Parliament: Ng Chee Meng proposes new committee to support older workers

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng said this tripartite committee will look at ways to help mature workers to continue working if they choose to.

SINGAPORE - A new committee has been mooted to better support older workers as Singapore grapples with an ageing workforce.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng said this tripartite committee will look at ways to help mature workers to continue working if they choose to.

It will comprise representatives from the government, the labour movement and companies to help older workers - one of three groups of workers that Mr Ng on Tuesday (May 15) said he wanted to focus on.

The other two are low-wage workers and middle-aged, middle-income workers.

In his first speech in Parliament as NTUC deputy secretary-general, Mr Ng noted that while older workers might want to stay employed, the real question is whether employers are willing to hire senior workers, instead of having the fixed mindset that these workers are a burden, more expensive and untrainable.

"Union leaders and I are worried for this group of workers," he said during the debate on the President's Address.

"For many of them, the job is essential - just like us, they have expenses, mortgages, and dependants relying on them."

There are some government initiatives in place to help older workers, he said, pointing to WorkPro, which gives employers funding support to redesign their workplaces into more age-friendly space.

There is also the Special Employment Credit, which subsidises employers the net cost of employing mature workers.

But more could be done, Mr Ng added.

For example, he said the Government should empower the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) to look into workplace discrimination and do more.

As for low-wage workers, Mr Ng noted that while the Progressive Wage model has done much to alleviate hardship of low-wage workers in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors since it was introduced in 2012, there are other sectors with low wage growth.

He proposed expanding the use of the Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) and find ways to support more workers.

The IGP is a fund that helps companies kick-start productivity projects, with companies in return sharing the productivity gains with their workers through higher wages.

"We will work with the Government for better support and prevent these sectors from stagnating," he said.

He added that freelancers, part-timers and the self-employed are another group that needs support.

As project-based employment becomes more common, the Government should ensure they enjoy CPF protection, medical coverage and skills development, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Ng said some middle-aged and middle-income workers are seeing demand for their skillsets diminishing, or lack the opportunities to progress.

"They may be currently employed, but their earnings may just be sufficient to meet their needs and their income growth is not high," he said.

There are currently several government schemes outlined for this group of middle-income workers. However, there is also an entrenched mindset against hiring middle-aged workers, which is worrying, he added.

The labour movement will need more support from the government and business leaders to redesign jobs and encourage workers to upgrade their skills to stay relevant so that they can progress in their careers, he said.

It will also continue to look at career-matching programmes, initiatives to change employers and workers' mindsets and help displaced middle-aged workers get a second chance at employment, he added.