SINGAPORE - With older workers at higher risk of being retrenched in the current economic climate, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How urged the Government to send a strong signal that it is resolute in preserving their jobs.
This group of workers would take a longer time to find a new job and suffer a more substantial pay cut than their younger peers should they be let go, he noted.
The "most merciful outcome" for older workers would therefore be to minimise their risk of retrenchment, he added, calling for greater support to keep them employed and for employers to treat them fairly.
Delaying the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rate change from January 2021 to a year later is a step in minimising this risk, said Mr Heng (Jalan Besar GRC) during the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget in Parliament.
He suggested that the Government channel the $80 million earmarked for helping employers with the cost of CPF changes towards strengthening the Senior Employment Credit for the next one year.
The grant incentivises companies to hire older workers aged 55 and above.
Mr Heng, who is also deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, also urged the Government to apply the Part-time Re-employment Grant to workers aged 55 and above who request it for the next one year, to encourage employers to retain older workers.
The hiring incentive introduced as part of the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package could also be extended from six months to 12 months, to make it more attractive for employers to offer job contracts of at least a year to mid-career job seekers aged 40 and above through eligible re-skilling programmes, he said.
Highlighting the importance of firms investing in their staff, he said employers should view their older employees as assets and sharpen their skills. At the same time, older employees should embrace learning new skills to stay employable.
But preserving jobs for older workers does not mean these jobs should remain stagnant, he said, calling for companies to be given financial and expert supports to help them quickly redesign job roles.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) called for more support for middle-aged Singaporeans.
While acknowledging the traineeships and hiring incentives introduced thus far, he said wage reduction is a significant problem which must not be neglected.
Citing a middle-income family where both husband and wife were laid off from their jobs in the airline industry, he said their worries about affording parents' medical bills and loans are not uncommon for the sandwiched generation, who had been comfortable managing their commitments and liabilities until the coronavirus outbreak hit.
More healthcare and financial assistance for education costs could be given to lower-middle and middle-income families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as families with breadwinners aged above 40, further down the road, he said.
Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC) highlighted the need to prepare for the future. She noted that the pandemic has displaced many individuals and businesses, some of whom may not be able to return to their old jobs.
But while there are new opportunities to come, with investments in sectors including electronics and info-communications on track to generate a few thousand jobs here in the coming years, it is crucial to have the right talent to fill these jobs, she noted.
"Ultimately, it is the quality of our people that will determine if we can lead in this innovation race," Ms Tin said.