NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay took the opportunity in his Budget Debate speech to highlight the plight faced by PMEs during the pandemic, and the need to protect and support this group of workers – especially those in their 40s to 60s.
Mr Tay also proposed three ways of how local PMEs can be better supported. These include introducing tougher measures to strengthen the Singaporean core, instituting anti-discriminatory legislation, as well as providing transitionary or unemployment insurance.
He said: “We recognise the growing need to ensure PMEs are adequately protected, have access to good jobs and are equipped with the relevant skills.
“As we prepare for the next normal, it is important that we continue to entrench progressive and fair practices at workplaces and extend schemes to support local PMEs, especially the vulnerable workers.”
Mr Tay said that while many recognise the contributions made by foreign PMEs, there are concerns that the reliance on foreign PMEs has led to an unnecessary increase in competition in the local job market and employment.
Giving the example of employers who downgraded their Employment Pass holders to S-Pass to avert the policy changes, he suggested the need to further strengthen the S-Pass criteria and conditions to prevent such a “back-door” approach from happening, as well as employing stricter enforcement against errant companies.
He also suggested imposing mandatory audits and penalties such as removing preferential tax and other benefits like curtailing the award of public sector contracts on companies with discriminatory hiring practices and a high proportion of grievance cases if no improvement is made within a stipulated period.
“To safeguard the Singaporean Core and curb discriminatory hiring, we must ensure that Singaporean PMEs have access to a level-playing field for jobs while balancing companies’ manpower needs in the immediate and longer-term,” he said.
Besides nationality discrimination, Mr Tay said that ageism is another problem faced by PMEs, especially the more mature ones.
He suggested anti-discrimination legislation to empower existing institutions like the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).
Mr Tay said that legislation could send a stronger signal than the current tripartite standards and guidelines – giving TAFEP wider powers to eradicate all forms of discrimination and discriminatory practices at workplaces by employers, as well as employment agents or agencies.
Mr Tay suggested that it might be good to consider some form of transitionary insurance to help workers who have lost their jobs.
He said that such schemes have worked well in countries like Germany and some of the Scandinavian countries – without causing excessive burdens on governments, employers, and employees alike.
He said: “However, I am cognizant that there is a need to do a deeper dive and examine the mechanics and the actuarial viability and sustainability of such a scheme.
“There are important considerations such as the trigger event, premium amounts, duration, and amount of pay-outs, whether it should be made compulsory to avoid self-selection, how we price the risk, the need for a critical mass or universality and whether it is to be implemented by any of our tripartite partners or all three partners together or by a private sector entity or a social enterprise.”