4 key points working Singaporeans need to know about the 2017 Committee of Supply debate

During the Committee of Supply debate on Monday, Manpower minister Lim Swee Say told Parliament that his ministry is working on strategies to ensure that there would be enough jobs for Singaporeans, and better ones as well.

In a time of slower economic growth and digital disruptions, Lim identified four key thrusts: ensuring quality job creation, raising workforce adaptability, enhancing inclusiveness and complementarity, and building fair and progressive workplaces.

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1. Create quality jobs for Singaporeans

"The real threat we face in the competition for jobs is not technology, but global competition. We should focus more on how to partner with technology to take away customers and jobs from our competitors before they do it to us," said Minister Lim.

This is the scope of the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme (LEDS), which MOM launched over a year ago.

Photo: NTUC

LEDS brings together various agencies to make it easier for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to boost their business capability and gain access to labour and markets. Where necessary, LEDS is even prepared to relax the foreign-work quota temporarily to expedite matters for these SMEs.

Minister Lim said LEDS's scope will be strengthened this year with the introduction of new programmes. It will help more SMEs go digital and expand overseas, and speed up the development and deployment of "cluster" solutions for firms. It will also work closely with sectors to tackle the manpower shortage.

2. Help Singaporeans take on new jobs

Minister Lim said creating quality jobs can prevent rising unemployment and under-employment. However, the problem of structural unemployment - such as job and wage mismatches - still persists.

To raise workforce adaptability, Mr Lim said MOM will make better use of technology to help job-seekers and employers find each other.

The national jobs bank has been made more user-friendly to provide better search functions, and the portal is also moving to become a "one-stop, non-stop online marketplace" for all job-seekers.

Photo: Internet screengrab / Jobs Bank

Channels of job-matching services will also be expanded through closer collaboration with private-sector employment agencies. In fact, MOM has partnered with two agencies to help PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who have been made redundant, and those unemployed for three months or more.

The new partnership will debut in the second quarter of the year.

Additionally, MOM will enhance the Adapt & Grow initiative - introduced last year - to help PMETs, who make up the bulk of workers in the workforce.

The Professional Conversion Programme, which was also launched last year to help PMETs switch careers and move into growth sectors, will receive enhanced salary support.

An "Attach and Train" scheme, which offers training allowance and attachment in companies in growth sectors, will be introduced to help PMETs prepare for new jobs in another sector. MOM is looking to start in the logistics sector.

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3. Strengthen local-foreign workforce complementarity

The slowdown in job and workforce growth makes each worker even more valuable, said the minister.

As such, he emphasised the need to strengthen the inclusiveness of our local workforce and to strengthen our social cohesion. In other words, the local and foreign workforce must complement each other better to sharpen Singapore's competitive edge.

Because Singapore can never be self-sufficient, foreign workers will be a "permanent feature" here. But they must complement us rather than compete against us, he said.

This way, foreign workers will help narrow the talent gap and create more good jobs for Singaporeans.

Photo: The Straits Times

However, Minister Lim warned that MOM will take action against employers who discriminate against local workers in hiring.

The number of bosses put on the Fair Consideration Framework watchlist stood at 250 as at the end of last month, but many have improved and adopted "fair and progressive practices", he said.

Currently, there are still 50 employers on the list who "have not been receptive or cooperative". As a result, MOM rejected more than 500 Employment Pass applications from them.

"We will continue to curtail their work pass privileges until they improve," he added.

Employers will also receive differentiated treatment for MOM's services. For instance, Human Capital Partnership employers will enjoy "fast lane" access to MOM's development schemes and services, and also have hotline access to MOM.

Employers who have fair workplace practices - which is the majority - will be in the "normal lane". Employers who engage in unfair HR practices, such as those on the Fair Consideration Framework watchlist, will be in the "slow lane".

"This will send a clear message to all employers that foreign manpower is and will always be an integral part of our Singapore workforce," said Minister Lim. "However, we do expect and require all employers to give fair consideration to the recruitment and development of our local manpower."

"This is not only the right thing to do for our people, but also the right thing to do for businesses for both to grow better in the future economy."

4. Enhance the employment protection framework

The minister said the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) and the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) which is scheduled to open on April 1, are "major steps forward in strengthening our employment protection framework".

He added that the Tripartite Standards will also be introduced to complement existing employment laws, and Tripartite guidelines will push for progressive practices at the workplace. Additionally, a Tripartite Workgroup will be set up to look into the well-being of freelancers.

Members of Parliament (MPs) on both sides of the House had raised concerns about whether freelancers are adequately covered under existing labour laws and the possibility of them having inadequate savings for medical and retirement needs.

A survey by MOM showed freelancers were most concerned about the lack of income security arising from work injuries, attending training or skill upgrading courses, as well as the ability to seek sufficient clients and collect timely payments.

In response, Minister Lim said the Government "will form a tripartite workgroup to study these issues and address the concerns of freelancers, and come up with workable solutions for the well-being of the freelancing workforce in our future economy."

The group that the Government is most concerned about is the estimated 32,700 people who are doing primary freelancing not by choice.

"Under the Adapt and Grow (scheme), we hope to reach out to as many of them as possible and help them to move into full-time employment," said Minister Lim.

"The first survey is a good starting point for us to gain better insights into the freelancer landscape in Singapore. We will continue to monitor the development and together with our tripartite partners, we will find practical solutions to address the issues faced by freelancers," he added.

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