Tackling slowdown with help in job searches, worker levies

MPs gave several ideas yesterday on ways to help retrenched workers, struggling companies and the tepid economy.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) wanted retrenched professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) to be made more aware of the National Jobs Bank, run by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. The site had listings for more than 56,000 jobs with monthly salaries ranging from $800 to $30,000. Yet many vacancies were unfilled, he added.

PMEs traditionally turn to placement agencies and headhunting firms, he noted. "Can more be done to make JobsBank the go-to site for those seeking employment?" He suggested more frequent advertising on television and in newspapers.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) called for Singaporeans to be given priority over foreigners.

The duo were among seven MPs who spoke on the impact of the economic slowdown, during the first day of the debate on the President's Address.

For small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, Mr Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC) urged the Government to review foreign worker levies, as the quantums were set "in better economic times".

In the property market, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) called for the removal of the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) for Singaporeans.

He felt that other home loan curbs were enough to ensure citizens are not over-stretched financially .

Others took a big-picture view of the economy.

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung - the only minister to speak yesterday - highlighted the need to refine economic strategies to keep up with changing times.

In the midst of the "Asian century" that is unfolding, Singapore must learn to tap China's potential as a market, and gain an intimate knowledge of neighbouring markets in general, he said. "We used to encourage Singaporeans to anchor in Singapore. With a strong anchor planted, it is now necessary to seek our fortunes in the region."

That is why institutes of higher education are encouraging overseas internships for their students, he added.

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) warned of potential dangers, like the economic sluggishness in China and the United States, and the pace of Singapore's restructuring being too slow.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) spoke on the opportunities offered by the Asean Economic Community, which came into force last month. "I believe that if we can open a new market into Asean at the same time the global economy is slowing, this could provide a promising platform for Singapore businesses to find growth even in a difficult economic climate," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'Tackling slowdown with help in job searches, worker levies'. Print Edition | Subscribe