WP MPs seek clarity on help for firms and workers

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim asked about firms' arrangements made prior to the Government's job support package. PHOTO: GOV.SG
Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim asked about firms' arrangements made prior to the Government's job support package. PHOTO: GOV.SG

Issues raised include companies' obligations, where funds go and how they are allocated

Even before the Government announced a second support package to cushion the impact of Covid-19 last month, many employers had already initiated their own cost-cutting schemes, Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) told Parliament.

For example, some asked employees to take salary cuts in the form of no-pay leave, she said during the debate on the supplementary budget yesterday. "With airlines now getting 75 per cent wage offsets from the taxpayer, is there any obligation on employers to review these no-pay leave arrangements reached earlier to see if they are still justified after the wage offsets?" she asked, referring to the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme.

In a notice to staff on March 23, Singapore Airlines said it would implement compulsory no-pay leave for pilots, executives and associates, as well as furlough for staff on re-employment contracts. About 10,000 staff were affected.

Ms Lim also noted that workers in the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector will get enhanced wage support of 75 per cent under the supplementary budget. But this is only for operators of purpose-built Mice venues. Contractors that provide Mice-specific products and services to them would get only the 25 per cent base level wage support, she noted, citing an article in The Business Times last Friday.

"Such anomalies should be reviewed as each industry has a supply chain and ecosystem that will be similarly impacted," she said. "The situation is even more acute with the 'circuit breaker' policy in place."

Ms Lim was one of several WP MPs who sought clarifications yesterday, even as they voiced support for the measures.

Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) noted that ComCare assistance can be rendered only once to each household. But some larger households could have more than one breadwinner affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

"By not limiting assistance to just one per household, it will surely benefit and lighten the burden of such deserving cases," he said.

He suggested the Infocomm Media Development Authority expand its NEU PC Plus programme - which helps low-income households get new computers and Internet access at an affordable price - and allow some households more than one computer.

Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) said funds from Singapore's reserves must be used to save jobs first and not to "rescue corporate executives of large companies who did little or no planning to save for a rainy day and will continue to receive fat salaries while their companies bleed". He asked how the Government will ensure this money goes to saving jobs, especially for those in the aviation industry.

"As public money will be used to co-pay a significant portion of their salaries, are there any conditions imposed on these big companies such as that they must hold off any retrenchment exercise for as long as they are receiving help from the Government?" he asked.

"And for listed companies, will there be a temporary moratorium on the payment of dividends or share buyback exercise once the assistance is no longer needed?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline 'WP MPs seek clarity on help for firms and workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe