SINGAPORE: The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Job Security Council has matched more than 10,000 workers to new jobs since its formation in February, but "we still have much to do", said NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng on Thursday (Jun 4).
In his speech in Parliament, Mr Ng said that NTUC had partnered with badly hit aviation companies, matching workers to new jobs in community work, healthcare and within the NTUC FairPrice Group, thus helping the firms avoid retrenchment.
He added that besides securing and preserving jobs, NTUC will continue to partner with companies that “have the capacity and vision” to seize opportunities emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even before COVID-19 hit us, our economy was already embarking on industry transformation brought about by technological disruption,” he said.
“COVID-19 has made it even more plain that businesses will need to work towards digitalisation and Industry 4.0 practices more urgently. This will help them position themselves and their workers for new opportunities post-COVID.”
To help companies chart a course of recovery from COVID-19 and exploit new technologies, NTUC is working closely with Temasek companies to push the Company Training Committees (CTCs) and prepare workers for Industry 4.0.
“NTUC will also redouble our efforts to partner companies through the CTC platform, to embark on Operations and Technology Roadmapping (OTR) to transform," he added.
For example, Energizer is bringing in better technology for its line machines to increase precision and create high-quality products, which need “better skilled operators”.
“Energizer and the United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries worked with an Institute of Higher Learning to curate a training programme for their operators to upskill in technology and work with the machines,” said Mr Ng.
“We must make use of this crisis to push for industry transformation and continue developing quality jobs for quality workers.”
READ: Fortitude Budget: S$2.9 billion to boost and extend Jobs Support Scheme; SMEs to get more rental relief
S$1.6M SUPPORT TO HELP COMPANIES MANAGE COSTS
Mr Ng admitted that there are “looming challenges ahead” and NTUC is “realistic” about the work that needs to be done.
“We have stabilised the COVID-19 spread in our community, but we still have much to do to overcome significant economic challenges. Many companies are at breaking point and many workers are struggling to cope.”
He added that there will be job losses in spite of efforts to preserve jobs, such as the Job Support Scheme, where the Government co-funds between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the first S$4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to each local employee.
READ: COVID-19: 75% wage subsidy for firms in all sectors to be extended till May, measures to cost S$3.8 billion
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on May 26 that the wage subsidies will be extended by one month for all firms under the S$33 billion Fortitude Budget.
Besides supporting the Job Support Scheme, NTUC is also helping businesses access other tools to keep costs manageable.
“In May alone, NTUC LearningHub helped more than 500 companies.” Mr Ng said. “As they sent their workers for over 20,000 days’ worth of training, these companies received up to S$80 a day in absentee payroll for each worker they sent.”
“If you do the math, it is up to S$1.6 million support.”
In the hotel industry for example, the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union worked with Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa to send workers for training under the Enhanced Training Support Package.
“This is a win-win situation for both workers and companies. Ultimately, workers stay in their jobs whereas companies get help with the payroll and have better skilled workers on hand, poised for the eventual upturn," said Mr Ng.
NTUC ‘COULD HAVE DONE BETTER’ IN ADMINISTERING SIRS
In his speech, Mr Ng also addressed Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Lim’s question about NTUC administering the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS).
“While it was an auto-inclusion scheme, it was announced that NTUC would be helping the Government administer appeals from those who are not auto-included,” she said.
“For those who appealed, NTUC has partially allowed some appeals. In some cases, appeals resulted in payment of a reduced amount at S$800 a month instead of S$1,000 per month.”
Ms Lim asked about NTUC’s criteria for allowing or rejecting appeals and the need to outsource the administration to NTUC in the first place, to which Mr Ng replied: "It is simply because we care."
Mr Ng added that NTUC took up the role at the request of the Ministry of Finance, not because it wants to be “at the centre of things” but because of its capabilities as a tripartite partner.
“If we look at the National Jobs Council that is set up, should NTUC not be in it? Should the Singapore Business Federation not be in it? If all of us are not together in this fight against COVID-19, I think we would have lost a capability unique to Singapore,” he said.
“There is space for business owners, NTUC and the workers to play a part. Tripartism is a strength.”
NTUC has also established the NTUC Training Fund (SEPs) to provide training and upgrading to self-employed persons (SEPs) and freelancers.
“I’m humble enough to say that NTUC could have done better in (handling) some of the SIRS things, but let us draw on those lessons when the time comes,” Mr Ng said.
READ: COVID-19: Eligible self-employed workers to receive S$9,000 in quarterly cash payouts under new income relief scheme
In their speeches, several MPs also called for greater focus on SEPs and older workers.
NTUC assistant director-general Ang Hin Kee proposed for more groups of SEPs such as tuition teachers, photographers and performers to be issued with a license and given assistance to help them contribute to their MediSave.
“For instance, self-employed persons such as private-hire drivers and tour guides hold a vocational licence and are contracted with an operator. That allowed accurate identification of those who have suffered a severe drop in income,” he said.
“Furthermore, self-employed persons who are registered with the unions could at least access immediate help offered by the NTUC.”
Meanwhile, NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How and assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari urged for a greater look into job preservation and creation for older workers.
“The circuit breaker period has illustrated cross-industry job possibilities,” Mr Heng said.
“Whether it is professional conversion programmes (PCPs) for older PMEs, full-time or part-time jobs ... Let us give older workers a fair go at these opportunities too.”
Mr Zainal called for a progressive wage model, where “essential services would be anchored by a skillful and productive workforce”, balanced with the young and old.
“As there will be older workers in these sectors, we also need to drive a change in our mindset. We must inculcate in all workers a growth mindset where one is never too old to learn new things,” he said.
“We need to encourage them to embrace technology to make the work safer and smarter.”