Unionists worried about new CPF option

ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

They fear low-wage earners will come to grief if they withdraw lump sum cash

An upcoming move by the Government to let workers who retire withdraw part of their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings in a lump sum worries unionists.

They fear it will bring grief to the very group of workers whose well-being they have always strived to protect: the low-wage earners. These rank-and-file workers have traditionally formed the backbone of NTUC's union membership.

A lump sum withdrawal will reduce what is left in their CPF savings for the monthly payouts, they told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a closed-door dialogue yesterday.

This concern was uppermost on the mind of Mr Benjamin Tang, president of the Port Officers' Union and a member of the highest decision- making body in the National Trades Union Congress.

He told reporters after the dialogue: "The ones who are making the most noise... to withdraw more of their CPF are basically the very workers the unionists, the labour movement and the Government are really concerned about."

The dialogue was held for the unionists to ask questions on PM Lee's National Day Rally speech.

At the rally two weeks ago, the Prime Minister had said CPF members will soon have the option of a lump sum withdrawal after they retire, but the withdrawals will be capped.

Details have not been finalised but the limit could be set at 20 per cent of their total savings.

Mr Tang told reporters that PM Lee acknowledged their concerns and assured the 550 unionists at the meeting that the CPF will remain a "retirement nest egg".

Another issue that was raised was on a new report to improve the career prospects of polytechnic and ITE students.

Recommendations on how this can be done was made by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee last week.

Unionists said they hoped for fair opportunities for both degree holders and non-degree holders.

They also want to see a "parallel pathway" that allows workers to progress in their careers, regardless of their academic qualifications, NTUC said in a statement last night.

But some unionists, according to Mr Arasu Duraisamy, first deputy general secretary of the Singapore Port Workers Union, worry this could mean degrees are no longer relevant in the workplace.

He told The Straits Times: "(Mr Lee) did stress that he did not say you should not get a degree. What he's trying to say is you should not get just any degree, but a degree relevant to your job."

The message, Mr Arasu added, is that people should not be "wasting time and money" on a degree that does not fit the job.

In his rally speech, Mr Lee had said: "Do not go on a paper chase for qualifications or degrees, especially if they are not relevant, because pathways and opportunities to upgrade and to get better qualifications will remain open throughout your career."

Alternate career paths and the CPF were among four key points discussed at the dialogue, organised by the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, said the NTUC statement.

Another was the recognition of the pioneer generation, which Mr Arasu said kicked off the session: "Mr Lee was trying to send the message - look, at that time, these were the people who did so much for the country. So he expects us to be no less than them in that sense."

The final issue was re-employment.

Union leaders recognised that having the opportunity to work longer is the most effective way to prepare for retirement, said NTUC.

It underlines the labour movement's call for the re-employment age to be raised beyond 65.

They also hope the Government will offer incentives to encourage private-sector employers to voluntarily keep workers past the age of 65.

Besides PM Lee, the panel of speakers included Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, NTUC president Diana Chia, NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say and NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How.

Mr Arasu said the Prime Minister was candid in his responses to the unionists who, according to Mr Tang, "did not hold back" on their questions and opinions.

Said Mr Tang: "Basically, what the unionists want to know is - what is the message the Prime Minister is trying to put across, what he is thinking, who he is trying to protect and what he thinks is best for Singaporeans."

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