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COS 2024: A roundup of Labour MPs’ calls to improve workers’ lives

More support for freelancers and workers in the public service, early childhood, and transport were key among the calls.

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By Nicolette Yeo 07 Mar 2024
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Our Labour Members of Parliament spoke on various topics close to their hearts during the Manpower Ministry’s Committee of Supply (COS) Debate on 4 March 2024.


Patrick Tay, Melvin Yong, Yeo Wan Ling, Fahmi Aliman and Jean See also voiced their views at other ministries’ COS Debates between 28 February and 7 March 2024. Check out the highlights here.


Workers in different sectors


Public service workers

NTUC Assistant Secretaries-General Patrick Tay and Melvin Yong asked the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) how the Government is enabling public service officers to gain new skills and perspectives to thrive in the current operating environment.


In response, Minister-in-charge of Public Service Chan Chun Sing cited several initiatives for workers to upgrade and upskill.


One popular initiative included hands-on development opportunities to acquire new skills, ranging from the Short Term Immersion Programme to Structured Job Rotations. PMO also explored ideas like boot camps and competitions to stimulate interest in building new capabilities.


Public service officers are also encouraged to expand their horizons through stints in the private and people sectors, international exchange programmes, and overseas deployments.


Mr Chan added that officers have up to 40 hours a year to pursue development opportunities outside the public sector.


Rail and maritime workers


NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Yeo Wan Ling and Mr Yong asked the Transport Ministry about its manpower development plans for the maritime sector to support the upcoming development of Tuas Port.


Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat said that the Career Conversion Programme was expanded to include maritime, digitalisation and decarbonisation functions.


He added that the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) and the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) have established a Joint Office for Talent and Skills to develop courses to equip workers with relevant and in-demand skills. It is one of the aims of the Tripartite Advisory Panel convened by SMF and supported by MPA.


With the rail industry poised for growth, Mr Yong also asked the ministry to consider increasing the funding for the Rail Manpower Development Package (RDMP) to continue growing the workforce.


Mr Chee said that building a future-ready rail workforce remains a priority. He added that the Government will provide a Rail Reliability and Performance Incentive between 2024 and 2028 to upkeep rail reliability standards and invest in workers and productivity.


He also updated that rail operators have worked with unions to tap into the RDMP to equip around 3,300 workers with technical skills, with another 700 slated to do so this year.


Early childhood educators


Given the continued challenges faced by early childhood educators, Mr Yong asked the Social and Family Development Ministry for an update on the number of preschool teachers hired in the last three years.


He also asked about the ministry’s plans to improve their working conditions, ramp up the hiring and training of new educators and reduce attrition.


In response, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling shared that the Continuing Professional Development Roadmap and the Leadership Development Framework were launched in 2021 and 2022, respectively, with salary improvements in 2022. The ministry will continue to review educators’ salaries to ensure they remain competitive.


On working conditions, Ms Sun updated that Teacher’s Day and Children’s Day are now preschool holidays. Educators also have six “Development Days” to focus on individual and team development. From 2025, preschool teachers will get an additional half-day rest per week as childcare centres are no longer required to operate on Saturdays.


Ms Sun also announced that the "Shape Our Tomorrow" campaign will be relaunched in 2024 to recognise early childhood educators as a respected profession. Since its launch in 2018, the number of educators has grown by more than 30 per cent to 25,000.


Future job growth


Mr Tay asked the PMO about the plan to create future job opportunities amidst the slowing workforce growth due to an ageing population and low birth rate.


In response, Minister in the PMO Indranee Rajah said that Singapore must continue having foreign workers fill the manpower gaps in less desirable sectors or disciplines where more time is needed to develop local workers.


“They can also generate opportunities for Singaporeans by bringing in new investments, networks, and expertise,” she added.

Ms Indranee added that the country will continue strengthening the local workforce by leveraging SkillsFuture and enabling Singaporeans to gain overseas work experience for career progression.


Flexible work arrangements


Ms Yeo asked the PMO about the Government’s support for employers in implementing flexible work arrangements (FWA), especially SMEs with fewer resources.


In response, Ms Indranee said that PMO will explore ways to help all employers roll out FWAs and manage their teams productively.


“These are HR capabilities that will enable our employers to optimise their workforce and position themselves as employers of choice,” she added.


National Servicemen


NTUC Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit Director Jean See asked the Defence Ministry about its plans to help national servicemen (NSmen) transition into an ever-changing work environment.


She wanted an update on the SkillsFuture@NS Learning eXperience Platform (LXP) and the plan to build NSmen’s employability skills to enhance their work prospects.


In response, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said that about 21,000 NSmen have signed up for SkillsFuture@NS LXP to date.


He added that MINDEF and Young NTUC also introduced NSmen to the NTUC Career Starter Lab for post-NS job training and career mentorship.


“About 100 companies across a wide range of industries, such as food and beverage, retail, health, energy, and finance, are already on board. And, of course, every effort will be made to broaden this,” Mr Heng added.




