SINGAPORE: The National Wages Council (NWC) will meet a second time this year to update the tripartite position on wages, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the labour market.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced this on Monday (Aug 3), after a meeting with National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and president of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) Robert Yap.
The NWC is usually convened once a year. Members had already met earlier than usual this year, in March, because of the impact of COVID-19.
"Many employers took the cue from the NWC recommendations to manage excess manpower, such as implementing Flexible Work Schedule to time-bank the hours not worked whilst continuing to pay their workers salary in full, or supporting employees whose commission/OT pay were reduced to get a second job to supplement their income," said Mrs Teo in a Facebook post.
Mrs Teo noted the rise in unemployment and retrenchments in the second quarter, saying this was "in line with expectations".
"It is quite likely that the spike would have been sharper if not for employers and unions working hand-in-hand to save jobs through other cost-saving measures," she added.
About 3,600 employers have implemented cost-saving measures since April, protecting about 150,000 jobs that might otherwise have been lost, said Mrs Teo, citing notifications submitted to the Ministry of Manpower.
"The vast majority of the employers have been responsible and fair in implementing cost-saving measures and preventing job losses," she added.
"Many of the cases in which MOM intervened were also prepared to review their initial plans to lighten the burden on employees."
Mrs Teo warned that as significant economic headwinds and uncertainty remain, many employers will face pressure to retrench workers.
"It is therefore timely for NWC to update the tripartite position on wages and other issues of concern to workers and employers," she said.
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"BE PREPARED FOR RETRENCHMENTS, CUTBACKS": LABOUR CHIEF
In his National Day message on Monday, Mr Ng urged union members to be prepared for more difficult days ahead, even as Singapore is in a recession "deeper than anyone could have anticipated".
"Although the Government’s substantial financial aid has shielded us from the very worst economic effects at the onset of the pandemic, we must be prepared for retrenchments, cutbacks, and more difficult days ahead," he said.
"None of this changes the fact that NTUC remains prepared to protect every worker, preserve jobs for all, while continuing to provide care and support for those in need."
The labour chief said NTUC is working with companies to preserve jobs by first exploring all other cost-cutting options.
"I trust that both unions and employers will approach these exercises with transparency and in mutual good faith," he said. "Besides cost cutting measures, we want to push for workers’ upskilling in industries that can still do so."
He also urged employers to consider seconding workers to hiring sectors.
"Where retrenchment is unavoidable, our top priority is to ensure that companies treat their workers fairly and with dignity according to the NTUC Fair Retrenchment Framework," he added.
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At the same time, the labour movement must be ready for a post-COVID-19 world, said Mr Ng.
"The pandemic has magnified global uncertainties and accelerated the shift towards new ways of working and doing business. We will press on with digital transformation and innovations to our union model, membership model and training model," he said.
"Now, more than ever, Singaporeans must unite. NTUC promises to work together with you to emerge stronger and build a Singapore that we can be proud to call home."