Debate Speech on Ministerial Statement by Fahmi Aliman Director, Operations and Mobilization, NTUC Mayor, South-East Central District Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC on 24 February 2021

Outsourced workers should have access to proper and reasonable rest areas for their well-being. Services buyers will also benefit from well-rested workers who would be more productive.
24 Feb 2021
Emerging Stronger Together
Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir,
This has traditionally been a time when as a country we outline our direction and aspirations for the year ahead. It is especially poignant when the world is still dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
I am encouraged by the ‘Emerging Stronger Together’ Budget and I am certain that I speak for both myself as well as my colleagues in the Labour Movement in supporting the response of the Government in helping all sectors of society. As mentioned by our Deputy Secretary General of NTUC, Dr Koh Poh Koon, “Over the last one year, NTUC’s key priority was on protecting our workers’ livelihoods”.
Having said that, ‘Emerging Stronger Together’ also means being aware of those with additional challenges, such as our lower-wage essential workers and our foreign workers, and making sure they have the help they need so that we move together in unison.
Caring for our Lower Wage Workers
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed how we live and work, and it has prompted us to question the norms that we have become used to. One of these norms in question is the value society have placed on the work of our brothers and sisters in essential services such as cleaning and security.
As we adjusted to our new normal, these everyday heroes stepped up despite the risks to their health and took on extra duties such as the additional sanitisation of high-touched surfaces and temperature screening so that we can safely continue with our lives.
The formation of the Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers is a step in the right direction in acknowledging their contributions to our country. Representatives from the various stakeholder groups have come together in the Tripartite Workgroup in recognition of the importance of uplifting our lower- wage workers, and NTUC will continue to contribute significantly to this conversation and champion our lower-wage workers as it has always done.
The Labour Movement is sensitive to the concerns of these workers. We are cognisant for example that workers, especially those who earn lower wages are concerned about their cash in hand to meet their daily needs. The Workfare Income Supplement or WIS has been a welcomed step, but I would like to once again call for the government to consider providing a higher WIS payout to workers in the essential services to acknowledge their social value and the hardship faced in their line of work.
NTUC is also acutely aware from our interactions with essential service workers that many of them face barriers when it comes to training. This could be due to factors such as time constraints, lack of support from employers, or even language barriers. As part of the Tripartite Workgroup, NTUC is committed to finding ways for workers to overcome these barriers and look forward to working with our partners to ensure that any worker who wants to upgrade their skillsets to remain relevant will be able to do easily. I would like to call on Service Buyers and Service Providers to provide ample opportunities for their workers to go for further training and upskilling. By providing adequate support to our workers, all of us will benefit from a more knowledgeable and professional workforce.
Support for the Progressive Wage Models
We have seen and heard about how the Progressive Wage Models or PWMs have proved successful in uplifting around 80, 000 workers in the Cleaning, Landscape Maintenance, and Security sectors with its holistic approach. With it, workers have a clear sense of the skills needed to do their jobs and the skills they should attain to move up the career ladder. Companies have also benefited from better trained and skilled workers while service buyers benefit from a more professional workforce.
Despite this, we must acknowledge that the wages in these PWM sectors need to commiserate with the skills and the essential services provided by our workers. I applaud the announcement made by our Deputy Prime Minister recently to enhance the wages of our nurses and other healthcare workers such as the support care staff. This move is to be commended and underlines the important work of our healthcare workers. On this note, I would like to call upon all the stakeholders involved in the PWM to take a hard look at the value of the jobs provided by our essential service workers and consequently increase the PWM wages so that all Singaporean workers are uplifted.
The reality is that in increasing the wages of our essential workers, consumers may have to pay more for their services. This is never an easy call to make but it is an important step towards a fairer and more enlightened society, where we ensure that all workers can live with dignity. To ease the initial transition, I would like to call on the government to consider a form of transitional support to help service buyers in the interim as we adjust the wages of our essential workers to adequately acknowledge the value of their work to our society.
It is also timely, that we look into other sectors where the PWM could benefit our workers. Just last month, it was announced that the PWM has been expanded to the Waste Management sector. NTUC had lobbied hard for the expansion into this sector and had engaged the associations and the relevant government bodies to make this happen. This is an important step in recognising the efforts of around 3,000 unsung heroes and as the Chair of the Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management, I look forward to continuing working with stakeholders to deliberate a PWM for the sector.
