Ideas from the floor

Fight unfair work practices, help firms 'hunt in packs' abroad

MPs said decisive action is required to help local workers, given the changing nature of work and as Singapore continues to take in global talent.
MPs said decisive action is required to help local workers, given the changing nature of work and as Singapore continues to take in global talent.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Grant legal powers to an organisation that fights discrimination in the workplace to prosecute errant employers, suggested one MP yesterday, while others raised ideas to help workers and companies compete in the new economy.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) highlighted the importance of labour laws that ensure fair and inclusive employment practices for locals, as Singapore continues to take in global talent to make the economy more vibrant.

One way to do this is by giving the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices legal powers to prosecute errant employers, he said.

After all, the preferential treatment of foreigners is a common grievance among local workers, he noted during the first day of the debate on the President's Address.

Other MPs spoke about how the changing nature of work requires decisive action.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said the most significant disruption will come from an increasing rate of change in job destruction and creation, as machine learning and robotics replace specific tasks previously performed by humans.

It is imperative that Singapore develops effective strategies to retrain workers and help them make the transition to new kinds of work, to avoid having a class of people becoming unemployed and under-employed, she said.

Nominated MP Randolph Tan suggested using technology to obtain a picture of the skills deficits in the local workforce.

Although such a snapshot would be imperfect, it could still give a good sense of what the skills landscape looks like and provide policymakers with an informed start to addressing the challenges, he said.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said Singapore has to continue growing its trade flows and investments to sustain job creation and business opportunities.

He also called for more government help for companies venturing into new markets abroad, from providing insights and research, to helping with grants and support programmes, to facilitating effective networking in overseas markets among Singaporean firms.

"The sense among companies I encountered is that we have yet to finesse the way to 'hunt in packs' when venturing overseas," he said. "So far, the partnerships and collaborations among companies that venture overseas are sporadic, informal and not well curated at times."

Mr Teo Ser Luck (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) raised questions about Industry Transformation Maps.

He said these blueprints on how various economic sectors in Singapore can innovate, raise productivity and train their workers for the future are well-intended, but "the impact is not felt on the ground".

After all, he noted, there are businesses at different phases of development within each sector.

Perhaps the road maps should go beyond work skill development or company capability development, he said, and help open up business opportunities, for example through trade missions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'Fight unfair work practices, help firms 'hunt in packs' abroad'. Print Edition | Subscribe