Debate Speech on Budget Statement 2023 by Desmond Tan, Deputy Secretary-General, NTUC; Minister of State and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC on 22 February 2023

To every worker in Singapore, on behalf of the Labour Movement, we want to thank you for your hard work and sacrifices throughout the pandemic. The NTUC will continue to champion for your interest to achieve better wages, welfare and work prospect, because every worker matters.
23 Feb 2023
Mr Speaker,
The Labour Movement welcomes Government’s support for workers in this year’s budget; to grow our economy, to improve Training and Job Placement, enhance Employment Support for those who may need more help, and to tackle the rising cost of living. 
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that trust between people, institutions, businesses and government is critical. When businesses in some sectors were badly hit and jobs were uncertain, it is this trust that enables NTUC and our tripartite partners to work closely to save jobs, support our businesses and workers.
We cannot assume that the trust we have built with our workers will continue to be strong over time. We have to engage with each generation of workers to listen to their needs, anxieties, aspirations and to provide assurance that we will walk the journey with them.
With these considerations, NTUC launched the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations or #EWMC in short last year. 
The #EWMC aims to reach out to at least 20,000 workers through dialogues, focus group discussions and surveys to hear their views around work, and refresh NTUC’s compact with workers. 
Since its launch, NTUC has been listening to a wide range of workers from youths to mature workers, PMEs, self-employed, essential service workers, caregivers, to ex-offenders. We are excited to share our recommendations when they are ready, sometime later this year.
But what is all this for? To quote NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, “Through #EWMC, NTUC will ensure that our workers’ voices are heard. We aim to put forth valuable feedback and useful recommendations that can shape policies with workers’ interests at its core. After all, workers are at the heart of our nation’s progress.” 
Through the #EWMC engagements, key themes and preliminary ideas are emerging and taking shape which my fellow Labour MPs will cover in their respective speeches. This includes retirement adequacy, un-employment support, supporting younger workers and workers in lower-wage sectors, workplace health and safety, caregiving, training, among others. 
And in the next part on my speech, I’ll provide an update on NTUC’s initiatives to support training and upskilling of our workers.
I believe to empower our workers with opportunities and abilities, we need to build a culture of lifelong learning. 
In Randstad’s recent 2022 Workmonitor study, 91% of employees surveyed in Singapore have indicated an interest in career learning and development opportunities. Despite this, only 22% said that they have received training and upskilling opportunities from their employers in the past 12 months. 
That said, since 2015, around 30% of eligible Singaporeans have utilised their SkillsFuture Credit, a steady increase over the past years. I would like to share three possible reasons observed from #EWMC and research conducted by NTUC on why workers do not attend or complete their training. 
Reasons why workers do not attend / complete training
The first reason is a practical one regarding “time, money, and manpower”.  
a. At #EWMC Focus Group Discussions, participants shared that manpower-lean firms may not allow workers to go for training and might call workers back even if they were scheduled for training due to operational needs. 
b. Many find training course fees rather high despite subsidies from SkillsFuture Credit and other funds. Companies also do not provide protected time and employees have to find time outside of work to upgrade their skills. This often has to be balanced with other priorities like caregiving. 
The second reason is the “lack of confidence in the returns on training”.
a. Employees had expressed their doubts if training could bring about any real positive impact for their careers, in terms of job or wage growth.
b. Employee also questioned how useful or relevant training could be, if there are no real opportunities for application within the company. 
c. Similarly, employers expressed concerns that employees might change jobs or companies after receiving training. 
The third reason is “lack of awareness towards training needs and opportunities”. 
a. Workers may not have sufficient knowledge to diagnose their own skills gap, and the skillsets required for their next intended career move.
b. Similarly, employers find it challenging to identify the required skill sets or knowledge that employees might need for certain job roles. 
These findings do suggest that employees are more prepared to go for training if they were initiated by the employers, when training is for purpose of meeting specific job demands within the company and with better assurance of support and wage outcomes.
That is why in 2019, NTUC introduced the concept of Company Training Committees (CTCs) between our unions and employers to support business transformation that can lead to company-initiated training and skills upgrading for workers.
We are thankful for Government’s support with the $70m CTC Grant which commenced in August last year. 
To date, I am happy to update that we had 
a. formed around 1,200 CTCs,
b. approved 17 companies’ CTC Grant projects,
c. with many more applications being processed.  
One example of a CTC company is the Royal Plaza on Scotts. The company formed a CTC and underwent two rounds of Operations Technology Roadmap to transform its business, and redesign jobs.
