Budget debate

MPs urge focused help for vulnerable workers

A machine operator at a packaging firm gets a lift from a device that helps push paper rolls that often weigh a tonne or more. Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) spoke in Parliament yesterday on the need to communicate the aim of greater automation to w
A machine operator at a packaging firm gets a lift from a device that helps push paper rolls that often weigh a tonne or more. Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) spoke in Parliament yesterday on the need to communicate the aim of greater automation to workers who are afraid they will lose their rice bowl.ST FILE PHOTO

5 labour legislators suggest ways to address woes facing groups such as older workers and PMEs

Singapore's labour MPs want greater protection for vulnerable segments of the workforce roiled by economic uncertainty and the rapid restructuring of the economy.

Led by NTUC's deputy secretary- general Heng Chee How (Jalan Besar GRC), each of the five MPs yesterday suggested ways to help particular groups.

Mr Heng, who is also Senior Minister of State, spoke for mature workers. He lauded the Government's efforts to help them by planning to raise the re-employment age from 65 to 67, and pushing for lifelong training. But more can be done to get employers to tap fully their contributions, said Mr Heng. These include refining funding schemes like WorkPro, which helps older workers return to work, and redesigning jobs and processes.

"We must make the working environment as ageless or age-neutral as possible, so that mature workers can be enabled to contribute as much as possible, for as long as possible," he said.

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) spoke on the need to communicate the aim of greater automation to workers who are afraid they will lose their rice bowl.

"Employees will be more willing to accept it if the robots can help them to be more efficient," he said.

Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), speaking for young workers, called for an integrated approach to help them develop their careers.

Noting that jobs are changing so quickly that knowledge learnt in school fast becomes redundant, he wants the Education Ministry to partner the labour movement to begin career counselling in school.

Mr Choo also called for greater adoption of apprenticeship schemes for certain industries where real-time problem solving and industry-relevant skills can better prepare students for work.

Agreeing, Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said meaningful internship and apprenticeship programmes will help match students with the skills and experience to the relevant industries.

It would "minimise post-school talent leakage", he added.

He suggested that more employers be coaxed into embracing "Place-and-Train" programmes, which can give workers job security and career advancement as they are being trained.

Mr Yong noted that despite structural change, there are still "good jobs, new jobs, different jobs" available, making job matching the key challenge.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) made three suggestions to protect PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians), who form 70 per cent of the over 15,000 workers retrenched last year.

He wants the Government to take a carrot-and-stick approach.

It should provide greater outreach and coverage for the Career Support Programme, a wage support scheme that encourages bosses to hire mature Singaporean PMEs. At the same tine, it should get tough with companies that treat the Fair Consideration Framework's job advertising requirement "as mere lip service and window dressing".

Mr Tay also suggested setting up a support network for jobless PMEs to help "boost the self-esteem and morale of the dejected and pessimistic, making them more positive and career-ready".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'MPs urge focused help for vulnerable workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe