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Budget 2024: Equip workers to meet tomorrow’s challenges and uncertainties

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong outlined the Government’s plans to help workers stay relevant while tackling higher cost of living.
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16 Feb 2024
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Budget 2024 has sought to keep mid-career workers relevant with today’s rapid technological advances, provide stronger support to lower-wage and displaced workers, and strengthen mature workers’ retirement adequacy.


Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong delivered the Budget 2024 statement on 16 February 2024 in Parliament.


SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme


Mr Wong introduced a new SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme, designed to better support mid-career workers who will still need to upskill themselves, but may face difficulties due to family and financial commitments.


In this programme, all Singaporeans aged 40 and above will receive a top-up of $4,000 to their SkillsFuture Credit.


Unlike the existing $500 credit given to all Singaporeans, the $4,000 credit can only be used for selected training courses that the Government has deemed will provide workers with better employability outcomes.


“We want participants taking up these programmes to be assured of better employability outcomes after they have completed their training,” said Mr Wong.


Courses include diplomas, post-diplomas, undergraduate programmes, and courses for those in the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) sectors.


Also part of the SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme is the introduction of subsidised diplomas at local polytechnics, ITEs and Arts Institutions for Singaporeans aged 40 and above from 2025 onwards.


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NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo previously called for such a subsidy in his 2023 Budget Debate Speech.


NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo wrote on Facebook: “The SkillsFuture Level-Up programme will help workers get the confidence to pick up new skills and be resilient in their jobs, and training allowance to help defray loss of income while training [huge bugbear of workers with commitments]. The second subsidised diploma [which NTUC and Manpower GPC have lobbied for a long time] will help workers to seize new opportunities.”


This will allow Singaporeans who have previously graduated from an Institute of Higher Learning to pursue another field of expertise.


To further facilitate this upskilling pursuit, Singaporeans aged 40 and above will also be provided with a monthly training allowance for up to 24 months.


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NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Desmond Tan previously called for more support for mid-career workers in his 2023 Debate Speech.


The allowance will be equivalent to 50 per cent of the worker’s average income for the last 12-months, or up to a maximum of $3,000 per month.


“This will support the full duration of a SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme, and more than half the duration of most qualifications issued by our Institutes of Higher Learning,” said Mr Wong.


NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Desmond Tan was elated that his calls on training recommendations were addressed in the budget.


"These support measures will enable mid-career workers to reskill and upskill, and be equipped with new skills for a career transition or be prepared for the future economy," he said.


Both the subsidised diplomas and training allowances can also be found in NTUC’s #Every Worker Matters Conversations recommendations.


Helping those involuntarily unemployed


To help workers who have been involuntarily unemployed, Mr Wong said that the Government will introduce a temporary financial support scheme to help such workers while they undergo training, or while they look for their next job.


“We have to design this scheme carefully, including the quantum of support and the conditionalities that come with the support,” he said.


More details will be provided later this year.


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The temporary financial support scheme is a call NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay has been pushing for since 2014, and more recently in his 2023 Budget Speech.


In response to the announcement, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay said: “Since 2014, I have been tirelessly lobbying on the crucial issue of unemployment support, advocating for the protection and empowerment of workers, particularly PMEs … Today, I'm thrilled to see our efforts recognised in the Budget 2024 announcements.


“The introduction of a new temporary financial support scheme by the Government for involuntarily displaced jobseekers while they undergo training or look for better-fitting jobs is a significant step towards ensuring the well-being and resilience of our workforce.”


More equality, better mobility


Mr Wong also proposed changes to the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme, the Progressive Wage Credit Scheme (PWCS), and the Local Qualifying Salary (LQS) to help ensure lower-wage workers do not get left behind as the nation progresses.


He said that the WIS scheme and the PWM are key strategies to help uplift lower-wage workers, and that he would make several adjustments to ensure continued results.


For one, the qualifying income to be eligible for WIS will be raised in 2025, from the current $2,500 to $3,000.


The payouts will also be increased. Lower-wage senior workers can expect to receive a maximum payout of up to $4,900, which is $700 more than the current cap.


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NTUC Director of Operations and Mobilisation Division Fahmi Aliman previously called for higher WIS payouts for lower-wage workers.


To help support employers who choose to increase the wages of their lower-wage workers, Mr Wong said he will raise the co-funding amount for the PWCS from a maximum of 30 per cent, up to a maximum of 50 per cent.


He added he will also raise the PWCS wage ceiling to $3,000 in 2025 to be in tandem with the qualifying income cap for WIS.


And to ensure that employers first consider hiring locals, the LQS will be raised for companies which hire foreign workers – from $1,400 to $1,600.


For companies which pay their foreign workers by the hour, the rate will be increased from $9 to $10.50 per hour.


NTUC Operations and Mobilisation Division Director Fahmi Aliman said: "Increased workfare payouts, a higher Local Qualifying Salary, and a higher qualifying income will provide substantial financial support to a larger group of lower-wage workers, particularly our low-wage senior workers. I believe that these schemes will enable our lower-wage workers to benefit financially as their wages grow, and help to cushion increased cost of living."


Improving retirement adequacy


Adjustments will be made to the CPF system to help support the retirement needs of seniors, shared Mr Wong.


The CPF contribution rates for those aged 55 to 65 will be increased by 1.5 percentage points in 2025.


To help cushion this increase for companies, Mr Wong said he will provide a CPF Transition Offset for one year, which will cover half of employer’s increased contributions in 2025.


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Budget 2024 saw DPM Lawrence Wong answer NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How’s 2023 Budget Call for better retirement adequacy for older workers.

The Enhanced Retirement Sum, which is the maximum amount that members can put in their CPF Retirement Accounts to receive CF payouts, will also be raised – up to $426,000.


“This will allow more members aged 55 and above to fully commit their accumulated CPF savings to receive higher CPF payouts, should they wish to do so,” said Mr Wong.


More support will also be given to lower-income seniors.


For the Silver Support Scheme, Mr Wong said he will raise the qualifying per capita household income threshold from $1,800 to $2,300.


He will also raise the Silver Support Scheme’s quarterly payments by 20 per cent to keep pace with inflation.


As for the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme, which currently provides lower-income workers aged 55 to 70 with dollar-for-dollar matching for cash top-ups to their CPF account, Mr Wong said he will extend the scheme to those beyond the age of 70.


He will also increase the annual matching cap from $600 to $2,000. The lifetime matching cap will be set at $20,000.


Changes to the Silver Support Scheme and the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme will take place in 2025.


"It warms my heart to see Government take concrete steps year afer year to strengthen the employment and financial security of older workers for both the short and long term," said NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How.


NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng added: "Budget 2024 is a caring, assuring and stabilising one that aims to grow our workers, businesses and Singaporeans, in a messy world filled with political, social and economic challenges.


"Whilst it looks to be a tougher year ahead with job security and cost of living being key concerns of workers, Budget 2024 should give workers the assurance and confidence that together we can overcome any challenges that come our way."