Do more for people with disabilities, essential workers; invest in technology and green living, say MPs

Do more for people with disabilities, essential workers; invest in technology and green living, say MPs

A man in a wheelchair crossing a road in Singapore
A man in a wheelchair. (File photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Members of Parliament (MPs) on Friday (Sep 4) called for more attention to be given to the less privileged and essential workers, while emphasising the need to invest in emerging technologies, green living and education for the future.

Four MPs who spoke on the fifth day of the debate on the President’s Address were making their maiden speeches as newly elected MPs. They include Workers’ Party MP Gerald Giam, a former Non-Constituency MP who is back in the House as an elected MP for Aljunied GRC.

Mr Giam said more can be done to help people with disabilities seek employment.

Employers commonly assume that people with disabilities cannot perform on the job as well as able-bodied people, he said, citing several people who, although qualified for the job, have been rejected because of their disability.

“In fact, with modern assistive technologies, PWDs (persons with disability) can be as productive at work as their able bodied colleagues,” he said.

While the Government has done well with schemes such as the Enabling Employment Credit, Mr Giam said that these efforts need to be “complemented with better education, better public education for both employers and the general public” so as to clear misconceptions about people with disabilities in the workplace.

Anti-discrimination legislation can also be introduced to ensure that employers do not discriminate on the basis of disability, he added.

Migrants workers are another disadvantaged group that need to be protected, Mr Giam said.

“At the heart of the many issues that migrant workers in Singapore face is their lack of bargaining power, vis-a-vis other parties like employers, the Government and employment agencies,” he said, adding that this makes them “susceptible” to being taken advantage of.

Many migrant workers pay up to S$10,000 to secure jobs in Singapore, he said, adding that some have to make cash payments of up to S$4,000 to third parties to renew their contracts or to find another job. 

They have to take up huge loans and pay the loans back with salaries of S$500 to S$800 a month, which makes them “almost like indentured labour” for much of their time in Singapore, said Mr Giam, adding that some “unscrupulous employers” are also “in on the act”.

He urged the Ministry of Manpower “to step up enforcement and intelligence gathering, so that errant parties can be taken to task and made an example of”.

Mr Giam also proposed setting up a job portal for migrant workers so that they do not have to go through intermediaries to find new companies after their contracts end. This will reduce opportunities for collecting “kickbacks” and “correct some of the power imbalance that currently exists”, he said.

The opposition MP also wondered if technology can be used to improve the current approach to means testing for social assistance schemes. The current process requires too much paperwork and imposes “an undue burden” on those that the schemes are intended to help, he said.

He added that the Government already has the capability to integrate and automate such systems and has been building capabilities in data analytics.

“We clearly have the technical capabilities to collect taxes efficiently and seamlessly. Can we now develop the same capabilities for dispersing social assistance to deserving individuals and families?”

READ: PAP MPs call for increased support for vulnerable families, including 'socialising' pre-school education

TRANSITIONAL PARKING FOR FOOD DELIVERY RIDERS 

Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Hany Soh spoke on the need to look out for food delivery riders, saying many of them are part of the country’s lower-wage workforce but are essential workers keeping Singapore running during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She suggested implementing a transitional parking arrangement with a 15-minute grace period for these food delivery riders. Commercial malls in Singapore could also provide designated food delivery pick-up points.

“Being a food delivery rider is not an easy job. They earn their wages by being constantly on the road and weathering the elements as they go,” said Ms Soh.

“Because of the nature of their work and the tight deadlines imposed on them, they are often at risk of incurring such penalties - around S$70 for fines imposed by LTA (Land Transport Authority) enforcement officers and about S$300 for clamping charges imposed by the management of shopping malls.

“More or often than not, these are due to the lack of designated parking facilities for delivery riders,” she added.

Transitional parking and designated food delivery pick-up points would therefore provide a “win-win situation” which reduces the risk of fines and charges for illegal parking. This, in turn, enables a smooth food collection and delivery process, she said.

INVEST IN TECH, DO MORE TO TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE

Raising awareness about climate change was another issue raised by Ms Soh, who noted that more developed countries are now pushing for “green living” and sustainability.

“We must do the same here in Singapore with regards to increasing awareness and taking action as a society,” she said.

Citing transport as an example, Ms Soh suggested that authorities could explore opening up carpooling rights to taxi operators to maximise the usage capacity of each vehicle.

Doing so will help to reduce the country’s overall carbon footprint, she added.

Jurong GRC MP Shawn Huang spoke of the need to invest in technology, as part of his speech on how Singapore can remain relevant in a changing world.

He said Singapore “must be courageous to be a leader in emerging technologies” such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence that will eventually shape the future.

Singapore must also be ready for mainstream quantum computing, which “may arrive sooner than anticipated”, he said, adding that the country has “untapped potential” to address global challenges like climate change and the discovery of drugs and vaccines. 

READ: MPs push for workplace gender equality, better senior care and improvements to parliamentary proceedings

He cited how Google’s quantum computer achieved a milestone last year when it solved a 10,000-year problem in just mere seconds.

From a medical standpoint, this could enable researchers to crunch data on more than 40,000 genes from 17,000 genetic samples – an effort that may help in the understanding of the COVID-19 virus strain and the synthesising of a viable vaccine, said Mr Huang.

“When the first generation of computers became commercially available, it revolutionised the workforce and created new fields of jobs that never existed. We must be ready to ride on the next wave of opportunities," he added.

SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING

MPs also urged the Government to promote lifelong learning - especially for seniors.

In her speech, West Coast GRC MP Rachel Ong said people would be more open to exploring new possibilities in life if they saw age as “a qualifier”, rather than a barrier.

She pointed to a colleague who joined her team in her late 40s and had wondered if she was too old to start a career in a new sector. Ms Ong recounted that she and her team assured the colleague that it was her age and experience that they valued. And now, at 58, she is “flourishing” at work, said Ms Ong.

She asked: “Instead of focusing on limitations, what if we could help our family and our residents identify what they can do at every age and season of their lives?”

A suggested was put forward by Ms Soh, meanwhile, for the ministries of education and law to teach seniors about the law, including consumer rights and the importance of estate planning.

READ: Opposition MPs urge review of national policies on race, balance of interests between locals and foreigners

Ms Soh noted that residents often go to the Law Society Pro Bono Services’ Community Legal Clinics’ Committee - where she serves as co-chairperson - when they encounter “unfortunate situations” like scams or when their spouses become critically ill or have passed on abruptly.

“They are invariably helpless and financially-strapped during these period of times,” she said.

“My experience had informed me that prevention is better than cure; I therefore think that upstream legal education is important, equipping them with knowledge of their rights in order to better prepare them for potential situations concerning legal matters.”

Source: CNA/sk(gs)

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