SINGAPORE - An MP has called for the Government to give legal powers to an anti-discrimination group, Tafep, to ensure fair and inclusive employment practices amid rapid changes in the work environment.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said in Parliament on Monday (May 14) that it is particularly important to have labour laws that ensure fair and inclusive employment practices for locals, as Singapore needs to take in global talent to make the economy more vibrant.
One way to do this, he suggested during the debate on the President's Address, is to grant legal powers to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) so that it can prosecute errant employers.
Mr Saktiandi highlighted how the preferential treatment of foreigners is a common grievance among local workers.
Tafep refers complaints to the Manpower Ministry if further investigations are warranted, he said, adding that it also works with employers to change their practices and blacklists those unwilling to comply.
During the debate, several other MPs touched on 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 job creation, as machine learning and robotics will replace specific tasks previously performed by humans.
Workers will have to learn new skills to work alongside increasingly capable machines. To avoid having a class of people becoming unemployed and under-employed, she said it is imperative that Singapore develops effective strategies to help workers make the transition - have them retrained, reskilled and capable of performing new kinds of work.
Still, she noted: "We need not surrender to the nightmare scenario where we would all be replaced by robots."
Meanwhile, Nominated MP Randolph Tan suggested using technology to get a picture of the skills deficits in the local workforce.
Although such a snapshot would be imperfect, it could still give Singapore a good sense of what the skills landscape looks like, he said.
"For Singapore especially, where the twin challenges of manpower shortages and skills deficits are never far from our minds, mapping the landscape of available skills will provide policy makers with an informed start to addressing the challenges," he said.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah) said Singapore's longstanding reputation as an open economy has contributed to the growth and vibrancy of its economy in the last five decades, created good jobs for Singaporeans and good business opportunities for firms.
Going forward, Singapore has to continue growing its international trade flows and investments to sustain the creation of jobs and business opportunities, he said.
This would require helping companies that are entering into new markets by providing insights and research, help with grants and support programmes as well as effective networking in overseas markets among Singaporean firms, he suggested.
Said Mr Liang: "The sense among companies that I encountered is that we have yet to finesse the way to 'hunt in pack' when venturing overseas," he said.
"I understand that 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) in turn raised questions about Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs).
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.
An ITM within a sector can't be one that is one size fits all, he added.
"ITMs can't be just about disbursing grants or transformation through technology. In reality, it's really about business volume," he said.
Perhaps the ITMs should go beyond work skill development or company capability development, he said, and help open up business opportunities, for example through trade missions.