Ministry of Manpower Committee of Supply 2017 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 6 March 2017)


Strengthening the Singaporean Core Workforce – Low Thia Khiang

Madam, if we want Singapore to remain a shining red dot for Singaporeans, it is important that we make every effort to strengthen the Singaporean core workforce and remove any potential impediment to the employment of Singaporean workers.

One potential impediment is our National Service liability. Disruptions caused by reservist call-up affect the employability of Singaporeans, especially in companies with fewer staff and less flexible operations. Two to three weeks absence from work could mean poorer performance reviews, or even reluctance by employers to hire workers with NS liabilities in the first place.

While the advanced notice period was meant to give employers a longer runway to re-allocate work, in reality, it does little to mitigate the effects of reservist call-up since employers will either have to ask other staff to cover the duties of the absent employee, which adds to their workload, or specially hire someone else to cover the worker’s duties for that short period. Hence, the government may want to consider an appropriate incentive scheme to encourage employers to employ NSmen, especially those who still have to fulfill high key ICTs.

Next, we must also maintain a Singaporean core leadership in every field and every industry if we want to see a truly vibrant Singapore with robust economic resilience in the face of challenges.  In this respect, I am happy to see the introduction of SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative in 2015 and the follow up by the government in this year’s budget announcing that it intends to groom 800 potential leaders in the next three years.

I request the minister to share more details on the initiative, and how it intends to identify and groom these potential leaders.


Young PMEs – Daniel Goh

Madam, the Government has rightly been doing more for senior PMEs, as they bear the brunt of retrenchments and the effect of restructuring. But we must not forget the younger PMEs, which have their own unique problems as a sizable segment in the workforce.

Moreover, young PMEs are now also facing substantial risks of being laid off and affected by restructuring. I would like to reiterate my call for the Ministry to allow all retrenched PMEs aged below 40 to qualify for the Career Support Programme without the condition of having to be unemployed for 6 months.

Another issue is that many young PMEs have been switching to contracts for service. Many are doing it for the flexibility of time and space, while some are doing it to expand the market for their skills, so that they can be engaged by overseas companies paying a better price. But this also makes them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, especially since they will not be able to lodge claims and obtain assistance through the usual channels.

The last issue I would like to highlight is in this category of young PMEs are many young mothers who would like to return to work after a period of leaving the workforce to care for infants. There was a well attended career fair organised by social enterprises last year that for the first time catered to women returning to work. I hope Workforce Singapore could look into career services targeting this special group of young PMEs.


National Jobs Bank – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Madam, the National Jobs Bank was set up in 2014 to support the implementation of the Fair Consideration Framework, and is set to evolve into an “online marketplace of jobs” that helps to map career ladders in different industries and offers recommendations on the types of skills and training workers require to get jobs they want. I have two recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the Jobs Bank in facilitating job-matching:

First, a key challenge in job-matching is ensuring that there is a match between an employee’s skills and the job requirements, as well as between expectations of employers and employees regarding the job. The Jobs Bank can enhance skills-matching by allowing job seekers who have just completed training courses to be automatically directed to job openings that require those skills. This dynamic matching will not only facilitate the job hunting process, it will also help job seekers recognise the value of learning new skills.

Second, I would like to propose that non-WSQ training providers be subject to a certification standard, ‘TrainTrust’, which can be modelled on EduTrust. To encourage providers to come onboard, courses and providers that are TrainTrust certified can be given priority on a list of courses that are recommended to Jobs Bank users. A certification standard will go some way in ensuring the quality of skills learned, and strengthen the trust of potential employers in the courses attended or certifications obtained by job seekers. It will also provide reassurance to job seekers on the value of the certification that they are spending time and effort to earn.

In addition, I also have two questions for the minister:

  1. What is the actual number of Singaporeans who have successfully found jobs through the Jobs Bank in each year since its inception in 2014;
  2. What proportion of the overall number of postings on the Jobs Bank is this?

Workplace and Job Redesign for Seniors – Chen Show Mao

Madam, we are living longer. It makes sense to help our older workers stay active in the workplace for longer if they so choose. When we make it possible for older workers to remain active in the workforce as they wish, we help them contribute to their own economic and social well being. In addition, their fellow workers and society in general also benefit from the full utilisation of their human capital.

Employers can help their older workers become more effective workers in their jobs by redesigning the workplace, the work processes, and even the job itself.

Last year saw several government initiatives in the area. WorkPro was enhanced in making grants to help companies (a) Implement age management practices; and (b) Redesign workplaces and processes for older workers. Also last year, a programme was launched to offer an array of courses for companies and individuals on Age Management @ Workplace–a programme administered by UniSIM, in collaboration with MOM and others. In addition, a Job Redesign Toolkit for companies developed by MOM, SNEF and NTUC was launched.

These government initiatives focus on efforts for Job Redesign for Older Workers at the enterprise level and they are welcome.

Could the Ministry look into making these efforts also at the industry level?

This is because While workplaces and processes may be particular to a company, different companies in the same industry share a great deal in common.

Perhaps resources could be pooled by companies in the industry to develop best practices, to modify tools and equipment for use off-the-shelf by older workers throughout the industry?

