SINGAPORE: The best way to improve the lives of Singapore's workers is gainful employment, in good jobs with good wages, said NTUC deputy secretary-general Ng Chee Meng on Tuesday (May 15) in Parliament.
“We need employers to maintain a nimble mindset and workers to help themselves by upgrading their work skills,” he explained. “Both employees and employers must stay relevant in the evolving business environment. This is the best solution because wages can only increase with productivity gains. Real wage increase is necessary to keep up with inflation, to cope with the cost of living.”
But Singaporeans are not acting on these strategies fast enough, said Mr Ng at the opening of his speech.
“Companies and workers must embark on this transformation journey now … The Labour Movement will need to push the transformation agenda by working even closer with Government and businesses,” said the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
He pointed out that Singapore currently enjoys high employment and real income growth for its workers, with median income rising almost 22 per cent in the last five years.
But Mr Ng noted that workers were also “reasonably” worried about rising cost of living and making ends meet.
“There are concerns about buying a home, about their retirement savings, about healthcare costs, and having enough for their children’s education,” he outlined. “They sometimes feel that no matter how hard they work, these needs may not always be adequately addressed.”
THREE AREAS OF CONCERN
Mr Ng said he was most worried by low-wage, mature and middle-aged, middle-income workers.
He proposed expanding the use of the Inclusive Growth Programme to support sectors with low wage growth, and to ensure independent freelancers or project-based employees enjoy CPF protection, medical coverage and skills development.
“I note that the Tripartite Workgroup for Freelancers and Self-employed is currently working in this area, and we are keenly watching their progress,” said Mr Ng.
On the issue of mature workers, he said: “The real question here is whether employers are willing to employ senior workers instead of having the fixed mindset that these workers are a burden, more expensive and untrainable … For many of them, the job is essential – just like us, they have expenses, mortgages, and dependants relying on them.”
The labour movement continues to work with companies to implement age management policies and practices, and the Government also subsidises employers the net cost of employing mature workers.
But Mr Ng said the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices should be empowered to look into this area, and do more.
“Furthermore, I propose to set up a new Tripartite Committee to provide better support for our ageing workforce, and help our mature workers to continue working if they choose to,” he added.
Moving on to middle-aged, middle-income workers, Mr Ng commented that their earnings may just suffice to meet their needs, with their income growth not particularly high.
“This is because some of their skill-sets are diminishing in demand, or they lack the opportunities to progress … similar to mature workers, the entrenched mindsets against hiring middle-aged workers is worrying,” he said.
Mr Ng then briefly spoke about making the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) “real” for all working people, from professionals in the finance sector to workers on shop floors - by distilling the ITMs into actionable, purposeful training programmes.
“It is critical that our businesses take the lead and do the right thing, that when our workers do their best, remember to share the gains with their workers and give them what is fairly theirs,” he said in conclusion.
“We must continue to close social gaps by addressing the struggles of all our working people, especially the sandwiched middle-class and lower income workers. Help will always be available to those who need it, whether for employment, housing or education.
“Those who have done better should reach out to the less fortunate. In Singapore, no one - no one - should be left behind.”