SINGAPORE - Financially-strapped employers can try retaining their workers during the Covid-19 economic slowdown by sending them for subsidised training programmes, said Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Friday (June 5).
Speaking in Parliament during the supplementary Fortitude Budget debate, he suggested that employers send workers for job redesign programmes, a type of Professional Conversion Programme to help existing employees take on new or redesigned job roles in the same company.
The Government provides up to 90 per cent salary support and course fee subsidies for such programmes.
"I encourage employers to consider this option," he said. "Not only would employers keep their workers at lower cost, their workers will emerge with new and relevant skills to support business transformation and growth."
He cited the example of watch retailer All Watches, which is ramping up its e-commerce platform and accordingly sent 11 workers for a job redesign programme to gain the relevant digital skills.
Responding to labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), who on Thursday reeled off "horror stories" from vulnerable workers during the slowdown, Mr Zaqy acknowledged that many employers may face short-term difficulties, but stressed that they should be fair to their workers during these hard times.
Those who put local employees on mandatory no-pay leave or retrench them will not be entitled to Jobs Support Scheme wage support for those employees, he warned.
He pointed employers to an updated tripartite advisory, as well as National Wages Council guidelines issued in end-March, for guidance on managing excess manpower responsibly.
"Where there is a need to reduce wages, management should lead by example, and should seek the consent of unions and engage employees," he said.
He also agreed with labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) that essential service workers deserve better wage growth.
"The Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of the work done by our essential workers," he said, adding that many of them fall under the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) of wage and skill ladders.
"For the majority of them, their workloads have increased during this period. We applaud and appreciate their efforts."
Quoting Nominated MP Walter Theseira, he said: "The unseen engine behind global cities worldwide is a vast army of essential workers who are frequently paid little to live next to those they provide services to."
He added the tripartite partners are looking to extend the PWM to more sectors, such as escalator maintenance workers. The PWM has been applied to the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors.
He urged companies in sectors where a mandatory PWM cannot be instituted to also voluntarily pay progressive wages and provide skills progression.
The community must also play a part as responsible consumers and support such employers, he added.
"At the end of the day, all of us would have to contribute towards the higher pay for these workers by sharing the rise in costs of products and services," he said.
"I believe that our society has matured enough that we will not turn a blind eye to this group of workers and recognise that they too should be paid fairly for the essential work that they do."