Tackling workers' worries over rising living costs

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).

Workers fret about the rising cost of living, sometimes feeling that no matter how hard they work, their needs may not be adequately met, said incoming labour chief Ng Chee Meng yesterday.

They worry about whether they have enough money to buy a home, pay medical bills, retire or put their children through school, he added.

In a speech on the second day of debates on the President's Address, Mr Ng, also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, set out the labour movement's approach to helping workers 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, or Medifund, for patients who need more help after receiving government subsidies.

Retirement adequacy is something workers worry about too, and it 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 that the best way to improve the lives of workers is through gainful employment in good jobs with good wages.

"We need employers to maintain a nimble mindset and workers to help themselves by upgrading their work skills," he said. "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. Real wage increase, he said, 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 in helping to tackle the challenges unleashed by unprecedented 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, he said.

"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 operations, and workers to work smarter and more productively.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2018, with the headline 'Tackling workers' worries over rising living costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe