NTUC's Budget proposals: Tighten rules for firms not intent on hiring Singaporeans

The labour movement, in its recommendations for Budget 2016, called on the Government to review the criteria for Employment Passes.
The labour movement, in its recommendations for Budget 2016, called on the Government to review the criteria for Employment Passes.ST FILE PHOTO

NTUC's Budget proposals also call for review of Workfare and Employment Pass criteria

The labour movement has called on the Government to review the criteria for Employment Passes, and to distinguish between companies committed to hiring Singaporeans and those that are not.

"This is to ensure our workers have fair opportunities at their workplaces. At the same time, the Government should tighten enforcement on companies that show no intent to develop a Singaporean core of workers," the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said yesterday.

This review should meet the varied needs of industries while giving them the incentive to build a strong Singaporean core of workers, NTUC added in its recommendations for Budget 2016, which it submitted to the Finance Ministry yesterday.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver the Budget statement in Parliament on March 24.

NTUC also called for better protection of contract and low-wage workers in its recommendations based on four themes: Strengthening the Singaporean core, improving productivity, enhancing training and skills upgrading, and improving retirement adequacy.

  • Key recommendations

  • •Review the criteria for Employment Passes to distinguish between companies committed to hiring Singaporeans and those that are not.

    •Explore changing the single retirement age to a "more variegated" one beyond 62 for different industries.

    •Limit the short-term contract extensions a worker is given, so that employers are obliged to permanently hire workers after a certain number of extensions.

    •Review the Workfare Income Supplement criteria to target all workers at the bottom 20 per cent of the wage ladder.

    • Allow SkillsFuture credits of workers who are too ill to use them, or cannot use them for other reasons, to be moved to their Medisave accounts.

On retirement, it suggested that the Government explore changing the single retirement age to a "more variegated" one beyond 62 for different industries, to allow workers who can stay in employment to do so.

To help local contract workers, it proposed a mandatory limit on the short-term contract extensions a worker is given, so that employers are obliged to permanently hire workers after a certain number of extensions.

It also urged the Government to make it illegal for employers to require a one-day break in between contracts. This practice allows bosses to avoid giving long-service benefits to contract workers.

For low-wage workers, NTUC recommended reviewing the Workfare Income Supplement criteria to ensure it continues to target all workers at the bottom 20 per cent of the wage ladder, so as to account for incomes growing over time. It also proposed that the criteria be based on basic wages rather than gross wages, which are inflated by overtime pay.

Workers too ill to use their SkillsFuture credits or cannot use them for other reasons should be allowed to move them to their Medisave accounts instead, suggested NTUC.

It also offered to provide career guidance counsellors to help match workers to courses as well as relevant job opportunities.

"This is to help ameliorate possible structural unemployment through mismatched skills and jobs," it said.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said one way to implement the differentiation for Employment Passes is to impose stricter criteria and conditions before these are granted to recalcitrant companies not committed to hiring Singaporean workers.

The other would be to impose a professionals, managers and executives dependency ratio on specific industries or firms, as is the case for S Passes and Work Permits.

"We are aware (the problem) is not widespread but sector specific," he said, adding that the information and communications technology and financial sectors are two that the measures could target.

But Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills said it should not be assumed that there are Singaporeans who want to work in every sector. "It is a great idea to develop a strong Singaporean core, but we may not be able to have that in every sector," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2016, with the headline ''Tighten rules for firms not intent on hiring S'poreans' '. Print Edition | Subscribe