SINGAPORE - More than 10,000 workers who were displaced or at risk of losing their jobs have been matched with new roles by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Job Security Council in the past few months, said labour chief Ng Chee Meng on Thursday (June 4).
He told Parliament that NTUC will continue to work with companies and the Government to preserve jobs, create new ones and match workers with jobs amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just a week earlier, NTUC said it had job-matched more than 7,000 workers since the council was set up in February.
Mr Ng, who is NTUC's secretary-general and a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said during the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget that NTUC will also focus on pushing for economic transformation during this crisis, so that jobs can be redesigned and workers can benefit.
"Covid-19 has sped up disruption and moved us towards Industry 4.0 in double quick time. Businesses are on a burning platform, and it's now really (time to) adopt new business models, new technologies, or die," he said.
Mr Ng said the Job Security Council initially partnered battered aviation companies to place their workers in jobs such as community work, healthcare and some in NTUC FairPrice Group.
This has been expanded to other sectors, and the council now represents more than 7,000 companies.
Both rank-and-file workers and professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) have been placed, he said, citing the case of Ms Gina Ng, 59, a senior administrative assistant who was working at Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford.
She is now halfway through a three-month redeployment as a retail assistant at FairPrice while keeping her salary and job title at the hotel. Before her move, she went for training in food hygiene and preparation.
Said Mr Ng: "I am happy she has the ability and the agility to adopt a new mindset, adapt to the new circumstances and, importantly, took action to acquire new skills so that she can stay in the workforce."
Noting the "looming challenges ahead", he also reiterated NTUC's full support of the Government's formation of the National Jobs Council.
The 17 members of the high-level council include eight ministers, representatives from the labour movement and business associations. Mr Ng is one of the members.
Its chairman, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, said on Wednesday, after the group's first meeting, that it would work to grow job and training opportunities on an unprecedented scale.
It will oversee the design and implementation of the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, announced in the Fortitude Budget last month.
Mr Ng also said that to help preserve jobs, NTUC has been working through its unions to help companies tap the training support available, like the Enhanced Training Support Package announced in the earlier supplementary Resilience Budget in March.
NTUC LearningHub helped more than 500 companies in May to send their workers for more than 20,000 days worth of training. The firms received up to $80 a day in absentee payroll for each worker being trained and this support for them added up to $1.6 million.
This is a win-win arrangement in which workers stay in their jobs while employers get help with their wages and have better-skilled workers for the eventual upturn, said Mr Ng.
NTUC's deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon, in his speech during the debate, said unionised companies that send their unionised employees for training during this period can receive up to $50,000 from the NTUC-Education and Training Fund (NETF) Collaborative Fund, up from the previous cap of $30,000.
A new NETF Collaborative Fund Lite, for non-unionised companies with 50 or more NTUC union members, will also provide training support of up to $8,000 per company, to speed up business recovery, said Dr Koh.
In his speech, Mr Ng also said that as more economic activities resume in phases one and two of the reopening of Singapore after the circuit breaker, workplaces must change to prevent new infections and ensure businesses can stay open.
"Doing so is not only the Government's responsibility. Every business owner and every worker has a shared responsibility and an important role to play," he said.
To this end, NTUC has trained more than 1,700 union leaders, company management and staff on Safe Management Measures, he added.
For the longer term, NTUC will also partner companies with the capacity and vision to seize opportunities emerging from the pandemic.
It has been working with Temasek-linked companies to roll out company training committees (CTCs) since April last year. The committees help unionised companies to work out their specific business needs and translate those needs into a targeted training plan for employees.
Mr Ng said NTUC would redouble its efforts to partner companies through CTCs to conduct operations and technology roadmapping (OTR) to transform themselves.
The roadmapping exercises will help companies chart a course to recovery from Covid-19, as well as identify new areas for business growth, exploit new technologies and create new and better jobs, he added.
Citing battery maker Energizer, he said it is bringing in more advanced technology for its line machines. So the United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries worked with an institute of higher learning to curate a training programme for Energizer's operators to improve their skills for the new machines.
"Even before Covid-19 hit us, actually our economy was already embarking on industry transformation brought about by technological disruption. Covid-19 has accelerated this disruption and it is clear that those who started transformation early, in fact, today are coping better with the Covid-19 challenges," he noted.
"Transformation" is not just a buzzword, he said. "In fact, Covid-19 has made it even more apparent, more plain that businesses will need to work towards digitalisation and Industry 4.0 practices more urgently. This will help them position themselves and their workers for new opportunities post-Covid," Mr Ng added.
Dr Koh also said NTUC would conduct more virtual-OTRs so that companies' transformation and workers' training needs continue to be addressed during the pandemic.