Coronavirus outbreak

Details of second economic stimulus package could be revealed soon

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at a radio interview with Money FM 89.3's Bernard Lim yesterday.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at a radio interview with Money FM 89.3's Bernard Lim yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday hinted that details of the second economic stimulus package could be unveiled soon.

The Government is talking to businesses and unions, she said, adding: "The idea is that we won't take too long to talk to people, to get a sense of what kind of support they need."

The second package - an add-on to the $4 billion set aside in Budget 2020 to help workers keep their jobs - will be targeted at areas where the money is needed most, she said. It will also be "as comprehensive as we can be".

Although she did not elaborate during a radio interview, there is some expectation that details of the package could be given when Parliament sits next Wednesday.

Sectors such as aviation and tourism have been hit hard by the virus outbreak.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the second package will help small and medium-sized enterprises make the best of the crisis and support the self-employed, as well as those who are retrenched.

"Our priority is to try and prevent large-scale job losses," Mrs Teo said at yesterday's interview with Money FM 89.3's Bernard Lim. To achieve it, "we have to find ways to support the companies, and do so in ways that are meaningful".

She also noted that the coronavirus crisis may not blow over in three months, or even six.

"Even after that, we will see perhaps... quite a lot of adjustments in the supply chains," she said.

This means the Government will have to re-evaluate the Jobs Support Scheme, which was to last three months, Mrs Teo said.

Announced in Budget 2020, the scheme is to help companies retain local workers by defraying their wage costs. But companies continue to be "very concerned" because of the way the Covid-19 outbreak has evolved, and this impacts job vacancies, she added. "So we will have to try our best through the second package to bolster these companies' bottom lines."

Mrs Teo also fielded questions on a recent Straits Times poll, which found that 23 per cent of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) were hired on fixed-term contracts. Nine in 10 of the 561 people surveyed were Singaporeans.

The survey results differed from last year's official figures, which state that 6.8 per cent of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are on such contracts. The minister explained that the difference is that government figures focus only on Singaporeans and permanent residents, and do not take into account foreigners holding such jobs.

She also said that the proportion of Singapore's PMET workforce on such contracts has not changed significantly from 10 years ago, even though the PMET population has grown about 30 per cent. "It means that in terms of job creation, there's been quite a lot of good growth in PMET job roles," Mrs Teo said.

She also detailed government efforts to get companies to re-employ older workers, redesign jobs and equip staff with new skills.

But Mr Lim said employers and workers may have concerns about setting aside time for training if they are "fighting fires" every day.

Mrs Teo acknowledged this but encouraged companies to look beyond such "immediate speed bumps", adding that the Government will help them with retraining their workers.

"Certainly, we're all taking a hit and I know the companies are having a really hard time," she said.

"But precisely because we are putting in a lot of support - through the Jobs Support Scheme as well as all the training programmes - this is potentially one way (businesses)can use the downtime."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2020, with the headline 'Details of second economic stimulus package could be revealed soon'. Subscribe