Give more help to freelancers, low-wage workers, PMEs: MPs

The pain of economic restructuring will be felt most keenly by low-wage workers, freelancers and professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), MPs said yesterday when they called for more help to be given to them.

One suggestion is to make it compulsory for employers to follow the National Wages Council's (NWC) guidelines on pay increases for low-wage workers. Another is to provide systematic training to older PMEs who switch careers.

Since 2012, the NWC has recommended four rounds of pay hikes of at least $50 and $60 for workers earning up to $1,000.

But labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said many low-wage workers in non-unionised companies and outsourcing industries have yet to get the higher pay.

"Employers view NWC's recommendations as merely guidelines," noted Mr Zainal, a National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general.

If it cannot be made mandatory for all, at least make it so for the cleaning, security guard and landscape sectors, which hire a large number of low-wage workers, he said.

Mr Zainal also urged companies to give annual increments that are built into the low-wage workers' basic pay and annual wage supplements, or the 13th month bonus, that workers on outsourced contracts do not normally get.

He also wants government-linked companies to outsource their work to firms that adopt the NTUC's progressive wage models, which tie salaries to skills.

These measures can narrow the widening income gap and give low-wage workers a lift, he said.

Another labour MP, Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), championed the cause of freelancers, pointing out that there are about 200,000 of them, and their numbers are growing.

Businesses should see these freelancers as a resource and not as cheap labour, said Mr Ang, an NTUC assistant secretary-general.

While unions have now opened their doors to them, policies have yet to keep up, he added.

For instance, the Housing Board's loan policies for freelancers are "too conservative", he said, and banks are "very conservative" in approving their credit card applications.

"As freelance work grows to become a popular career choice, it is timely to tailor policies to be more inclusive to freelancers," he said.

Veteran MP Cedric Foo (Pioneer) called for greater protection for PMEs. He worries that PMEs would face discrimination should their foreign bosses prefer workers from their own country.

"This is prevalent in certain sectors of our economy and also in certain companies more than others," he said, adding that PMEs have little protection as there is no quota or ceiling on the number of foreign professionals companies can hire.

Companies that employ an unusually high number of foreign PMEs should be asked to correct the imbalance, said Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC).

They should be required, she added, "to submit a detailed plan on how they intend to train and develop Singaporeans for those jobs".

For older PMEs, she urged the Government to provide training to help them switch careers and to find them new jobs through earn-and-learn programmes.

This article was first published on January 27, 2016.
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