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PME task force recommends unemployment support, granting less access to foreign workers in ‘strategic’ occupations

03:01 Min
A task force on professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) workers has submitted nine recommendations to the Government, including proposals to differentiate foreign worker access by occupation, introduce unemployment income support and improve workplace fairness. Clara Lee reports.

SINGAPORE: A task force on professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) workers has submitted nine recommendations to the Government, including proposals to differentiate foreign worker access by occupation, introduce unemployment income support and improve workplace fairness.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said in a press release on Wednesday (Oct 20) that the joint task force recommends strengthening the Singaporean core through enhancing the Employment Pass application review process and facilitating skills transfer to local PMEs.

One of the proposals towards this is to grant less access to foreign workers in occupations in which there is “strategic interest” to have a higher proportion of local PMEs.

The report also recommends a points system for EP applications which factors in whether the employer has been hiring and developing local workers and the diversity of nationalities within the company.

“Shall we look beyond salary and qualifications … to see whether the company is really in need or in severe shortage of the skills.

"And even if they are short of skills, when they bring the foreign PMEs over, how can we ensure a proper and more concerted skills transfer from the foreign PME to our local PME so that we can (help) them level up,” said NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay who co-chairs the task force.

When asked to elaborate, Mr Tay said that occupations that PMEs surveyed felt should be prioritised for Singaporeans include those in education, healthcare and human resources. But he added that most may not be aware that 90 per cent of HR jobs in Singapore are already occupied by locals.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, who is an adviser to the PME task force, said that in a sector where Singaporeans can do the job, there can be a “more stringent” EP system, while in areas where foreign expertise is sorely needed, the criteria can be more liberal.

The task force also recommends providing supplementary income relief to those who are involuntarily unemployed, and to set up a tripartite work group to look into this.

Other recommendations include improving firms’ HR standards, strengthening enforcement on errant companies which have unfair hiring or employment practices and reviewing the scope of union representation of PMEs.

The NTUC-SNEF PME Task Force’s Nine Recommendations

Recommendation #1: Enhance fair employment practices through improving HR standards and strengthening enforcement against errant companies adopting fair practices

- Improve HR standards
a) Increase take-up of Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) certification for HR professionals or introduce top up modules on Singapore’s employment legislation & regulations for HR Professionals with internationally recognised certification
b) Companies with more than 200 employees are to ensure that their HR staff in recruitment, employee relations, training and development functions are equipped with IHRP or internationally recognised certification (with certification of top-up modules). Companies will have to submit proof of at least one of such in-company HR staff during application of Employment Passes.
c) Introduce shared HR services for SMEs
d) Fully accredit HR professionals in the longer term

- Strengthen enforcement on errant companies
a) Improve public communications on the Fair Consideration Framework and channels for reporting unfair hiring practices
b) Put in place safe whistle-blowing policies and procedures
c) Strengthen TAFEP’s enforcement power, empowering TAFEP to impose tough penalties on egregious companies and seek recourse for PMEs with “substantiated” hiring and workplace grievances
d) Improve workplace fairness through both legislative and non-legislative options by the newly set up Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness (TCWF)

Recommendation #2: Strengthen Singaporean core through enhancing EP application review process and facilitating skills transfer to local PMEs

a) Differentiate foreign worker access by occupations which have an ample supply of locals and in which locals have the required skills
b) Enhance the EP application review process by incorporating a point(s) system which considers a range of factors beyond the individual applicant’s education qualification and salary
c) Facilitate skills transfer from foreign specialists to local PMEs through further strengthening skills transfer schemes such as extending, expanding and enhancing the Capability Transfer Programme (CTP) to facilitate mandatory capability transfer

Recommendation #3: Widen support for PMEs through review of legislation on PME’s representation

a) Set up tripartite work group to review the scope of union representation of PMEs

Recommendation #4: Strengthen unemployment income support for PMEs who are involuntary unemployed

a) Basic tier – Introduction of a national transitionary support framework to provide supplementary income relief and assistance to those who are involuntarily unemployed, supplemented by active Labour Market Policy
i. Setting up of Tripartite Work Group to assess feasibility, conditions and size of support
b) Additional tier of support for:
i. All union members and/or
ii. Vulnerable mature PMEs

