GE2020: Workers' Party revives redundancy insurance proposal amid COVID-19 uncertainty

GE2020: Workers' Party revives redundancy insurance proposal amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Hammer Show screengrab Jul 6, 2020
A screengrab from the Workers' Party's Hammer Show on Jul 6, 2020.

SINGAPORE: The Workers' Party (WP) said on Monday night (Jul 6) that it will push for a reconsideration of its proposal for redundancy insurance given the challenges of the post-COVID environment.

This and other issues related to employment and workers were discussed in a pre-recorded webcast on Facebook moderated by WP chief Pritam Singh and featuring GE2020 candidates Dennis Tan, Leon Perera, Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim and Raeesah Khan.

Mr Tan, who is running in Hougang SMC, said that when the party first raised the idea of redundancy insurance in Parliament in 2017, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) "rejected it outright", but with the COVID crisis, the proposal may be worth re-looking.

This is as more businesses are expected to shutter and more workers are facing job losses due to COVID-19 and the ensuing economic fallout. 

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There have been various types of government handouts for those who have lost incomes, for the self-employed and for nearly all adult Singaporeans to tide them over the COVID-19 crisis, with billions drawn from Singapore's reserves to fund them.

"The Government cannot be expected to give handouts from government coffers and reserves each time there is a retrenchment and they won't do that," Mr Tan, a shipping lawyer, said.

"Effectively you can continue to feed your family, pay your bills for some time and I think in the current situation many people, particularly those who have been affected or will soon be affected by redundancy, will look at redundancy insurance with a very different perspective," he said. 

"This is taking place in a post-COVID world which the PAP is very unfamiliar with."

He added that there should be safeguards built into the scheme to avoid abuses. 

Mr Tan's comments came after WP candidate for East Coast GRC Kenneth Foo spoke on what the scheme, which has been in the party's manifestos since 2011, aims to do and how it could work.

The payouts would come from a centrally pooled funds that both workers and employers contribute to, he said. WP estimates that the premium would come up to S$4 to S$4.50 a month per worker, or about 0.1 per cent of the median income of Singaporeans. Employers would be required to match workers' contributions.

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A retrenched worker would receive the equivalent of 40 per cent of their last drawn salary for up to six months, capped at S$1,200 a month with a minimum payout of S$500 to benefit low-wage workers. 

Payouts after the first payout will be conditional on the worker actively seeking a new job or undergoing re-training.

Mr Foo said: "We presented our policy in Parliament in May 2017 but was rejected. However, we at the Workers' Party believe that RI (redundancy insurance) is sensible, reasonable and affordable. It deserves further consideration by Parliament. With your support, we will push this policy proposal in Parliament."

This proposal was last presented by former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Associate Professor Daniel Goh as an adjournment motion. 

During the debate, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and PAP labour MPs had pointed out that it could reduce the incentive to work and lead to some unintended effects. Mrs Teo also said that WP’s projected salary contribution to the scheme was too low.

The panellists on the Hammer Show, WP's equivalent of e-rallies this election, also discussed issues such as Singapore's dependence on foreign workers, support for gig economy workers, underemployment and the introduction of a minimum wage.

This episode of the Hammer Show, that is aired nightly during the campaign period, was aired as PAP leaders have emphasised that jobs and job security are the main concerns of Singaporeans during this election and pandemic.

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Marine Parade GRC candidate Yee Jenn Jong said in a speech on the show that a minimum wage of S$1,300 should be introduced, a proposal that is also from the WP's manifesto.

This would benefit more than 100,000 Singaporeans who earn a take-home pay of less than S$1,300, which the party said is the amount an average four-person household in Singapore would need to spend a month on basic necessities, Mr Yee said.

Singapore's Government has repeatedly rejected proposals for a minimum wage to be imposed but has addressed the issue of depressed wages in certain sectors with the Progressive Wage Model.

The scheme allows workers' wages in the cleaning, security and landscape industries to rise along with training and improvements in productivity and standards, says the Manpower Ministry.

Mr Tan said that the minimum wage would help provide a "living wage" to all Singaporeans, unlike the Progressive Wage Model, which only applies to certain sectors.

"The Progressive Wage (Model) has not raised the salaries to a level that allows all Singaporeans to live with dignity," he said.

He added near the end of the roughly 45-minute show: "The COVID crisis, the economic fallout and the challenges of the post-COVID world with possible deglobalisation should force us to re-think our past assumptions and sacred cows such as minimum wage and redundancy insurance."

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Source: CNA/hm(rw)

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