More robust measures needed to help middle-aged PMETs keep jobs

Jobs are increasingly at risk, with each day bringing news of a bad economy looming. The writing is on the wall for middle-aged professionals, managers, executives and technicians, or PMETs ("Higher-skilled workers make up bulk of layoffs"; March 16, and "Highly trained, middle-aged and out of work"; July 20, 2015).

Each time I think of the effects of prolonged job loss on middle-aged workers and their families, I think of a friend in his 40s, who was a highly skilled and hard-working engineer.

His job was made redundant and, after countless months of fruitless job search, his finances started to dry up and problems began to mount.

His story is not an unfamiliar one. Qualified yet unemployed middle-aged job seekers often end up accepting jobs outside of their skill set and below what they need to cover family expenses.

The pain is particularly felt by those with higher financial obligations, such as housing loans, study expenses and medical bills.

I have found that some misinformed employers, especially foreign ones, assume that Singaporeans will be entitled to unemployment benefits from the Government. They do not seem to feel any sense of responsibility towards employees who have served their companies for years.

In recent years, the Government has toughened its action against unfair treatment in the hiring and laying off of Singaporean employees. It has also tried to alleviate the situation by dangling carrots, such as wage support, to get employers to hire such job seekers.

But the situation is set to get worse, given the weak global outlook. More robust measures are needed to save jobs.

I have some suggestions.

First, increase the costs for employers to lay off staff, by having them provide reasonable unemployment benefits.

Second, raise the prevailing level of wage support for 40- to 49-year-old jobless PMETs from 20 per cent to 50 per cent.

Third, study whether lowering the employer's Central Provident Fund contribution for workers aged 40 to 49 would help them to keep their jobs.

There must be more we can do to help this group of workers, who are right at the centre of the Singaporean core.

Let us show them that the country has their back in an economic downturn. In this way, we truly preserve and protect the Singaporean core at the workplace.

William Tan Whee Kiem