Recommendation #5: Assist mature PMEs to transit into meaningful employment through short-term salary support

a) Short-term salary support for companies who hire mature PMEs with relevant skills
b) Support training courses and mentorship programmes for relevant roles
- Fast track training programmes with certification to aid mature PMEs to transit into relevant roles

Recommendation #6: Build Singaporean leadership bench strength

a) Support leadership development programmes for Singaporean PMEs
b) Facilitate global development of Singaporean talent

Recommendation #7: Provide customised career coaching support for PMEs

a) Provide customised career coaching support to PMEs through professionally trained career coaches supported by NTUC and SNEF
i. Support/expand funding of career coaches to NTUC/SNEF to guide and support PMEs in companies

Recommendation #8: Develop structured jobs and skills plans for PMEs through Company Training Committees (CTCs)

a) Develop structured jobs and skills plans for PMEs through Company Training Committees (CTCs), to upskill workers in line with business and industry requirements:
i. Align employers’ and employees’ common interest for business and workforce transformation to co-create training plans
ii. Expand resources for NTUC to outreach and support more sectors and companies (including SMEs)
iii. Support training courses and mentorship programmes for relevant roles

Recommendation #9: Strengthen the nexus between tripartite partners to prepare workforce for economic transitions and investment pipelines

a) Reposition existing NTUC’s Job Security Council (JSC) as NTUC-SNEF JSC to strengthen the jobs ecosystem
b) NTUC-SNEF JSC will work with MOM and the relevant government agencies to improve the employment prospects and create good jobs for Singaporeans
Ensure that training needs are incorporated into Institutes of Higher Learning curriculum, in tandem with the fast-changing economic landscape

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Addressing reporters at a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Ng emphasised that the recommendations reflect the views of PMEs as well as input from business leaders through SNEF’s involvement. 

“PMEs feel the pressure from foreign competition and for mature PMEs, they find it challenging to bounce back when they lose their jobs. Thus, we must do more to level the playing field for our local PMEs, while enabling other forms of employment and employability-related support like unemployment transition support, job search or training support for them,” he said.

He added that this is an “important labour space” that, with Singapore’s shifting population demographics, NTUC wants to step into, to represent a “new working class”. 

The PME task force, formed in October 2020, consulted more than 10,000 PMEs, union leaders and business leaders, through online surveys, focus group discussions and engagement sessions.

The task force found that PMEs’ top concerns are a lack of job security and a need for more support for employment and training. These challenges are felt more acutely by mature PMEs in their 40s to 60s. These results had been shared earlier in August.

The task force has submitted its full report on the nine recommendations to the Ministry of Manpower for the Government’s consideration. 

Responding to questions from reporters on the implementation of the proposals, Mr Ng said that some can be rolled out by NTUC and SNEF, while others are tripartite actions that require the Government’s concurrence. On the issue of unemployment support, the policy details will need to be looked into by the Government. 

“In the past … we will iron out all the discussions and arguments behind closed doors and then present to you as a set of policies,” he said. “We are doing it somewhat differently. We want to really hear the ground … we wanted to hear raw feedback without necessarily constraining what are the possibilities in terms of solutions.”

Mr Tay added: “(There) are things that we feel very strongly about and we are voicing it and advocating it, and it's for Government to respond and to do a deeper dive and think about, because it affects policies.”

Both Mr Ng and Mr Tay appealed to PMEs to join NTUC as members several times during the press conference.

The task force said that in the next decade, Singapore will experience significant demographic shifts, with more PMEs in the workforce and a rapidly ageing workforce. 

COVID-19 has impacted the global economy while mass adoption of digital technologies has hastened and the geopolitical environment is seeing a much more fragmented world. 

“Singapore will need to transform urgently to stay competitive, while ensuring that Singaporeans’ aspirations are met now and for the new economy,” said NTUC and SNEF in its press release.

Source: CNA/hm

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