SINGAPORE: The Labour Movement said on Thursday (Feb 25) it will work with the government in efforts to restructure the economy, especially as the issues facing the economy are not just cyclical, but structural.
In its recommendations for Budget 2016, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said the Employment Act should be examined to explore how to protect workers in Contracts for Service in addition to those in Contracts of Service it now protects. For self-employed workers, NTUC suggested that more be done to ensure they have CPF contributions and hence the necessary medical and retirement resource support, it added in a paper submitted to the Finance Ministry.
It also called for the Government to consider mandating a limit to the number of short-term contract extensions such that after the limit is hit, the employer will have to hire the worker.
"In line with this, we urge the Government to outlaw unfair practices such as employers requiring a one-day break in between contracts so that the employee does not enjoy length of service benefits," it said.
STRICTER EMPLOYMENT PASS CRITERIA FOR "SINGAPOREAN CORE"
The Labour Movement asked for the Employment Pass criteria to be reviewed so as to meet the varied needs of industries while incentivising them towards building a strong Singaporean core.
"Companies which have shown commitment towards building a Singaporean core should be differentiated from those who have not. This is to ensure our workers have fair opportunities at their workplaces," NTUC said. "At the same time, the Government should tighten enforcement on companies that show no intent to develop a Singaporean core of workers."
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay suggested that the Government could also impose more stringent criteria for those applying for employment passes, besides the Fair Consideration Framework, as well as the advertisement requirements in the jobs banks.
The Labour Movement also urged the Government to do more to support younger workers, particularly the Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs), and those still in school. To this end, it hoped to see an integrated career counselling system in place to prepare students for the workplace, and for workers to stay relevant in the global marketplace.
VARYING THE RETIREMENT AGE
NTUC also suggested the Government study if there should be a shift from the current structure of a single retirement age to a more variegated one beyond 62, noting that some companies already had agreements allowing work beyond 62 years old.
NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How said: "We are seeing a whole lot of different retirement ages in international practice according to individual circumstance of the countries. We see in other countries industry, occupation-based type retirement ages even in the same country.
"In our own laws, currently we also have already the provision for exemptions, mostly for retiring earlier than 62, but we also see companies or groups of companies making their own calculations, making company level retirement policy that goes above the 62."
Mr Heng said there was scope for the tripartite partners to explore how to allow for more flexibility on the retirement age, based on industry, sector or occupation and consider the possibility of incentivising this.
This would allow companies to tap more fully into a source of experienced manpower and would therefore be an advantage to companies in Singapore's tight labour market, he said.
REDUCING THE INCOME GAP
For low-wage workers, NTUC hopes the Government would take the lead in redesigning jobs for these workers towards a better remuneration outcome, reiterating the point made by Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari earlier this month.
Mr Zainal noted that the Ministry of Manpower had earlier reported that there was an increasing income gap between workers at the 20th percentile, estimated to be earning a gross salary of around S$1,800, compared to workers at the 50th percentile, estimated to be earning a gross salary of around S$3,460.
"Ideally, if the income of those at the 20th percentile could be at two thirds of the median income, that would be good. So we need to make sure that the rate of wage increase to those at the 20th percentile is faster than those at the 50th percentile," he said.
One way that NTUC is trying to do this, said Mr Zainal, is by asking for a review of the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) criteria to ensure that the pay-outs continue to be targeted at the bottom 20th income percentile, since incomes have changed over time. Additionally, the criteria should be based on basic wages rather than gross wages, as this will take into account overtime work, it said.
Mr Zainal said currently there are about 400,000 people benefiting from the Workfare Income Supplement scheme, under which older lower-wage workers can receive cash and CPF payouts to help with expenditure needs and retirement savings.
He also suggested that the payment of annual increments and annual wage supplement can be made compulsory for low wage workers.
IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY AND UPGRADING SKILLS
To improve productivity, NTUC said it hopes the various committees driving Sectoral Manpower Plans can set productivity benchmarks for businesses in their sectors.
These plans should not just focus on the new jobs but also include upgrading existing jobs, it elaborated.
"Beyond sharing good examples, we need to work with companies to implement solutions. As we bring more companies together, there can be more cross-companies collaborations and mass adoption to raise productivity at the industry level," said Chief Executive Officer of the Employment and Employability Institute Gilbert Tan.
The Labour Movement also urged the Government to continue supporting workers in upgrading their skills, especially through the SkillsFuture programme.
Said Mr Tay: “For those companies who want to really hire and develop their talents, if there's a skills gap we can have professional conversion programmes, where we can have training upgrading or re-skilling programmes to help them. I think the government should give them the full hundred per cent support to facilitate that."