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Less education means higher likelihood of underemployment, says WP chairman Sylvia Lim

A social safety net is needed as the underemployed currently face being severely underpaid and not being able to meet their day to day needs




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Singapore —, the chairwoman of the Workers’ Party (WP), brought up issues concerning in Parliament on Wednesday, February 27.

She focused on statistics that show how the less education a person gets, the more they tend to be underemployed. The WP chairwoman, therefore, urged the Government to carefully evaluate underemployment and its effects, including economic ones, on the country.

Ms Lim brought out figures from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which show that for university graduates, underemployment stands at 2.3 percent. For those who only obtained a secondary education, the figure is almost at 4 percent. The figure rises to 5 percent for those who did not even finish secondary education.

Overall, Singapore’s underemployment rate stands at 3.3 percent.

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Ms Lim said, “The rate was derived by a time-based definition of underemployment… persons working part-time and would like to work full-time.

Even by MOM’s measure, the 3.3 percent translates into nearly 73,000 workers.”

She added, “This may suggest that there may be a class dimension… with the less educated more prone to underemployment.”

The WP chairwoman, therefore, called upon the Government to make sure that its methods of measuring and monitoring underemployment and how it affects different economic classes keeps improving.

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Ms Lim also brought up another study, one conducted in 2017 by Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, which pegs the country’s underemployment rate at 4.3 percent. This is one percentage point above MOM’s figure, which was released in June 2018.

The definition of the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute for underemployment was multi-faceted and included people who had obtained a degree from university or had other high levels of qualification and yet were earning less than S$2,000 monthly while working full time.

Ms. Lim said that workers in Singapore are especially vulnerable to job disruption due to the coming “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” since its economy is highly connected and open.

She also said that employees’ situations should, therefore, be monitored especially due to this possibility of job disruption.

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Ms Lim acknowledged that initiatives such as Professional Conversion Programmes assist employees to transition to new roles provide an answer to the problem of job disruption. Other programs also provide skills upgrading for employees, as well as active assistance with job seeking.

While employees needing to make adjustments to job disruption is part of today’s reality, Ms Lim pointed out that the real issue is “how well such initiatives are serving to give economic security to workers.”

Citing the over 76,000 job seekers who found jobs through the Adapt and Grow Initiative from 2016 to 2018, she said it would be helpful to determine whether the employees who had to transition to jobs in other industries had the same salary as in their previous jobs, or ended up needing to take a cut in their pay.

She added that freelancers and others who work in the gig economy should also have better support systems.

For example, some workers need flexible working schedules to accommodate the needs of their families. Others have difficulty in taking days off to take care of personal matters.

These people, Ms Lim said, should be allowed to make payments for composition fines on an installment basis, to prevent them from having to go to court for their inability to pay those fines.

According to Ms Lim, ”The direction of the Government in economic transformation and workforce reskilling… is necessary. The other pillar that is equally necessary is to have compensatory policies in the form of social safety nets, to cushion citizens who face disruption.”

Read related: Budget debates in Parliament opens with focus on employment


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