NTUC is also constantly looking at other sectors to cover more workers under the PWM. In 2019, it was announced that the pest management sector will be subsumed under the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map in the hopes of transforming and uplifting the sector to provide good and sustainable jobs to Singaporeans. This marked a step in the right direction in acknowledging the integral role pest management plays in safeguarding public health in providing essential services such as preventing the spread of dengue and rodent and pest infestations. Despite this, more needs to be done as the sector is faced with many of the same challenges as that of other outsourced sectors such as stagnating wages, lack of manpower, and poor public perception. For the industry to meet the rising demand and expectation of service standards for services, there is a need to build a strong and skilled professional local workforce.
In the Labour Movement’s interactions on the ground, we have also found that the workers in the Strata Management Sector take on the important and demanding task of managing estates and providing all with a conducive and safe environment for us to work and play and their duties include the control, administration, maintenance, and management of common property for the benefit of all. In 2018, the Facilities Management Implementation Committee was formed, comprising tripartite representatives to develop and implement strategies to create a more dynamic and professional industry. The Facilities Management Skills Framework was launched in September of last year to provide the industry with information on the occupations, skills, and competencies, and the possible career pathways available. The development of an FMC Accreditation is also underway which will encourage higher management competencies and skillsets for workers in the industry.
The introduction of a PWM can uplift these sectors and their workers with a clear career progression pathway, coupled with the relevant skills, improved productivity, and commensurate wages. NTUC will continue to lobby for the expansion of the PWM into other sectors and will work with the relevant stakeholders to make this a reality for more workers.
Supporting Progressive Companies
One clear step is to procure and support companies that have progressive practices. This admittedly may mean paying more, but we can and should be mindful of unethical companies who choose to undercut to win contracts at the expense of their workers. Workers in these situations can suffer by have their wages re-set or their benefits cut at the onset of their employer taking on a new contract. Service buyers should also adopt outcome-based contracts or OBs as a complement to PWM. OBCs prioritise the outcomes rather than simply warm bodies which allows service providers to use technology to make work safer and more efficient for workers. Besides, OBCs should incorporate clauses to minimise wage and benefit resets and abide by the principle of proportionality where liquidated damages should be proportionate to non-delivery of service.
While we look at wages and work prospects, the welfare of our workers is equally as important. I would like to encourage service buyers to set up proper rest areas for their outsourced workers in accordance with the Tripartite Advisory on Provision of Rest Areas for Outsourced Workers that was released in 2019. Outsourced workers should have access to proper and reasonable rest areas for their well-being. Services buyers will also benefit from well-rested workers who would be more productive. I would also like to take this opportunity to call on the government to issue a Gross Floor Area waiver for areas stipulated as rest areas to encourage more landlords to adopt the Tripartite Guidelines.
The Welfare of Our Migrant Workers
Another hard but necessary conversation that COVID-19 has sprung upon us is regarding our migrant workers. I will not be the first to thank our migrant workers for their hard work and their contributions to our country, all while working in difficult conditions far from their homes and loved ones. In working towards a more progressive and moral society, we must not forget our vulnerable brothers and sisters who have come here to do hard work so that we can continue to move forward.
Via the Migrant Workers’ Centre, NTUC mobilised together with our other stakeholders during the lock-downs at the dormitories to ensure that the migrant workers continued to have the necessities they needed and also reassure them that they had the full support of Singaporeans in tiding through this crisis.
One of the issues that the crisis brought to light was the immediate need to improve the living conditions of our migrant workers. While many changes have been made to make the dormitories safer and safe-distancing measures have been put in place, there remains a need for us at this time to review how foreign worker dormitories are regulated, and if these regulations should be enhanced. The Foreign Employee Dormitories Act or FEDA ensures that the accommodations of our foreign workers are regulated and must comply with a list of requirements to ensure the health and safety of their residents. However, FEDA only applies to larger dormitories that accommodate 1,000 or more workers. I would like to call upon the government to consider a review of this policy and increase the scope to dormitories that house lesser than 1,000 workers. This move would ensure that more or all the foreign workers in Singapore will be housed in accommodations that are regulated and meet the minimal provisions for their health and safety.
