MPs propose more help for workers affected by layoffs

April 5, 20169:30 am267 views
MPs propose more help for workers affected by layoffs
photo: Reuters

As the Government announced new measures to drive economic restructuring in this year’s Budget, cushioning workers from the fallout was on top of the minds of several Members of Parliament (MPs), who called for ways to better protect those who could be displaced from their jobs.

Among the suggestions were the setting up of a form of insurance fund, relaxing eligibility criteria of existing support schemes for retrenched workers to help a bigger group, and a push to equip workers with a set of more durable skills through targeted upgrading, internships or apprenticeships.

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said the phenomenon of hardworking Singaporeans being “pushed into limbo” because of economic transition is a “painful reality”. These workers that go into involuntary unemployment deserve help, perhaps through a “redundancy insurance” model where workers and employers contribute a small percentage of wages towards a fund that can disburse payouts for up to six months to those who get the pink slip, she suggested.

Ms Lim noted that such a scheme would prevent demand for public funds at social assistance agencies from going up, while giving retrenched workers a buffer to look for new jobs. She added: “Such a modest scheme of limited payouts will send a clear signal that only a temporary buffer is being provided, incentivising the worker to actively prepare to earn his own income again.”

More generally, the Workers’ Party chairman also wondered how big the pool of such affected workers is, citing those who might be underemployed.

Ms Lim argued that a more accurate measurement could include employees who work a limited number of hours despite being willing to do more, as well as the number of “demoralised” workers, whom she described as those who had given up searching for work and thus are not captured in unemployment statistics.

Compared against other data, such as these workers’ academic qualifications and previous income, there will be a better gauge of whether workers are “downgrading expectations and taking up jobs that are below reasonable labour market expectations, just to make ends meet”, she said.

Labour MP (West Coast GRC) Patrick Tay called for lower hurdles to the existing Career Support Programme, which offers employers wage support if they offer suitable job opportunities — coupled with training — to mature Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) who have been actively looking for jobs for a considerable period of time.

All retrenched or unemployed PMEs, regardless of age, should be covered, said Mr Tay, who also urged more efforts to spread awareness of the programme. In addition, a support network could be set up for displaced PMEs to minimise the chances they would slip into depression, he added, citing the National Trades Union Congress’ Career Activation Programme as an example.

“The programme is supported by a team of career activists who are volunteer PMEs who have faced similar changes and who have been through the school of hard knocks and came back later to succeed … This support network has helped boost the self-esteem and morale of the dejected and pessimistic making them more positive and career ready,” said Mr Tay, who is NTUC assistant secretary-general and director of NTUC’s PME Alignment Unit.

Agreeing, Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said retrenched workers must first have the “right mindset” to restart, on top of making effort to gain new knowledge and skills.

“Employers are concerned about having to deal with the baggage and motivational issues that come with hiring a displaced PME … We must therefore provide the necessary emotional and motivational support to re-ignite passion,” she said.

Other Labour MPs Melvin Yong and Desmond Choo emphasised equipping workers with skills they need for jobs of the future.

Mr Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said mature PMEs need to adapt to reality quickly by finding a second set of skills so that they will be able to find alternative employment sooner, if they lose their current jobs.

Pointing to the SkillsFuture programme as a good platform for workers, he said: “Even before the risk of displacement becomes real, we should help them acquire relevant skills to help them move ahead into new jobs, different jobs and future jobs.”

Effective job matching was also key, he added, stressing that the government could work more closely with employers to provide more meaningful internships. This will help channel these students into the right places and reduce the risk of “post-school talent leakage”, he added.

Echoing his views, Mr Choo (Tampines GRC) suggested emulating the German and Swiss styles of apprenticeship, so that students could not only learn industry-relevant skills, but also work habits from mentors. “(As) students and workers know that what they learn is practical, they will more likely stay on the job. We can create an ecosystem of continual upgrading that is truly win-win-win,” he said.

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