MPs debate help for SMEs and low-wage workers

MPs debate help for SMEs and low-wage workers

Debating the President's address, MPs touch on challenges brought about by a fast-changing world, and what Singapore must do to survive and remain exceptional.

SINGAPORE: The second day of the parliamentary debate on the President's address saw several Members of Parliament speaking on challenges brought about by a fast-changing world, and what Singapore must do to survive and remain exceptional.

The question on the minds of many in the House was how Singapore can remain plugged into the new world, as it embarks on the next chapter of its economic story.

HELPING SMEs GROW

Making his maiden speech, MP for Nee Soon GRC Henry Kwek proposed ways to grow the future economy. For instance, he suggested giving ample opportunities for Singapore-based businesses and start-ups to grow.

He explained: "Many of our economic agencies are pro-business, but many regulations fall outside their purview. Let me share a light-hearted example from the traditional economy. Try putting a food-truck on side of any road in Singapore. You know that you would have to apply a permit for every separate location you put it at? But is this really necessary? After all, if NEA (National Environment Agency) has certified this food truck for safety, is it necessary to have a location-based licence for every location? After all, don't we have solid rules on traffic obstruction?”

Mr Kwek added: “Regulations should protect the essential. But in most areas of the new economy, Singapore can strike a better balance between stability and opportunity."

Also speaking up for enterprises was new office holder Dr Koh Poh Koon, who touched on the need to transform small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and support entrepreneurs. He said the firms need to pursue growth through innovation and internationalisation.

He cited the example of local online start-up ShopBack, which is built on the premise of giving cash back to its online shoppers. Within a span of 18 months, the company has expanded to Indonesia and the Philippines, with over 400,000 regional users.

However, Dr Koh noted that the company's initial proposal for Government funding had been rejected, and he urged the Government to rethink the way entrepreneurs are supported. The Government has to ask itself how to create a more conducive ecosystem for entrepreneurs, and if there are hindrances to remove so that start-ups and ideas can thrive, said the MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC.

“Will over-supportive policies stifle the fighting spirit and the desire to succeed, much like how over-watering a plant kills it? How do we calibrate the relationship between Government and industry to ensure the optimal amount of intervention and creative tension exist?” Dr Koh added. “As we move from SG50 towards SG100, and cast our thoughts on what our future economy entails, these are questions that we need to think carefully about.”

MORE HELP NEEDED FOR LOW-WAGE WORKERS

MPs also raised concerns on the challenges faced by workers and what needs to be done to protect and prepare them for the new economy. Groups that were highlighted include freelancers or contract workers, PMETs, as well as low-income workers.

MP Zainal Sapari called for more affirmative action to help low-wage workers. He pointed to the annual recommendations by the National Wages Council (NWC), which as it stands now, are just guidelines for companies.

“It was a laudable move in 2012 when the NWC made specific recommendations to help low-wage workers. Unfortunately, many workers in non-unionised companies and those working in outsourced industries still have not received the recommended dollar quantum increase,” said Mr Zainal.

“Employers out there view NWC’s recommendations as merely guidelines. Therefore, I strongly call for legislation on some sections of the recommendations. The dollar quantum wage increments should be made mandatory for employees in the 20th and 30th percentile, in terms of basic salary. Alternatively, the Government could explore making this mandatory in the three industries - cleaning, security and landscape - by factoring these as part of the licensing conditions."

The cleaning, security and landscape sectors have all embarked on the Progressive Wage Model, designed to boost the pay of low-wage workers through training and enhanced productivity.

Source: CNA/xq