Singapore—Tuesday, February 26, was the first day of Budget debates in Parliament. A common thread that Members of Parliament (MP) discussed is work, along with the welfare of workers, with many MPs urging for greater support for the country’s workers.
The session on Tuesday lasted for six hours, with 27 MPs in all discussing the Budget. TODAY reports that “workers” and “work” were the words that were most frequently uttered during the session, being mentioned 364 times, which makes an average of one mention per minute.
After “workers” and “work,” the most frequently mentioned words were “training,” “help,” “support,” and “companies.” These words were each uttered approximately between 80 to 90 times.
The deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Koh Poh Koon, paid special attention to older workers, saying they are “valuable assets who can contribute experience and maturity to our workforce, and we must better ensure their employability and employment.”
He also said, “Our older workers, with their years of industry experience, are well-placed to leverage technological tools to maximise their productivity potential.”
Mr Koh urged firms to redesign jobs in order to make sure that older workers can adapt to technological developments and new work environments, giving the example of some manufacturing firms using iPads for controlling industrial robots.
“By using a familiar platform like the iPad as the user interface between the operator and the robot, older workers found it less daunting to adapt to robotics and automation and are able to improve on their productivity.”
Liang Eng Hwa, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, emphasized job security, specifically for older employees, through making the Career Support Programme (CSP) permanent.
This scheme, which at present is renewed every 2-3 years, helps companies employ older workers who have been unemployed for prolonged periods.
Arasu Duraisamy, one of the Nominated MPs, proposed that the age for retirement be raised from 62 years to 65 years, and for the age of re-employment to be raised from 67 years to 70 years, since many older workers are not ready to stop working at that age quite yet.
He said, “Most importantly, many of them expressed the fact that they are still physically able, relatively healthy and want to continue to be gainfully employed.”
Mr Arasu, who is a member of NTUC’s central committee, said that some people discover at the age of 67 that the funds for their families’ retirement and medical needs are insufficient.
According to Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, older employees “should not be forcibly retired when they still have so much to contribute in meaningful ways.” He also asked for the re-employment age to be raised to 70, and for the retirement age to be removed completely, which for him does not mean that Singaporeans will “work till they die”.
Instead, he claimed, this 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.”
MP for Jalan Besar GRC and NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How focused on a “latent pool waiting to be activated for work.” These are around 33,000 women aged 40 through 59 who have not been in the labor force due to caregiving duties.
According to Mr Heng, “The total latent pool of Singaporeans who can and want to work is significant. This pool will grow as the Singapore population ages further, and more caregiving needs emerge within families.”
He pointed to the mismatch between the supply of and demand for manpower, and said, “It is not just a technical problem. There are profound social and financial consequences for the individual, the family, the economy and the country if a large and growing pool of middle-aged Singaporeans forms and is unable to earn for their immediate upkeep and retirement needs. It will fuel inequality and erode social cohesion.”
He suggested providing quality eldercare and reviewing choices for part-time and flexible work schedules, as well as full-time work, could be the solution.
“We can learn much from advanced economies like the Netherlands and Japan in this regard, as they have been able to achieve high employment rates for both full-time and part-time work, that is, they are more able to more fully activate their mature working populations.”
Daniel Goh Pei Siong, a Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), urged for the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution of more senior workers to be restored. He reasoned that earlier CPF Life payouts would enhance their financial security and well-being.
He said, “Therefore, I would like to reiterate the Workers’ Party call to lower the CPF payout eligibility age to 60, so that Singaporeans can have the option of meeting their needs with this source of supplementary income.”
Chong Kee Hiong, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP, encouraged aiding citizens with low CPF balances.
“I hope the Government will consider increasing the additional interest for those who have low combined CPF balances, for example, below the Basic Retirement Sum, to help them earn more in their accounts.”
According to Ng Chee Meng, NTUC’s secretary-general, NTUC labour MPs and other members have the welfare of workers at heart.
Doing the best for all workers is not only the right thing to do, and is needful for the economy of the country. “Each worker’s skills, knowledge, experience, contribute to our human capital. Our economy can only be at its best when all our workers are performing to their potential and are rewarded fairly for their productivity.”
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