Melvin Yong: Help Workers Overcome Both Visible and Invisible Obstacles

Concerned with rising cost of living, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong calls for supermarkets to absorb the GST increase on house brand items.
01 Mar 2022

By Kay del Rosario

Rising cost of living is a major concern for many Singaporeans, and the announced increase in Goods & Services tax (GST) will add to consumer worries.

At the Budget Debate in Parliament on 1 March 2022, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong called for the introduction of mandatory unit pricing for supermarkets to provide transparency for consumers.

Mandatory unit pricing is already practised in countries such as Australia, Argentina, and Chile.

“This might have been a logistical and administrative challenge in the past, when price tags were printed on paper placed manually on the shelves. With the wide use of digital price tags today, supermarkets should have no difficulty displaying unit pricing,” he said.

Mr Yong also appealed to supermarkets to absorb the GST increase on house brand items, which can cost 10 to 25 per cent cheaper than brand goods. 

Transition to e-Marketplace

As consumer trends shift to e-commerce, accelerated by the pandemic, Mr Yong also suggests it would be helpful to onboard heartland merchants and hawkers onto a major e-marketplace.

He said: “Our heartland shops are an important part of our social fabric. As we transform our economy and chart our way in the post-pandemic future, we must ensure that our heartland shops will continue to remain part of our Singapore Story.”

Mr Yong was heartened by the partnership between Lazada Singapore and Radin Mas to launch the Radin Mas Marketplace @ Lazada, Singapore’s first e-marketplace for heartland shops.

Address Invisible Barriers

To manage cost of living, Mr Yong acknowledged that wages must increase in tandem with rising inflation.

He listed three barriers that stand in the way of raising workers’ wages.

Invisible Competition for Jobs

“Competition for jobs can now come from “digital nomads” working from any corner of the globe, as long as the candidate has the right skills, a computer, and an internet connection,” he said.

Mr Yong urged the Government to study this trend and review if existing labour policies remain relevant.

Invisible Skills Mismatch

On the issue of invisible skills mismatch, he encouraged all companies to work with NTUC to create and implement training programmes to upskill and reskill workers effectively.

“I am glad that the Government is committing $100 million to scale NTUC’s Company Training Committees (CTCs).

“CTCs address the two most common questions that workers have when it comes to training – train what, and train for what – by aligning the training needs with a company’s future business and operations roadmap,” he added.

Invisible Threat of Burnout

Lastly, Mr Yong touched on workplace burnout, “a real but often invisible threat to the wellbeing of workers.”

He noted that the Government has worked closely with the Labour Movement on various initiatives, like the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces in November 2020, which provides guidance on after-hours work communications.

And soon, the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council will introduce a new workplace mental health category at this year’s WSH Awards.

Mr Yong suggested that more could be done, especially in the area of mental well-being support at workplaces.

“I urge the ministries and government agencies to lead by promulgating clear directives on after-hours work communications for staff,” he said.