SINGAPORE: Some Members of Parliament (MPs) debating the Budget called for more help for those caught in economic headwinds or structural changes that leave them unemployed, with suggestions ranging from redundancy insurance to laws that protect Singaporean workers against discrimination.
Ms Sylvia Lim of the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) said that the potential flipside to the push to embrace technology was unemployment for some workers, who would in turn need a "safety net" to help them through these periods.
“Economic restructuring and downturns from time to time will result in redundancies. It is also inevitable that if we succeed in our productivity and automation drive, people will be displaced from their jobs," she said in Parliament on Monday (Apr 4).
“In this transition, there are hard-working Singaporeans and their families being pushed into limbo. As a society, we should devise some safety nets to give them some peace of mind.”
She proposed a “redundancy insurance” to tide Singaporeans through economic difficulties.
“It will require workers resident in Singapore and their employers to each contribute a very small percentage of the employee’s monthly salary towards a fund, to help workers who undergo involuntary unemployment - meaning those made redundant, including those terminated with notice,” Ms Lim explained, calling this a “feasible scheme”.
She suggested the fund could provide a six-month payout at 40 per cent of the worker’s last drawn salary, subject to a cap based on median wage.
“Such a modest scheme with limited payouts will send a clear signal that it is only a temporary buffer created, incentivising workers to prepare to earn their own income again,” said Ms Lim.
“The individual will seamlessly have recourse to his this fund which he contributed to. He may not need to queue up at a social assistance agency and tap on public monies. He need not grab the first job opportunity that comes along, but be able to take a bit of time to hold out for a suitable job - enabling better employee to job fit, and sustainability.”
Also speaking on the first day of the Budget debate was Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who noted that those who are mid-career, and those higher up in the corporate ladder, form a “vulnerable group” in the current economic environment.
“Some are already retrenched and taking jobs with lower wages. A small number would have taken up driving taxis, or joined Uber or Grab. A few more were fortunate enough to find jobs, but in postings overseas,” he said.
“We must not allow employers to furtively downgrade and reshuffle local staff under a guise of economic restructuring, such that they create openings in senior ranks for expatriates, to take over from the locals.
“Even as we help to support our people through change in this Budget, I strongly urge the government to give more bite to TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices) to reinforce what measures we’re doing now for the medium- to long-term,” said Mr Saktiandi, an economist with Maybank. He added that he is “all for introducing wider laws to protect against discriminatory practices.”
STRENGTHENING THE SINGAPOREAN CORE
Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh of the WP echoed the sentiment, calling on the Government to “power and strengthen the Singaporean core”.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his Budget speech in March that S$4.5 billion would be set aside for firms and industries under a new Industry Transformation Programme. Mr Heng also announced plans for Jurong Innovation District, touted as a "next-generation" industrial park.
But Assoc Prof Goh expressed concerns that the proposed Jurong Innovation District could become an industrial “enclave”, with “foreign MNCs and venture capitalists congregating with more foreign researchers and managers”.
He said in Parliament: “They will live, work, and play with an exclusive group of local elites selected to interact with them. My concern is that the Jurong Innovation District, by virtue of its exclusive urban design, will become a high-tech island detached from the rest of Singapore, from the heartland estates where Singaporeans and Singapore enterprises are supposed to be the beneficiaries of innovation.
“Are we creating mega ivory towers – one surrounding NUS, and the other surrounding NTU? How will the science parks plug back into Singapore society to diffuse creativity, and innovation into the rest of the city?”
The ultimate beneficiary of such developments must be Singaporeans, he said.
“It is not a matter of just plonking talents together, and getting them to talk and work with each other. We need to focus on developing more Singaporean innovators, as well as retaining non-Singaporeans who would help Singaporeans innovate," said Assoc Prof Goh.
HELPING YOUTHS FIND JOBS
On Monday, Tampines MP Desmond Choo also proposed two initiatives to better facilitate employment for youths: Industry-led integrated career counselling and an apprenticeship rather than internship system.
“The Ministry of Education can partner the Labour Movement in the latter’s broad economic representation to guide our youths in choosing the right paths. And the Government can have the Labour Movement to run their career counselling services,” he suggested.
“This then allows students the opportunities to tap on the unions’ extensive network to understand jobs through industry networking, workshops and workplace visits. Post-graduation, this relationship continues seamlessly into the Labour Movement’s network of career development opportunities.”
Mr Choo pointed to the German and Swiss model of apprenticeship as a means to better equip youths with industry-relevant skills for work.
“Can the Government consider further incentivising companies, especially promising SMEs, to start apprenticeship schemes as opposed to just internship programmes commonly implemented today?” Mr Choo said.
“Employees and unionists can be trained to become certified mentors and appraisers. And because students and workers know that what they learn is practical, they will more likely stay on the job.”
“We can create an ecosystem of continual upgrading that is truly win-win-win. In preparing workers for the future, a tripartite partnership is and will be an important catalyst."