Mr Tay asked the Home Affairs Ministry for an update on the efforts to reintegrate ex-offenders into society.


In response, Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim shared that the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) introduced the Desistor Network in 2023 to boost the community of social service agencies to help desistors support each other. To date, over 70 agencies have joined the network.


He added that SPS also develops best practices to help desistors form pro-social support groups.


Freelancers and the self-employed


Creative Freelancers

Focusing her speech on creative freelancers at the Trade and Industry Ministry’s COS Debate, Ms See said that companies could leverage the skills of creative freelancers to redefine their business models.


In response, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan shared that the DesignSingapore Council collaborates with companies to adopt design for business growth and grooms design talent.


He added that schemes like the Enterprise Development Grant allow companies to engage creative professionals to build their brand and marketing capabilities.


Ms See also asked the Education Ministry whether it could partner with NTUC and affiliated freelancer associations to include options like training and accreditations within the SkillsFuture Level-Up programme to boost the employability prospects of creative freelancers and coaches.


In response, Minister for State for Education Gan Siow Huang highlighted that the new programme offers many courses to deepen technical skills and broaden business skills.


Point-to-Point Drivers

Ms Yeo asked the Transport Ministry for an update on the Point-to-Point (P2P) transport industry’s review.


One of her calls was for more safeguards to protect taxi drivers’ earnings.


In response, Senior Minister of State for Transport Dr Amy Khor said the taxi lifespan will be increased to 10 years from the current eight.


“Extending the statutory lifespan will allow taxi operators to spread the vehicle cost over a longer period of time. LTA [Land Transport Authority] will work with taxi operators to ensure that cost savings are passed to drivers,” Dr Khor explained.


As Singapore prepares for the rollout of Electric Vehicles (EVs), Ms Yeo also enquired about the measures to ensure that P2P drivers have access to EV charging stations.


Dr Khor shared that one of the suggestions made during a discussion with EV stakeholders, including drivers, included allowing drivers to reserve charging lots in advance and not have to shift their vehicles for overnight charging.


Ms Yeo also called to protect riders using Personal Mobility Aids (PMA) for a living, given the upcoming regulations for PMA usage. She was particularly concerned that the proposed speed limit reduction would adversely affect their earnings and the number of orders they can accept.


In response, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng said that the ministry will continue to educate affected users on the new rules. It will also work with platforms and agencies to support those currently using PMA for work.


Freelance Sports Coaches and Instructors


As arts, exercise, sports, and outdoor adventure are crucial for strengthening Singapore, Ms See urged the Community, Culture and Youth Ministry (MCCY) to work with the National Instructors and Coaches Association (NICA) to fine tune the SkillsFuture Level-Up programme to help freelance coaches grow their careers.


Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Community, Culture and Youth announced that Sports Singapore will be introducing an accreditation framework for exercise professionals and welcomes inputs from NICA.


On SkillsFuture Level-Up programme, he said that it may be challenging to introduce courses catering to the niche nature of the exercise, sports, and outdoor adventure sector.


He added that the Outdoor Adventure and Education (OAE) Council is working on a capability development roadmap that will look into the remuneration challenges faced by full-time and freelance professionals.


Mr Chua also shared that the ministry has plans to professionalise exercise, sports and outdoor adventure coaches, which could lead to higher salaries.


Ms See also asked the ministry about the possibility of allowing coaches to book affordable venue spaces directly instead of using dominant intermediaries.


Mr Chua said that the OAE Council is exploring more sites and facilities with affordable access.


On arts freelancers, Minister for State for Community, Culture and Youth Low Yen Ling said that the National Arts Council (NAC) works with NICA on the NAC-NICA Training Support programme to provide arts freelancers with training subsidies and allowances. She added that arts freelancers can make use of the existing affordable spaces at the Arts Resource Hub.


Lifelong learning


To enable the next generation to keep pace with the latest developments, Mr Tay urged the Education Ministry to expand the range of courses and programmes that can be used for the SkillsFuture top-up beyond the local institutes of higher learning.


Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said there would be industry-specific training, such as the SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme (SCTP), catering to individuals moving into sectors with good hiring opportunities. It will also include courses to fulfil Progressive Wage Model training requirements.


Considering the 2020 SkillsFuture Credit top-ups expire in 2025, Mr Tay asked if the validity could be extended to 2026 and that the earlier sum be combined with the latest top-up for higher-cost programmes.


Mr Chan said that any remaining balance from the 2020 tranche would be merged into the latest top-up, which does not expire.




Given that co-operatives are playing a role in Singapore’s socio-economic landscape, NTUC Operations & Mobilisation Division Director Mohamed Fahmi Aliman asked MCCY about its plans to support them further.


Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Alvin Tan shared that the ministry is working with the Singapore National Co-operative Federation to nurture emerging leaders and provide targeted funding to ensure they remain relevant and well-governed.