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In Parliament: NTUC highlights role in tackling the rising cost of living

Inflation has affected Singaporeans’ cost of living, but the Labour Movement has been supporting workers and improving their wages.

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By Shukry Rashid 07 Nov 2023
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Core consumer prices in Singapore have risen in September, albeit at a slower pace.


That marks an increase for the fifth straight month.


During NTUC’s recently concluded #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, more than half of workers aged 50 and above and at the 20th percentile income level and below felt their income had not kept pace with inflation in the last 12 months.


In the Labour Movement, inflation and the rising cost of living are core concerns monitored closely over the years, said NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo.


“The world is faced with inflation in nearly every country. Some societies have it worse than others. We are glad that our policies, as a whole, are working,” he added.


Mr Choo was speaking in Parliament on 7 November during the debate on the motion on the cost-of-living crisis.


Government measures


Mr Choo said that workers welcome the support measures, such as the $10 billion enhanced Assurance Package, the Cost-of-Living Support package, and the new Majulah Package.


But he added that the measures would ultimately be judged by its outcomes.


He cited a Ministry of Finance study, which suggests that support measures fully covered the effects of rising prices for 2022 due to inflation for the bottom two-fifths of income earners.


Mr Choo added: “DPM has also assured Parliament that the support measures combined will fully cover the increases in spending by lower-income households this year due to inflation and the GST rate increase and substantially cover the increases in spending by middle-income households.”


Labour Movement stands ready to support workers.


Mr Choo said that cost of living issues cannot be tackled by the Government alone, and enterprises have their roles to play, too.


He said that in NTUC, FairPrice Group plays its role in sourcing and stockpiling essential supplies for the nation.


FairPrice’s move to stockpile essential supplies helps to protect Singaporeans against price shocks, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The social enterprise also started its ‘Stretch Your Dollar’ programme, giving all a five per cent discount on 100 essential items every Friday.


At NTUC’s Foodfare and Kopitiam, prices of items such as coffee and tea were reduced or held constant throughout last year despite significant business cost increases.


Mr Choo also mentioned NTUC’s charity and philanthropy arm, which has been providing support to low-income individuals and families.


He added: “NTUC Care Fund (Special Assistance) launched in August 2022 has disbursed more than $2 million to 8,000 members to alleviate the cost of living.


“Across areas such as eldercare, education, and community service, our social enterprises collectively disbursed about $12 million in 2022.”


Keeping wages ahead of inflation


Mr Choo said that beyond the support given to tackle the cost of living issue, the most important is to keep wages ahead of inflation.


“The key is a tight labour market and a productive workforce. A tight labour market gives workers bargaining power to command pay increases,” he said.


He added that Workforce Singapore and NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) have strengthened their job placement initiatives.


“At NTUC, we are grateful to the Government for providing us with support to form Company Training Committees (CTCs). These CTCs are now the backbone of many companies in transforming their businesses with better wage outcomes for our workers,” he added.


For the lower-wage workers, Mr Choo said that the Progressive Wage Model has been extended to include more industries and roles, and the Government co-shares the cost of wage increases with employers through the Progressive Wage Credit Scheme.”


“Today, up to 9 in 10 lower-wage workers are covered by Progressive Wage measures.


“By continuing to extend our different packages of support and our workforce productive, we can sustain real wages and our quality of life,” he added.


NTUC Director and fellow labour MP Yeo Wan Ling also spoke during the debate.


She said that the Labour Movement supports companies with the upskilling of workers and the redesign of jobs so that more pockets of workers, such as caregivers and women returners, can take part in the workforce.


She cited the C U Back at Work Programme that the NTUC Women and Family Unit has piloted to help mothers and family caregivers return to the workplace confidently.


Ms Yeo said that flexible working arrangements are key to the programme, and companies redesign work hours or locations around the time availability of workers.


“Instead of price cuts and the passing on of costs to just another stakeholder upstream or downstream, flexible work arrangements can solve financial stresses for Singaporean families by adding an extra channel of income and help companies with resources and productivity,” she said.