasised that the concerns of workers are also those of the Labour Movement and the Government.

These include making ends meet, the cost of living and giving their children and family members better lives.

Mr Ng said: “We hear you, we are with you, and we will make it real, together.”

A Call to Act Fast

The world is going through unprecedented rapid technological changes and the fast pace of change is having a major impact on how people work and earn a living, noted Mr Ng.

So how should Singaporean workers react to this?

“For Singapore to be competitive in this new arena, we need to be hungry. Businesses will need to transform, towkays will need to change their mindsets, and workers will need to be eager to learn, upskill and continually upgrade. These critical strategies have been mentioned numerous times, but we are not acting on it fast enough,” said Mr Ng.

His call to companies and workers - embark on the transformation journey now.

On its part, the Labour Movement will need to push the transformation agenda by working even closer with the Government and businesses, and support workers who are willing to improve and upskill.

Making the ITMs Work

Mr Ng said the tripartite partners have collaborated extensively on the Industrial Transformation Maps (ITMs) for the 23 sectors and the Government is now into operationalising these maps.

He added that the Labour Movement will fully support employers in the transformation of their businesses.
How then can the Labour Movement be involved in helping to operationalise the ITMs?

“We need to make it real for all our working people, whether it’s a professional, manager or executive in the finance sector or the worker on the shop floor by distilling the ITMs into actionable, purposeful training programmes for them”, said Mr Ng.

He cited the aviation sector as an example where SIA Engineering, together with union representatives, is empowering 3,000 workers with the skills to handle technology in maintenance operations, including real-time data to facilitate more productive work.

With this outcome, workers can look forward to better jobs, and future wage increases, said Mr Ng.

“There will always be challenges along the way, and even some hardship. But if we work smart and stay ahead of the curve, we will find solutions, progress and forge a better living for ourselves,” he added.

Addressing Concerns

Mr Ng also touched on several bread and butter issues workers and their families are facing.

Among their worries are buying a home, building up their retirement savings, healthcare costs and having enough for their children’s education.

For workers, retirement adequacy is another concern.

“They are worried that their CPF savings will not be enough for them to enjoy the quality of life they seek once they stop working. More crucially, if they lose their jobs unexpectedly before retirement, will they have enough savings? Can they be assured that if they work hard, save and contribute to their CPF savings, their basic needs of housing, children’s education, healthcare and retirement will continue to be taken care of? 

“Singaporeans now have longer life expectancy and the issue of retirement adequacy will become more and more pressing. Your concerns are our concerns as well,” said Mr Ng.

Tackling the Challenges

Mr Ng said that the Labour Movement approach to address these concerns is for workers to have “good jobs with good wages”. He urged employers to maintain a nimble mindset and workers to upgrade their skills for their jobs.

"This is the best solution because wages can only increase with productivity gains. Real wage increase is necessary to keep up with inflation, to cope with the cost of living,” explained Mr Ng.

He acknowledged that workers on the ground have experienced growth differently. Some have done a little better while others have progressed a little slower.

He is particularly concerned with three groups of workers:

  • Low-Wage Workers

With the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) in place since June 2012 for the cleaning, security and landscape sectors, wages for some 70,000 workers have moved up.

Mr Ng added that there are other sectors with low wage growth.

“For them, I propose that we expand the use of the Inclusive Growth Programme and find pathways forward to support more workers. We will work with the Government for better support and prevent them from stagnating,” said Mr Ng.

  • Mature Workers

Many union leaders have told Mr Ng during his ground visits that while Singapore can legislate retirement and re-employment ages, mindsets cannot be legislated.

“The real question here is whether employers are willing to employ senior workers instead of having the fixed mindset that these workers are a burden, more expensive and untrainable.  Union leaders and I are worried for this group of workers. For many of them, the job is essential. Just like us they have expenses, mortgages, and dependants relying on them,” emphasised Mr Ng.

With the help of WorkPro, he said the Labour Movement continues to work with companies to implement age management policies and practices, and redesign their workplaces.

He also cited the Special Employment Credit where the Government subsidises employers for the net cost of employing mature workers.

Mr Ng added that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) should be empowered to do more for the ageing workforce.

He also proposed to set up a new tripartite committee to provide better support for the ageing workforce and help mature workers continue working if they chose to.

  • Middle-Aged and Middle-Income Workers

Mr Ng noted that some of the skillsets amongst this group were diminishing in demand or they lacked the opportunities to progress.

“The entrenched mindsets against hiring middle-aged workers is worrying,” said Mr Ng. He added that the Labour Movement will need more support from the Government and business leaders to redesign jobs and encourage workers to stay relevant so that they can progress in their careers.

Concluding, Mr Ng stressed that solutions are only possible if employers, workers and the Government work together.

Employer and Business Associations Express Support 

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) have responded to Mr Ng’s speech.

Both SNEF and SBF gave their full support to Mr Ng’s calls to operationalise the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) for the benefit of both employers and workers.

SNEF President Dr Robert Yap said: “The Federation is committed to work with the Government and the Labour Movement to transform the economy, build progressive workplaces as well as to uplift low-wage workers. With the strong support and close partnership of the Labour Movement, employers must press ahead with their efforts to transform their business, create better jobs and raise productivity to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.”

SBF added that there is an urgency for companies and their employees to transform, so that they can capitalise on growth opportunities in the region. SBF will work closer with NTUC to achieve this objective.

It is also planning to organise industry-specific ITM consultation clinics in collaboration with various stakeholders, starting with the logistics and retail industries.

Meanwhile, SCCCI said it is in unison with NTUC that only through close tripartite collaboration can the various strategic initiatives outlined in the ITMs be effectively implemented.

SCCCI President Roland Ng said: “To achieve the long-term goals of economic transformation, we must forge consensus, work together, persevere, and through leveraging on innovative technologies, make the ITMs the key approach to successfully developing our future enterprises.”

Other Labour MPs spoke up on various worker issues during the debate in Parliament to thank the Singapore President for her address. Click here to read the story.

NTUC Secretary-General and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing outlined what Singapore must do to continue securing a place for itself in a fast-changing world. Click here to read the story.

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