Parliament: MPs raise questions over jobs, schemes to help workers and medical benefits

SINGAPORE - Worries over jobs in a slowing economy dominated the start of question time in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 8), as five MPs peppered Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say with questions over jobs and help for retrenched professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked about the success rates of various programmes to help PMETs, while Nominated MP Randolph Tan wanted to know if the Manpower Ministry (MOM) tracks those who participated in the training and job placement programmes.

Responding, Mr Lim said that 6,400 PMETs found jobs through Workforce Singapore and the Employment and Employability Institute in the first nine months of this year, while the number of schemes to help PMETs switch careers are being expanded from 22 to 50 by the end of this year.

He added that the ministry tracks the participants according to their ages and sectors. The key indicator, said Mr Lim, is whether they remain in employment. He said: "Even if they leave the company but as long as they continue to be in employment, to us the outcome is still a positive one."

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) suggested that the ministry works closely with unions and employers to reduce job mismatches. Mr Lim agreed, saying: "There's a lot more that we need to do (and) we can do."

Forecasting future jobs was also a concern, and Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) asked if the MOM would encourage companies to give a forecast of their hiring plans before they are allowed to hire foreigners.

Mr Lim replied that while employment forecasts can be made for industries, it will be difficult to make companies do them. "Not many companies are prepared to make that kind of commitment upfront," he said.

Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) asked whether the MOM could consider linking job training and placement programmes with the new jobs that investments bring.

Mr Lim reiterated that the ministry is already doing so, by preparing workers for future jobs through training and job placement programmes.

Besides jobs, Mr Lim also answered questions from House members on portable medical benefits for workers.

Both Nominated MP K Thanaletchimi and Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) wanted to know whether the Government would promote or even make it compulsory for companies to provide medical benefits that are tied to the workers individually, rather than to their employment with the firms.

Mr Lim noted that such portable medical benefits are not popular among employers because they cost the companies more. "The take-up rate has not been high," he said, noting that only four per cent of companies surveyed by the MOM in 2013 provided such a benefit.

He added that the Government sees MediShield Life, introduced last year, as a portable medical insurance scheme that companies can be encouraged to tap on. The MOM will work with unions and employers to promote MediShield Life, said Mr Lim.