Budget debate: Let people use their CPF for reskilling, says Sylvia Lim

Mid-career workers in their 40s and 50s were given an extra boost in this year's Budget with an extra $500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up and incentives for employers to hire them, among other schemes. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans who want to work towards professional qualifications in a different field, should be allowed to use some of their Central Provident Fund savings to pay for their education, said Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

Ms Lim made the suggestion as she urged the Government to do more to give peace of mind to workers in their 40s and 50s facing job disruptions as a result of technological changes and globalisation.

"If the anxiety of citizens is not taken seriously enough, the door to populism and nativism will widen," she told Parliament during the debate on the Budget statement.

She added that while significant resources have been devoted to help such workers reskill and switch industries, more can be done to give them a sense of security.

Mid-career workers in their 40s and 50s were given an extra boost in this year's Budget with an extra $500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up and incentives for employers to hire them, among other schemes.

The foreign worker quota for S Pass workers in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors will also be cut, to protect the jobs of local workers.

Ms Lim cheered the measures, but said the anxieties of these mid-career workers will be hard to assuage, as switching to a new industry can take time, and seeking assistance from government agencies can also be a humbling experience.

She added that some of those who had been laid off had turned to government agencies for help but were unable to find a job for months.

She suggested that people who have met their applicable CPF minimum sums should be allowed to use their CPF to pay for their education, so they have more leeway to chart their own reskilling journey.

She also called on the Government to consider implementing redundancy insurance, which pays people an income when they become unemployed.

"How confident is the Government that its existing schemes will be able to find solutions for everyone who applies? Today's economic climate illustrates how such insurance could provide a stabiliser to workers to soften the cliff edge that they face with job disruption," she added.

"Suffice to say for now, sir, that the Government would need to reassess its approaches periodically as economic and technological realities change."

She made the call in a speech in which she spoke about how Singapore has been a major beneficiary of globalisation, with the Government leading the way in embracing open trade, foreign investment and turning Singapore into a global financial centre and knowledge hub.

"While these benefits are undeniable, the question is how the losers from globalisation are treated," she said.

Noting that some far-right groups around the world have rejected globalisation outright, she added that this was not constructive.

"It is simply not possible to unwind today's world of interconnectedness and multipolar supply chains," she said.

She proposed that the debate should be about the kind of globalisation Singapore should strive for, suggesting that it should be one that improves human welfare in a sustainable way, termed "alternative globalisation".

The Government has already stared to move in this direction, she said, citing efforts to reduce poverty such as the various rebates and financial transfers targeted at the poor, and the greater social safety nets including various schemes to retrain workers.

"Though the Government does not label its initiatives in terms of alternative globalisation, some of its policies, including in this Budget, seek to mitigate the harsh impacts of economic liberalisation on Singaporeans," she added.

Referring to the theme of unity in this year's Budget, Ms Lim said: "The forces of globalisation also pressure us to constantly up our game, reskill and be prepared to be uprooted to stay relevant. This transition is not easy, and I appreciate that the Government has provided resources to support Singaporeans in reskilling and career transition.

"However, the anxiety and insecurity aspects will also need to be addressed adequately in order to shore up the concept of unity, which is the theme of this Budget."

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