Perhaps Job Redesign for Older Workers could be identified as a key component of each Industry Transformation Map (ITM) currently being developed across the economy? Perhaps Job Redesign for Older Workers can be set out among the suite of initiatives for improving productivity in any given industry. We know Productivity is one of the four pillars supporting the growth and competitiveness plans of any given ITM.

Another way to envision Job Redesign for Older Workers as a key component of ITMs may be to think of it as a third Horizontal, along with Promoting ICT adoption and Skills development, which can help to support the ITMs and produce improvements across the economy in the face of an ageing workforce.


Welfare of Conservancy Workers – Png Eng Huat

Madam, an article on CNN caught my attention a few weeks ago. It tells the story of a hotel in a hiker’s paradise in West Scotland. The foreign workers there were promised specific jobs with decent salaries, but when they arrived, job scope was limitless, working hours were endless, and pay was meagre. The boss demanded additional payments from these workers to sponsor their visas, threatened to cancel their work permits if they do not cooperate, and warned them about arrest and deportation. The workers were treated like slaves. The owner of the hotel is now serving time for labour trafficking of a group of men from Bangladesh.

Modern slavery is happening everywhere, possibly exacerbated by globalisation. You can see modern slaves working in the heart of our estates. These foreign cleaners work late into the night, seven days a week, with no rest day and at low wages. They even work when they are injured or sick. They have to work non-stop because they are living in bondage. A bondage to the exorbitant agency fees and illegal “kickbacks” they have to pay.

There are are 1,200 cleaning companies engaging about 58,000 cleaners, both local and foreign, as of 30 September 2016. A $3,000 “kickback” per foreign worker will translate into some serious money even if just 10 per cent of the cleaning workforce were subject to the abuse. The math and the easy money are just too tempting for some people to pass up.

Foreign cleaners are reluctant to come forth with their stories for the fear of losing their livelihood. Many of them sold their possessions and borrowed heavily to come here to make a living. They have huge debts to pay and at the same time, hungry mouths to feed back home. Coming out against their employers will mean losing their jobs and everything; a risk they can ill afford to take. The masters of the modern slave trade know this fear very well and they milk these workers to the max.

Local cleaners are also not spared.   I have seen cases of local cleaners working without payslips or contracts. For some, their payslips comprise unexplained or unjustified deductions. Some are given payslips with no CPF contribution stated and they do not know why. Some are not sure about their basic employment benefits but they dare not confront their employers for fear losing their jobs. Some of these local cleaners are elderly and illiterate, and the next job may be hard to come by.

It is hard to imagine that despite all the education, publicity, and threat of prosecution, such practice still persists. Would the Ministry share its resolve and effort to effectively tackle such blatant disregard for the law and basic workers rights?

Collectively, the town councils in Singapore hire a substantial number of cleaners. I told my General Manager to inform the cleaning contractors in Hougang, I do not want such practice to surface in the estate. I am helped by warm-hearted residents who will not stand for any abuse of the cleaners in their neighbourhood as well.

Madam chair, every member in this chamber must not turn a blind eye to modern slavery. The cleanliness of our estates cannot come at the expense of the misery of the cleaners. It is time for us to clean up the cleaning industry for a change.


Improving Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) – Daniel Goh

Madam, I would like to repeat a long-held call for an increase in the percentage of the cash component for Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) payouts from the current 40% to 60%.

During last year’s budget, changes were made to the Workfare Income Supplement in order to, I quote, “provide a more direct and timely reward for work effort, and ensure that WIS continues to provide a meaningful level of support for eligible workers.” End of quote. There were four main changes, including a higher qualifying income ceiling, slightly higher payouts, monthly payments instead of quarterly, and increased contributions to the CPF Medisave and Special accounts.

The government however stopped short of increasing the cash component of the WIS from the current 40%. The last time this figure was revised was in 2013. While the four changes made to enhance the scheme were welcome and necessary, would increasing the cash component not provide a far more direct reward for work effort? Increasing the cash component would allow workers to benefit immediately from the fruits of their labour and be a source of motivation to strive harder to improve their quality of life. This way they could get promoted and improve their earnings, which is a more effective and encouraging way to help low-income workers build up retirement savings.


Employment Protection in the Gig Economy – Chen Show Mao

Madam, many calls have been made in this house over the past year for the proper protection of freelancers who operate in the rising gig economy. I wish to echo their concerns and reiterate their importance.

Currently, employment-related laws in Singapore, such as the Employment Act, the CPF Act, and the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) outline the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers, including contributions towards housing, retirement and medical benefits.

Unlike an employee, a freelancer performing work under a contract for service currently falls outside the scope of many provisions of our employment-related laws.

Last month, Minister Lim Swee Say told the House that the ministry is looking into results of a new survey commissioned to enable the Government to better understand the profiles of freelancers in Singapore. This initiative is welcome.

I hope it will lead the government to look into extending to freelancers more of the protection currently afforded employees under our employment related laws. Perhaps also to consider risk pooling mechanisms yielding protection for freelancers in the event of work injury?

Madam, let’s embrace the rise of the gig economy and protect our freelance workers who work in it.