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From raising wages to removing retirement age, MPs propose ways to help workers

SINGAPORE — Abolishing the retirement age and topping up the S$500 SkillsFuture Credit were just some of the proposals raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) on the first day of the Budget debate on Tuesday (Feb 26).

From raising wages to removing retirement age, MPs propose ways to help workers

Issues concerning workers emerged as one of the main themes, with MPs also speaking about ensuring that older workers can build up their savings and retire with “peace of mind”.

SINGAPORE — Abolishing the retirement age and topping up the S$500 SkillsFuture Credit were just some of the proposals raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) on the first day of the Budget debate on Tuesday (Feb 26).

Issues concerning workers emerged as one of the main themes, with MPs also speaking about ensuring that older workers can build up their savings and retire with “peace of mind”.

A total of 27 MPs, including political office-holders, spoke at the debate, with more than half of them touching on matters related to the workforce.

Here are five key issues discussed:

 

1. IMPROVING WAGES

  • Ms Foo Mee Har, MP for West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC): The enhanced Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme should cover even more low-income Singaporeans.
    The scheme — which will benefit almost 440,000 Singaporeans — will see an increase in the maximum payout by up to S$400 a year, as well as an increase in the monthly qualifying income to S$2,300.

  • Mr Zainal Sapari, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC: As part of the WIS enhancement, the Government might want to increase the cash-to-Central Provident Fund (CPF) ratio so that low-wage workers have more cash in hand. He also noted that companies procuring services should judge contracts based on quality instead of price. Judging on price could force firms to depress workers’ wages.

  • Mr Ng Chee Meng, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC): The purpose of the NTUC is to “secure a fair wage” for workers. One way to raise wages is for companies to expand through innovation — workers would then have to upskill and receive higher pay in turn.

2. EQUIPPING WORKERS WITH BETTER SKILLS

  • Mr Zainal Sapari, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC: The Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) courses have to be reviewed so that they are “comprehensive and flexible” to suit industries’ needs.

  • Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Melvin Yong: The Government should top up the S$500 SkillsFuture Credit because “a single, one-off course would deplete” the entire account. The credit is given to Singaporeans aged 25 and above to attend courses to help them deepen their skills and knowledge.
    The Government can also ensure that the SkillsFuture Credit can be used by working adults to automatically offset a portion of the fees of all polytechnic and university courses. Such courses include part-time diploma courses and specialist certificates.

  • Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo: Training allowances should be provided for other types of courses similar to those given under the Professional Conversion Programmes. The cost of courses have put off workers who want to pick up another skill or qualification.

  • Mr Arasu Duraisamy, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP): Companies willing to let their workers go for training should be incentivised by allowing them to easily tap Government funding. This will motivate firms to get their workers to develop their skills.

3. HAVING ENOUGH MONEY TO RETIRE

  • NMP Arasu Duraisamy: The retirement age should be raised from 62 to 65, while re-employment age should be increased from 67 to 70. This is because some older workers still want to build up savings for medical and retirement needs.

  • Associate Professor Daniel Goh, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) with the Workers’ Party: Remove the retirement age. The skills and experience of older workers are still valuable to the economy and society. Removing the retirement age does not mean getting “Singaporeans to work till they die”.
    “It is to reform the system so that Singaporeans do not have to worry about their finances and can retire in their 60s if they want to, but they can also continue to work if they want to.”

  • Mr Koh Poh Koon, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC and Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry: Companies must place emphasis on job redesign so that older workers can adapt to new technologies and work environments. More importantly, it means that they can expand their job roles. Businesses also have to leverage technology to train such workers so that they remain employed and employable. 

4. GIVING FREELANCERS A BETTER SENSE OF SECURITY

  • Mr Ang Hin Kee, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC: Prolonged medical leave insurance coverage should be more pervasive for workers in the gig economy.
    One in 10 workers here are freelancers or self-employed, and this segment of the workforce also faces challenges such as loss of income due to prolonged illness or injury, training gaps and sketchy contracts.
    Freelancers should be given more access and support to courses because they work in specialised fields where there are few Singapore-based providers or experts and have to use their own money for training.

  • Ms Foo Mee Har, MP for West Coast GRC: There should be a similar scheme such as the WIS for low-income gig workers. This could help them build up their savings for their future.

5. SUPPORTING YOUNGER AND UNEMPLOYED WORKERS

  • Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo: Have more programmes that allow young Singaporeans to seize job opportunities in the region, aside from those such as the Global Ready Talent Programme that allow students to take up overseas internships.
    “I hope that we can start to take the first step in harnessing the strength of our overseas trade offices and larger Singaporean companies with regional presence to build employment networks.”

  • MP Liang Eng Hwa from Holland-Bukit Timah GRC: Make the Career Support Programme a permanent scheme. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced last week that the scheme will be extended for another two years. It encourages companies to hire a mature worker who may have been in long-term unemployment, by subsidising a significant share of the worker’s salary.
    Should the programme be made permanent, the terms can be refined from time to time to meet changing circumstances. “It will give workers, especially mature workers who are concerned about their job security, a sense of assurance that the Government will there to help in their transition to a new job.”

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