MPs make suggestions on improving workers’ skills, work environment in Budget debate

MPs make suggestions on improving workers’ skills, work environment in Budget debate

In debating the Budget this year, they noted the need to support workers in upgrading or changing their skills, and providing more support for women and low-wage workers

SINGAPORE: Workers who need help with acquiring new skills, with managing a low income and with taking care of their families even as they work were the focus of some Members of Parliament who spoke on Tuesday (Feb 27) about the social aspects of this year’s Budget.

Employees working in industries where jobs are increasingly being automated need a robust continuous education framework put in place so they can change or upgrade their skills, said MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Darryl David.

He also spoke of the need to help employees who are displaced by technological changes and innovations to learn new skills. He suggested that the Government use Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) to identify jobs that will be made obsolete and redundant in these industries, and help employees in those jobs transit into new roles in other sectors where demand for manpower is growing

The aim of the ITMs in 23 industries like retail, environmental services and security is to give employees better wages, and better support for upgrading.

Labour MP Patrick Tay suggested that the adult learning model has to be reworked.

"The speed of demand for new skills is faster than the speed of supply of new skills. For every company which has lost out in the digital race, such as Kodak and Borders, there are new companies which are flourishing, such as Carousell and Airbnb,”  said Mr Tay, who is assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

There is a need to make available "bite-sized" and "just-in-time" training so that  working people can keep abreast of the latest developments in their work domains, he added, giving the example of a cybersecurity practitioner who needs to keep up with the latest threats being given training within 24 hours through bite-sized updates that last two to three minutes.

Speaking on the same topic, MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah suggested that the Government consider investing more resources in SkillsFuture credits. Calling the scheme that provides S$500 to each Singaporean to apply for courses a “crucial component” of the future economy, she proposed giving more credits to those who have already used theirs.

“Those who have utilised their SkillsFuture credits have found the scheme to be encouraging, and more importantly, they have gained useful skills that will help them in their careers, or even just to enrich their lives and learn something new,” she said.


Companies in various sector can do more to support female workers in balancing work and family commitments such as through Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA), said Nominated Member of Parliament K Thanaletchmi.

“While the top management of most companies are supportive of flexible work arrangement in principle ... it does not seem that such support trickles down to every level within the organisation. Departments and supervisors do not know exactly how to implement FWA successfully,” Ms Thanaletchmi said.

She made two suggestions on enhancing FWA in her speech in Parliament. First, a study on the plight of working women so as to better understand the issues face by different industries, and secondly, to mandate the right to request for FWA if all efforts to persuade employers fail.

Apart from FWA, Ms Thanaletchmi also said that the Government should consider mandating caregiving leave as such roles often fall on the shoulders of women, and some of them get penalised when they have to perform caregiving duties.

Expanding on the issue of support for workers who have caregiving needs, MP for Tampines GRC Desmond Choo asked if existing leave schemes such as eldercare or family care leave can be made mandatory.

Young parents who have to take care of young children and older parents will require more support, he said.

“Such families would have to cope with the stresses and rising costs of looking after children and meet the needs of healthcare and other forms of care for their aged parents. Therefore, we need to review how our subsidies for childcare and student care are structured, especially for parents with more than one young child and also elderly parents to take care of,” he said.

MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari paid particular attention to low-wage workers in his speech, and raised three suggestions to improve the retirement adequacy for this group of the labour force.

The first is to create a committee to review current CPF contribution rates for older workers, and to consider a universal rate for the portion of employers’ contribution until the worker is 65 years old. Currently, the employer’s contribution rates fall progressively after the worker reaches 55 years of age.

“Many workers, regardless of their age, are already being paid based on the job value as we have moved away from a seniority-based wage structure. Moreover, given longer life expectancy, workers need to build on their retirement savings. There are also many who still need to service their mortgage loans as well as take care of their aged parents who are living longer,” said Mr Zainal.

Having a universal rate for employer’s CPF contribution may not be a bad idea and would be especially beneficial for low-wage workers, he said.

Mr Zainal also called for the Annual Wage Supplement to be made mandatory for all workers, arguing that the “very group that needs it most is not receiving it”.

He also gave a third suggestion of mandating employers to pay for the full cost of outpatient treatment for their employees.

“While a clear majority or 86 per cent of employers do offer outpatient benefits beyond the required statutory requirements on a voluntary basis, it is the low-wage workers who are being hurt the most by the limited medical coverage under the Employment Act,” Mr Zainal said.

Source: CNA/fs