Help for workers a key focus for Budget debate beginning today

Key measures announced in the Budget last week include the Merdeka Generation Package, the $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus for Singaporeans and a reduction in the foreign worker quota for the service sector.
Key measures announced in the Budget last week include the Merdeka Generation Package, the $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus for Singaporeans and a reduction in the foreign worker quota for the service sector.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Getting the Singaporean workforce to be more "future-proof" amid technological and economic disruptions will be a key focus for MPs when the debate on this year's Budget begins on Tuesday (Feb 26).

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) told The Straits Times he was glad the Career Support Programme - which provides wage support for employers to hire eligible Singaporeans who are mature and have been retrenched or are in long-term unemployment - was extended for another two years. But he wants it to be permanent.

"We can expect more disruptions in the years ahead and, with these, more workers who will be displaced," said Mr Liang who, as chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance and Trade and Industry, will kick off the debate. "It is not a good feeling for someone who has lost his job to have to switch careers - this scheme gives the assurance that we are there to help," he said.

Labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) wants to know how mature professionals, managers and executives - most at risk of retrenchment - can learn new skills, before they lose their jobs, to make the switch to new careers more easily.

"We need to have more pre-emptive and proactive training to help this vulnerable group," said Mr Tay, who chairs the Manpower GPC.

One area he is interested in is how paralegals and legal secretaries can pick up skills to keep themselves relevant in the law industry, which is set for change.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) will focus on low-wage workers and how everyone has a part to play in uplifting them.

For example, service buyers should adopt an outcome-based contracting model, where they look at quality aspects, not just price. Likewise, service providers should avoid undercutting.

"When you compete on price, the workers bear the brunt of that cost," he said.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will respond to MPs' concerns over the Budget on Thursday, after which Parliament will form the Committee of Supply to scrutinise and debate the various ministries' budgets and policies.

 
 
 

Key measures announced in the Budget last week include the Merdeka Generation Package, the $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus for Singaporeans and a reduction in the foreign worker quota for the service sector.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) will drill down into the details on the enhanced Community Health Assist Scheme, which will see bigger subsidies and also be extended to cover those with chronic conditions.

Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC), who has about 30 rental blocks in her ward, wants a more holistic and targeted approach to help the low income and reduce inequality.

"In the past, most children, no matter their situation, could eventually 'make it'. Now, it is getting harder - disadvantaged children have greater challenges to reach the same status as their peers," she said.

The sitting will end on March 8.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2019, with the headline 'Help for workers a key focus for Budget debate beginning today'. Print Edition | Subscribe