During the lockdown, it was also brought to NTUC’s attention that many foreign workers faced difficulties in remitting money to continue to support their families back home, many of whom were in more dire straits due to the global pandemic. This was a distressing problem for our migrant brothers, despite the simple solution by ensuring that all migrant workers are paid electronically. This is not a novel solution, employers of S Pass holders for example are required to pay salaries electronically, start the electronic payments within 3 months of the issue of the S Pass and maintain a record of the salary payments. Extending this requirement to migrant workers would not only make it easier for these workers to manage their finances electronically but also protect these workers from being exploited as all salary payments are recorded.
NTUC has long looked after the welfare of our migrant workers. An example is NTUC's MWC working with MOM’s ACE to materialize the Settling-in Programme at the various onboarding centres. While this has been a challenging project, NTUC has stepped up and is ready and willing to work with MOM towards building a robust system for future new entries to protect the workers as well as the greater community. The MWC also has 5000 ambassadors in the more than 1000 dorms in our volunteer network and we are constantly looking for ways to scale up to support any new initiatives and programs that can benefit our migrant workers. This network has helped us reach out to our migrant workers and we will continue to work hard so that we can push on in fighting for their rights and welfare.
Mr Deputy Speaker Sir do allow me to speak in Malay.
Secara ringkas, saya telah berbincang hari ini mengenai bagaimana Gerakan Buruh sentiasa memperjuangkan pekerja kita. Kami telah bekerja lebih keras untuk pekerja semasa pandemik COVID-19 dan kami akan terus berusaha untuk mengatasi krisis ini bersama-sama. Saya telah meminta supaya:
a. Pemerintah mempertimbangkan untuk memberikan pembayaran WIS yang lebih tinggi kepada pekerja dalam perkhidmatan penting untuk mengakui nilai sosial dan kesulitan yang dihadapi dalam bidang pekerjaan mereka.
b. Saya juga meminta supaya Pembeli dan Pembekal Perkhidmatan memberi lebih peluang kepada pekerja mereka untuk mengikuti latihan untuk meningkatkan kemahiran mereka. Dengan memberikan sokongan yang mencukupi kepada pekerja kita, kita semua akan meraih manfaat daripada tenaga kerja yang lebih berpengetahuan dan profesional.
c. Mengenai PWM, saya ingin meminta semua pihak untuk mempertimbangkan nilai pekerjaan dan meningkatkan gaji PWM supaya kehidupan semua pekerja Singapura diperbaiki. Saya juga ingin meminta pemerintah untuk mempertimbangkan sokongan peralihan untuk membantu pembeli perkhidmatan sementara gaji pekerja dipersuaikan dengan nilai pekerjaan mereka. Saya juga meminta supaya PWM diperkembangkan kepada sektor lain seperti sektor pengurusan perosak dan pengurusan strata.
d. Mengenai kesejahteraan pekerja, saya ingin mendorong pembeli perkhidmatan untuk menubuhkan kawasan rehat untuk pekerja mereka yang bersesuaian dengan Garis Panduan Tiga Pihak mengenai Penyediaan Kawasan Rehat untuk Pekerja Luaran dan juga ingin mengambil kesempatan ini untuk meminta pemerintah untuk mengeluarkan pengabaian Keluasan Lantai Kasar untuk kawasan yang ditetapkan sebagai kawasan rehat untuk mendorong lebih banyak bangunan menumbuhkan kawasan rehat.
e. Saya juga berbincang mengenai pekerja migran dan ingin meminta pemerintah untuk mempertimbangkan semula FEDA dan meningkatkan ruang lingkupannya kepada asrama yang menempatkan kurang daripada 1000 pekerja untuk memastikan lebih atau semua pekerja asing di Singapura akan ditempatkan di penginapan yang teratur dan memenuhi peruntukan minimum untuk kesihatan dan keselamatan mereka. Saya juga berbincang mengenai pembayaran gaji elektronik wajib bagi pekerja migran bukan sahaja untuk memudahkan pekerja menguruskan kewangan mereka secara elektronik tetapi juga melindungi pekerja migran dari dieksploitasi kerana semua pembayaran gaji akan dicatat.
In conclusion, we have come a long way since the first few cases of COVID-19 appeared on our shores. There is still a long way to go, and inevitably there will be challenges along the way. However, as a country, we have weathered similar storms and emerged stronger. The government and NTUC are committed to helping workers every step of the way and will continue our fight for a fairer and more progressive society for all, because Every Worker Matters!
Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir, I support the Budget.

Thank you. 

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