One direct beneficiary of CTC is Mr Hamid Bin Selamat, who was an engineering supervisor. Positive and open-minded towards upskilling, he took up security modules and became a certified Security Officer at the age of 65. Now, he can perform two roles in the company, with benefits such as better wages and work prospects.  
Having experienced the positive outcomes from CTC for both business and workers, RPS has applied for CTC Grant with a commitment to give wage increment for the impacted local workers.
We hope more companies will follow suit work with NTUC in forming CTCs. We are committed to support you in the journey of enterprise and workforce transformation.
Last year, brother Chee Hong Tat spoke about the challenge of Jobs-Skills mismatch, where employers who are short-handed could not find enough workers to fill vacancies, and workers who find the skills they acquired are not a good fit to what employers are looking for. Labour Movement is therefore pleased to hear DPM Lawrence announced the “Job-skills integrators” pilot initiative, which will start with three sectors.
With the involvement of industry, training and employment facilitation partners, we envisage that the “Job-skills integrators” will help to bridge the information gap for workers and employers, who may find it difficult to identify high-quality training which industries will find relevant. NTUC will fully support this pilot.
Our Government has always been supportive of continuous learning and skills upgrading.  Many initiatives have been introduced to support workers’ upskilling, whether at work or during job transition. The SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme, or SCTP, implemented in April 2022 is a good example. I’m glad that the Government has decided to make this a long-term programme in replacement of the SGUnited Skills Programme (SGUS) and the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme – Company Training (SGUP – CT) which were implemented during the pandemic. 
I hope SkillsFuture SG will progressively expand the SCTP to more sectors so that more workers can benefit from this scheme.
I also call on the government to consider protected training leave for employees and review training fund and allowances, to support our workers in alleviating their concern for lack of time and finances, and opportunity cost when attending training.  
For example, the Government can consider introducing training allowance for trainees under the SCTP. 
Mr Speaker Sir, Singapore is experiencing persistently high inflation, and an uncertain economic outlook, just like the rest of the world. Supply chain disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted our economic and labour landscape significantly. 
In many countries, this heightens the risk of conflict and instability. As risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft’s chief analyst said, “We are talking about numerous powder kegs around the world simply waiting for that spark to be ignited. We just don’t know where that spark will come first”.
Recently, we have witnessed these “sparks” flying through bitter strikes in countries such as UK, France and South Korea, which threaten the delivery of essential services such as healthcare and public transportation. 
In the UK, strike actions were carried out by workers such as nurses, rail workers, postal workers, ambulance workers and airport staff. Workers there demand for higher wages due to high inflation. Because of the strike by ambulance workers, residents with serious but non-life-threatening conditions might not be immediately attended to by an ambulance. 
In Asia, the truckers in South Korea initiated strike actions against their Government. They were calling their Government to make permanent a policy on minimum freight rates for container and cement truck drivers. To end the strike, the Government had to issue “back-to-work” orders, by which the strikes had already lasted for around two weeks and cost US$2.7 billion to the economy, according to their Government’s estimates.
These strike actions had caused disruption to public lives, demoralised workers, discouraged investments; and destabilised the economy. 
In Singapore, we have managed to avoid such stand-offs through each tripartite partner doing its part and working hand in hand. One example is the Progressive Wage Model, or PWM in short. 
PWM was first implemented in 2014 for the cleaning sector. Since then, we have progressively rolled out PWMs in 7 sectors and 2 occupations.
With PWM, workers can be assured that they will not only receive a minimum wage corresponding to their sector and occupation, but also defined career pathways that would ensure that their wages increase as their skills and responsibilities increase as well. For example, landscape workers’ wages have moved up by 3.5% per year, from $1,300 in 2016 to $1,650 in 2022, more than twice the median wage increase of 1.4%. These wages will continue increasing to $2,385 in 2028.
This is not all. Together with the expanded Local Qualifying Salary (LQS) and the Progressive Wage Mark (PW Mark) accreditation, this would benefit up to 94% of lower-wage workers.
I would like to comment on the proposal by Mr Leong Mun Wai on “Living Wage”, which is a guaranteed take home pay of $1,800 for all Singaporean workers.
It is noteworthy that Mr Leong agrees with the PWM, as he also said the PWM can remain, to help workers achieve a higher wage level than the Living Wage.
The PWM mandates fair and sustainable wages according to skill level. It is tailored to each sector and agreed upon by tripartite partners – employers, government and unions.
