Jobs, slowing economy top concerns for Singaporeans

March 21, 201610:08 am417 views

The slowing economy and its impact on Singapore’s job market are the areas that Singaporeans would most like the Government’s Budget Statement on Thursday (March 24) to tackle, going by feedback collected by REACH.

One-third of the views collected in an annual exercise held by REACH and the Ministry of Finance concerned these two areas, a press release by the government feedback portal on Sunday said. A total of 3,600 pieces of feedback were collected from Feb 1 to 26.

Specifically, people wanted to know more about government measures to stabilise the economy and also sought assurances on job security in the future — issues that Members of Parliament (MPs) agreed are foremost concerns.

Mid-career workers asked if there could be short-term schemes to help affected workers cope financially while they get new skills to re-enter the workforce into other sectors. Those who gave their views suggested the Government provide Singaporeans with guidance on the types of training courses to take up to improve their prospects of finding jobs, and sought financial incentives for companies so that businesses would come up with “place and train” schemes.

Noting that skills upgrading will be important for workers to stay relevant for jobs in the future economy, some said the Government should do more to raise awareness of the SkillsFuture initiatives. They called for more regular top-ups of SkillsFuture credits.

To encourage skills upgrading, the parameters for using SkillsFuture credits should be expanded to allow students to use these credits for school modules, and for companies to make claims for these credits when they initiate staff training courses.

Among older workers, those in their late 40s to 50s expressed concern about income stagnation and the lack of job opportunities available to them. Some also wondered if there could be more stable employment conditions, especially for those who want to work beyond the retirement age. Tax rebates could be one way to incentivise companies to hire locals, some suggested.

MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), who is assistant secretary-general of the labour movement, agreed that what he sees on the ground reflects the views gathered by REACH.

“I am seeing certain sectors, not all, being more uncertain than the rest. I think on the whole I hope to see this Budget addressing some of these concerns of the businesses as well as for the people,” he said.

In terms of measures to help individuals, these could be through SkillsFuture programmes to help people stay employed and employable, or in other words, ensuring people are “ready, resilient and relevant”.

“At the business level, how to ensure they remain competitive yet profitable,” he added. “It could be interventions at the sectoral level. (Challenges) is not across the board, it’s in certain sectors like oil and gas because of the very low oil prices. And traditionally, cyclically manufacturing, in particular electronics, is also challenged.”

MP Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said the transitioning the economy is going through means there are people who need to reequip themselves with new skills.

“That’s why SkillsFuture is meant in a way to help prepare for continuous training and learning for Singaporeans. We are all concerned about PMEs, especially those in their 30s and 40s, and that is something I think the budget should look into – how to help this group of people. One is to equip themselves (and) career guidance,” he said.

The latest Ministry of Manpower (MOM) labour market report released last Tuesday showed that workers aged 40 and above made up a sizeable proportion (64.5 per cent) of lay-offs here last year. Of the 15,580 workers retrenched here last year — the highest recorded since the global financial meltdown seven years ago — professionals, managers, executives and technicians were the hardest hit, forming 71 per cent of lay-offs last year, up from 66 per cent in 2014.

To boost the economy, there were suggestions that new start-ups be exempted from taxes in their first year, and tax reliefs for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to tide them over the current challenging economic conditions. In general, there were also calls for several taxes to be lowered, including the Goods and Services Tax, property tax and fuel tax.

Outside of issues concerning the economy and jobs, the topic of volunteerism generated strong interest among students at several exercises to collect feedback. They asked for more youth volunteer programmes to be started, and efforts to raise awareness and knowledge of volunteerism.

Other suggestions include doing more to take care of vulnerable groups such as the needy, the unemployed, the disabled and the elderly. Some noted that these efforts should go beyond handouts, which could lead to over-reliance on the Government. Instead, help for these groups can come in the form of support from the community.

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