GE2020: PAP responds to concerns on the ground about COVID-19, lays out key measures for navigating outbreak
SINGAPORE: The People's Action Party (PAP) held a press conference on Wednesday morning (Jul 8) - the last day of campaigning for the General Election - during which members laid out key economic and social measures meant to help Singaporeans navigate the COVID-19 outbreak.
The three PAP candidates who spoke were Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Ng Chee Meng and Mr Desmond Lee.
Mr Chan, who is the Minister for Trade and Industry, said he had sensed from walking the ground during the hustings that people were concerned with their "lives, their livelihoods and their future".
He said this is why he is speaking on the last day of campaigning to "draw together the various threads" of what the Government is doing to save jobs, attract investments to Singapore and help those in need.
He said he wanted Singaporeans to know that the PAP Government is "entirely focused" on helping them overcome the upcoming challenges.
“Fellow Singaporeans have given us the feedback that they want the Government to be focused on helping them overcome the challenges and emerge stronger from this,” said Mr Chan, who is leading a team to contest in Tanjong Pagar GRC this election.
“I'm confident that when the voters go to the polls, they will know very clearly – what are the options ahead of them, which is the party that will best lead them out of this crisis, which is the party that will best work with them to overcome the challenges together."
SINGAPORE MUST MANAGE FALLOUT FROM GLOBAL CHALLENGES: CHAN CHUN SING
Singapore must be wary of global challenges that lie ahead, even though most of its economic activities have resumed since the country entered Phase 2 of its reopening after the COVID-19 "circuit breaker", said Mr Chan.
These challenges are evident in the manufacturing sector, MICE industry as well as aviation and tourism sectors, he added.
“The global downside challenges are not insignificant. And we must be prepared, that we will have to manage the fallout from these global challenges in the coming months,” said Mr Chan.
READ: Singapore will invest to develop its ‘intangible strengths’ to tackle COVID-19 impact on livelihoods: Chan Chun Sing
On Singapore’s labour market outlook, he highlighted that in the next three to six months, the headwinds against Singapore’s business activities are expected to continue and the Government has to “closely watch” retrenchment and unemployment numbers.
The Government “will need to create 100,000 jobs and trading opportunities in the coming 12 months” and is particularly concerned with middle-aged workers who “need to be rescued”.
“There's an urgent need for us to re-skill our middle-aged people ... However, in the current uncertain environment, labour market protectionism will not solve the problem, and will actually be detrimental to our economy in the long term,” he added.
On securing good investments and opportunities, Mr Chan noted that investor confidence and consumer confidence globally are down.
In the next six to 12 months, the Government must ensure that bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements are upheld for Singapore to continue to access the overseas market.
Singapore must also show it has “consistent and coherent long-term policies”, and the Economic Development Board and Enterprise Singapore will have to go around the world to attract investments, he said.
“But this is also an opportunity for us to distinguish ourselves if we can provide that safe harbour for technology and talent to be planted here,” said Mr Chan.
"We need to demonstrate to the world and distinguish ourselves as an open and connected hub, so that people will put their long-term investments into Singapore, for us to allow our businesses to seize those new opportunities and for our workers to get the new jobs."
HELPING WORKERS DEAL WITH HEADWINDS
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and labour chief Ng Chee Meng said workers are cognisant of the headwinds ahead.
“Whether you are a self-employed person, whether you are in the airline industry, hotel industry, F&B industry (and) including some of the more resilient industries, we do expect to have further headwinds."
Retrenchments have already inched up, he said, adding that the Government is looking at how to help workers hold on to their jobs or – if they are displaced – to be matched to a new job, said Mr Ng, who is the secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).
He noted efforts by the Government as well as NTUC to create jobs, pointing to the S$2 billion SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package which aims to create 100,000 job, traineeship and training opportunities.
There have been about 12,000 successful job placements through the initiative, of which about 70 per cent were in the public sector, he said.
READ: More than 16,000 jobs, training opportunities available at first SGUnited Jobs and Skills fair
Efforts are also being made to make such job placement efforts more accessible, with job fairs conducted at different parts of the island, he said.