As mentioned, we have steadily expanded the PWM into 7 sectors and 2 occupations. Together with the LQS, which is set at $1,400, our lower wage workers can also receive a Workfare Income Supplement of up to $350 per month. PWM and LQS combined already cover a wide base of 94% of all lower wage workers within this year. The remaining 6% are in small family-owned businesses which would usually not be covered by MW in other countries.
As for the level of MW or LW, we note there are different proposals, $1,300 by WP, $1,800 by PSP which is $300 more than $1,500 proposed in 2021.  We need a sustainable and systematic mechanism to set and review the floor. The LQS is a stable methodology and until COVID-19, the LQS has been increased $100 each year from 2017.  My colleague Fahmi will suggest a way to review our LQS in his speech later. 
We all want wages to be higher. In NTUC, this is our raison detre, for better wages, welfare and work prospect. But we must also do so sustainably, without causing unintended consequences, like dis-employment. We want higher wages, but we also want higher employment rates. Some studies have shown the downsides of minimum wage, including dis-employment, and the perverse outcome that a minimum wage might become maximum wage. This is a concern, especially in a small economy in Singapore where SMEs employs the bulk of our workers. PWM has a proven track record of raising wages without the risk of job losses.
So in NTUC we support a PWM that is customised to sector or occupation, ensures productivity improvements, with clear career pathways. This way we can move confidently, with our tripartite partners and our workers get the assurance of a basic wage, and a ladder for increase over the years, as they upgrade their skills.
Mr Speaker, please allow me to continue in Mandarin before I conclude in English. 
 a. 过去三年 冠病疫情 的挑战,突显了新加坡 必须 塑造 一支 更灵活,以及 有更强 适应能力 的 劳动队伍,
 b. 以应对 快速转变 的 劳动力市场 和 行业 需求。
 a. 以更好地 服务 各领域 的工友。
 b. 无论您是在什么 工作 岗位,从事哪个行业,是全职、兼职、平台员工 或是 自雇人士,
 c. 职总都将 致力于 维护 您的利益,让您有更好的收入、福利和职业前景。 
在这方面,劳资政三方 的合作,至关重要。
 a. 职总很高兴获得 政府 7千万元 的 财政拨款,支持我们  继续拓展 本地 工友的 “培训与工作 安置 生态系
 b. 为本地工友提供更多的就业协助和支持。
在雇主方面,我们希望 雇主继续 推动 公司 和 企业转型, 
 a. 今年 虽然是兔年,但是希望大家 千万不要 守株待兔,
 b. 而是应该  动如脱兔,以 敏锐的 商业触觉 ,带动 企业转型,为 业务 带来 “突”飞猛进 的 高度增长。

Charting our paths forward, NTUC reaffirms the importance of tripartism.

Since the NTUC Modernisation Seminar in 1969, generations of Government, businesses and union leaders have worked hard to build and sustain Singapore’s brand of tripartism. 
I quote Prime Minister Lee’s speech during NTUC National Delegates Conference in 2011, he said this about tripartism, “We have to preserve this ability, this trust at all costs. It’s an intangible national treasure; we built it up through our young history. It’s one of the most valuable things we can pass on to our future generations.”
Tripartism is Singapore’s national treasure, and we must never be complacent because one misstep can break this trust. 
I thank member Raj Joshua for agreeing that tripartism is our key pillar of our economic and social resilience. It works when all parties represent our constituents’ interests well. Regarding the case he mentioned of how NTUC raised an issue with a security agency, I want to assure him and his industry colleagues that in NTUC, our unions believe that companies must be given the flexibility to transform and right size. But, the company must do so fairly, and adhere to established and agreed principles and guidelines, such as the Tripartite Guidelines for Fair Employment Practices, both in substance and in spirit.
The Labour Movement will continue to work with our tripartite partners to resolve any differences that may arise every now and then amicably and through established processes. Ultimately, we want our companies to do well, and create good jobs for our workers.
Through the #EWMC, the NTUC will renew our social compact with our workers and bring to the table of tripartite partners the collective sentiments of our workers. And in so doing, strengthening tripartism, preserving industrial peace and building a more resilient nation as we move into the new era, together.
To every worker in Singapore, on behalf of the Labour Movement, we want to thank you for your hard work and sacrifices throughout the pandemic. 
The NTUC will continue to champion for your interest to achieve better wages, welfare and work prospect, because every worker matters. 
Sir, I support the budget. Thank you.