Parliament: Workers worried about cost of living, healthcare costs: Ng Chee Meng

Workers worry about not having enough to buy a home, their retirement savings, growing healthcare costs and paying for their children's schooling, said incoming labour chief Ng Chee Meng on Tuesday (May 15).

SINGAPORE - Workers are concerned about the rising cost of living, sometimes feeling that no matter how hard they work, their needs may not be adequately addressed, said incoming labour chief Ng Chee Meng on Tuesday (May 15).

They worry about not having enough to buy a home, their retirement savings, growing healthcare costs and paying for their children's schooling, he added.

Speaking on the second day of debates on the President's Address, Mr Ng, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, set out the labour movement's approach to helping workers deal with these concerns.

Many worry about rising healthcare costs, he said, despite schemes such as Medishield Life, which helps to pay for large hospital bills and some costly outpatient treatments, and Medifund, for patients who need more help after receiving government subsidies.

Retirement adequacy is something workers worry about too and will become a more pressing issue as Singaporeans' life expectancy increases, he added.

"If they lose their jobs unexpectedly before retirement, will they have enough savings? Can they be assured that if they work hard, saved and contributed to their CPF (Central Provident Fund) savings, their basic needs of housing, children's education, healthcare and retirement will continue to be taken care of?" he asked.

Mr Ng said the labour movement believes the best way to improve the lives of workers is through gainful employment in good jobs with good wages.

He noted  there is high employment currently and workers have enjoyed real income growth – with the median income having risen almost 22 per cent in the past five years.

"We need employers to maintain a nimble mindset and workers to help themselves by upgrading their work skills," he added. "Both employees and employers must stay relevant in the evolving business environment."

This is the best solution, said Mr Ng, as wages can increase only with productivity gains and real wage increase is  necessary to help workers cope with the cost of living.

Apart from highlighting concerns on the ground, Mr Ng also spoke about the labour movement’s role, given unprecedented worldwide rapid technological changes that spare no country or market.

While the critical strategies of transforming businesses, changing mindsets and upskilling workers have been mentioned "numerous times", they have not been carried out quickly enough, said Mr Ng.

"The labour movement will push the transformation agenda by working even closer with the Government and businesses," he said, calling on businesses to lead by leveraging technologies to transform their operations and workers to work smarter and more productively.

Following Mr Ng’s speech, the Singapore National Employers Federation added in a statement that the impetus for companies to transform has become greater with slower workforce growth and technological disruptions.

Its president, Dr Robert Yap, added that the Federation is committed to working with the Government and labour movement to transform the economy, build progressive workplaces and uplift low wage workers.