NTUC also creates programmes together with partners - such as the Education Ministry, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore - to help workers upgrade and bridge the skills gap to get matched to different jobs where necessary, he added.
Mr Ng also pointed to other efforts for workers, such as the provision of SkillsFuture credits to offset the cost of upgrading courses, as well as career support schemes and professional conversion programmes.
There is still a “hard journey ahead” amid the "realities of the challenges of COVID-19", he said.
More retrenchments are expected in the coming six to 12 months, but the Government has plans to create jobs and to work with tripartite partners to match workers' skills to jobs – and these have already shown some results, Mr Ng said.
“We don't make empty promises. We don't sweet-talk you but give you the realities, but also the accompanying support to make sure that you are taken care of,” he added.
Mr Ng is leading a PAP team to contest in Sengkang GRC this election.
STRENGTHENING SOCIAL SAFETY NETS
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that visiting households during the election period had allowed him to see “close up, firsthand the stress and tension that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing to Singaporeans and their families”.
These included graduates from polytechnics, universities and the Institute of Technical Education who are concerned about finding jobs, as well as middle-aged parents with “lots of liabilities and responsibilities and burdens” who are concerned about the impact of the outbreak.
Even as agencies and the labour movement work to provide jobs as well as traineeship and training opportunities, Singapore must also strengthen its social safety nets and get people “involved positively in looking out for each other”, he said.
Among the challenges that need to be addressed are financial issues - which Mr Lee noted are increasingly impacting middle-income households as well as low-income ones - as well as emotional and psychological stresses, in addition to social and family tensions.
To address these issues, SGCares community networks have roped in social service organisations as well as community and grassroots organisations to reach out to lower-income households and those in rental flats, he said.
“Just call them, visit them, find out how they're doing. And if they need help, or they're in distress, make sure that they get the necessary referrals and support,” said Mr Lee, who is part of the PAP team contesting in West Coast GRC.
About 550 volunteers have reached out to 1,800 families living in rental flats. Of these, 600 have been referred to agencies for further support, he said.
Previously stable middle-income households have been able to tap on the temporary relief fund for financial assistance, with S$225 million disbursed to about 450,000 Singaporeans impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, he added.
There have been more than 35,000 approved applications for the COVID-19 Support Grant and more than 150,000 people supported through the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme.
ComCare applications have also gone up 30 per cent from the same period last year, with about 4,000 new applications each month in recent months.
“New ComCare beneficiaries generally receive at least six months of assistance to give them a longer runway of certainty as they look for jobs and as they stabilise their families. And this is in addition to some 6,000 beneficiaries, for whom we've automatically extended ComCare support by six months,” said Mr Lee.
Besides financial support, emotional and psychological support is also needed, he said.
The National Care Hotline - established to provide such support during the COVID-19 period - has 770 psychologists, counsellors, social workers and trained care officers on call 24 hours a day to help address stress, depression and other mental health issues, he noted.
The hotline has taken around 23,000 calls as of Jul 6, said Mr Lee, noting also the creation of the mindline.sg portal with mental health resources by various government agencies.
Family violence also rose during the circuit breaker period, with the adult protection and child protection services receiving an average 7 per cent more inquiries in April and May.
Both services have seen a 30 per cent increase in the average number of monthly queries since the circuit breaker ended, he added.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development's Peers Network also assisted more than 500 rough sleepers during the circuit breaker, with agencies now coming together to provide such individuals with more holistic support through housing and other assistance, he said.
WHY THE ELECTIONS ARE CRITICAL
“We are under no illusion of the difficulties that lie ahead of us,” said Mr Chan.
He added that this is why the General Election is so critical, describing it as a chance to “pull everyone together and move in the same direction”.
“For this election, the ultimate test for any candidate and any political party will be as follows: Who has the ability to help us secure jobs? Who has the ability to help us secure investments and create opportunities for Singaporeans? And who is able to help organise our networks to help our workers and families that may come under stress in the coming months?”
Mr Chan said he hoped Singaporeans would consider these “simple and basic questions” when they head to the polls.
“I hope that every candidate and every political party will present their plans and options to Singaporeans on how they intend to help Singapore and Singaporeans overcome the challenges that are highlighted today.”