Jobs, mental health and the environment: What MPs said in the debate on Singapore's post-pandemic strategy
SINGAPORE: A total of 22 Members of Parliament (MPs) spoke on Wednesday (Oct 14) in response to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s ministerial statement last week when he laid out a roadmap for Singapore’s post-COVID-19 economy.
READ: Singapore’s revenue position to be 'weak' in coming years, spending strategy one of 'prudence, not austerity': DPM Heng
They touched on a range of issues, from improving job security to supporting vulnerable groups and the challenges faced by residents working from home.
Here is what some members of the House said about how the country can better respond to the COVID-19 crisis:
How to improve job security:
“It is heartening that amidst depressing news of mass retrenchments and job losses, there are still many job openings to be filled … but perhaps MOM (Ministry of Manpower) could share more about … what are the targets set for successful job matches and how will the various agencies measure the effectiveness of outreach efforts.”
- Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat, who talked about how a resident told him that a career consultant said some employers are putting up job listings as a way to “test waters” but not actually hiring. This practice distorts job vacancy numbers, Mr Saktiandi said.
“Why are Singaporeans losing out in the job market in our own country? Employers repeatedly cite the lack of creativity and risk-taking, not to mention poor communication skills as reasons for this. Our grade-centric education system was also cited as a contributory factor. In addition to facing competition for jobs from foreigners, we are increasingly facing competition from machines as well … with digitalisation accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is even greater urgency to hasten the pace of education reform as old methods of teaching and learning become obsolete.”
- Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa
Make mental health a priority:
“An effort to improve mental health is not only good for the self but good for our country. Psychological defence is an underlying key pillar of our total defence and it will serve Singapore well when any Singaporean - even at their most mentally vulnerable - can trust that society at large will also have their back.”
- Sengkang GRC MP Raeesah Khan on how Singapore can build on the new mental wellness task force created to address mental health needs amid COVID-19
READ: COVID-19 impact on mental health must be managed, as more people face stress and disruption: PM Lee
“In recent parliamentary sittings, I have repeatedly highlighted the challenges faced by our workers who telecommute. They must juggle multiple responsibilities, such as looking after children, taking care of elderly parents, and trying to remain productive at work. To make matters worse, because they work from home, their bosses think that it is easier for them to answer work-related calls and emails, at any time of the day, even after office hours. Workplace burnout has become an issue, as many employees are not well-rested.”
- Radin Mas SMC MP Melvin Yong on why the authorities should look into a law on the "right to disconnect"
Don’t leave the vulnerable behind:
“The S$500 to S$1000 top-up in SkillsFuture credit is useful to enable Singaporeans to take up new courses and for them to pick up new skills. However, there always remains groups of individuals like the low-wage workers and special needs communities who, even before COVID-19, have been unable to take up courses for personal upgrade. Their reasons for not doing so are varied. Some because they have to balance multiple jobs, others - caregiving duties, lack of funds, or lack of suitable courses catered to them in language or academic qualifications. They are left out from being able to upgrade not due to lack of will, but more a lack of time and the need to first survive.”
- East Coast GRC MP Cheryl Chan on the people who lack the opportunity to upgrade their skills
“I appeal to the Government and its agencies to make an additional effort to provide a better living and learning environment for the underprivileged children. In a knowledge-intensive future, these children will not stand a chance if they live in overcrowded flats with access to borrowed equipment, limited or slow connectivity, and minimal adult supervision and guidance. We may need to tighten our collaboration with the volunteer groups and private companies which are willing to sponsor and mentor these children as well.”
- Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Don Wee on the need to help children from disadvantaged households during COVID-19
Help those who fall through the cracks:
“They are often left on their own to deal with their unemployment and its many associated adverse effects. This is unlike those in lower-paying jobs who have benefited from the many government schemes. Specifically, many in this age group have high mortgages to pay, schooling children and elderly to look after. The challenge for them is not just to get any job, but one that gives them a minimal sustenance income.
"It is well and good to say: 'Go for training, upgrade your skills.' But realistically when you are in your 50s, 60s, with mounting bills and financial commitments, you don’t have the luxury of time and resources to pursue a new career. To them, such exhortations are meaningless slogans.”
- Yio Chu Kang SMC MP Yip Hon Weng on how the pandemic has created new vulnerable groups, such as middle-income retrenched workers with heavy financial commitments
“We want to make sure that Singaporeans and businesses who need help would not need to jump through hoops or wade through red tape to qualify for funding. For example, many staying in property with an annual value of more than S$21,000 but do not own the property and yet need some help, could not qualify for many of the COVID-19 support grants. Could MOF consider relaxing the criteria?”
- West Coast GRC MP Ang Wei Neng also suggested that the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) could be extended for another six months - the last S$3,000 quarterly payout is in October - but be calibrated so that those who are currently ineligible for the scheme could get a smaller amount of money.
Keep living cost affordable:
“Here I would like to be very clear that I am not for their own during of resources built up by the blood, sweat and tears of the generations who came before us. In fact just as DPM has mentioned, I believe in the need to exercise prudence when planning for the future. However, we need to acknowledge that the current weak economic environment requires sufficiently accommodative fiscal policy instead of contractionary fiscal policies such as raising taxes on consumption, which might in turn lower consumer spending. We should be focusing on policies that aim to stimulate and boost domestic demand and keep our economy growing.”
- Sengkang GRC MP Louis Chua on why Singapore should hold off on a planned Goods and Services Tax hike
Let’s not forget about the environment:
“Sustainability at the forefront of economic recovery should not be underestimated. The World Economic Forum has in fact called on all countries to pursue, and I quote, 'a great reset. A great commitment to build a fairer, more sustainable and more resilient future following the COVID crisis.' I can’t agree more - may I take the opportunity to ask the Government for an update on our efforts in the past seven to eight months since unity budget and for an assurance that Singapore is on track to meet our goals and timelines for the Paris Agreement (to cut emissions intensity by 36 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels).”
- Hougang SMC MP Dennis Tan