NTUC, SNEF call for unemployment support for PMEs, tighter process for employment passes

Besides help for the unemployed, the task force also made recommendations to strengthen the Singaporean core in the workforce. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A support framework that includes financial aid is needed to help unemployed people move into new jobs.

The framework should include a basic tier to provide supplementary income relief and assistance, while an additional level could offer more support for union members and vulnerable, mature workers.

This was among nine recommendations that the labour movement released on Thursday (Oct 21) after a year-long consultation exercise to pinpoint better ways to assist professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

The initiative, which was carried out by a task force from the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), involved consultations with around 10,000 workers and business leaders.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said: "PMEs feel the pressure from foreign competition and for mature PMEs, they find it challenging to bounce back when they lose their jobs.

"Thus, we must do more to level the playing field for our local PMEs, while enabling other forms of employment and employability-related support, like unemployment transition support, job search or training support, for them."

The task force also called for a tripartite work group to be set up to assess the feasibility, conditions and size of the proposed unemployment support.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said more issues have to be studied, such as when to give out unemployment support, how much to give and for how long. He added that a survey showed that 80 per cent of unemployed workers took six months to find a new job.

This move must also go together with active labour market policies, he said, such as requiring workers on unemployment support to participate in employability camps, go for job interviews and show that they are actively trying to find work.

Specifically, there should be more help for PMEs who are over 40 years old, the task force added, calling on the Government to provide short-term salary support of up to 50 per cent, capped at $3,800 a month for six months, for firms that hire such job seekers.

There should also be more fast-track training programmes with certification to help them transition into new roles.

Besides help for the unemployed, the task force also made recommendations to strengthen the Singaporean core in the workforce by reviewing the application process for employment pass holders.

For one thing, foreign worker access should be differentiated by occupation, such as those that have an ample supply of locals who have the required skills, the task force said in its report.

The process could also use a point system that considers factors such as whether the employer has been hiring local workers and the diversity of nationalities within the firm. This goes beyond the usual considerations of education qualification and salary.

Companies should also facilitate skills transfer from foreign staff to local PMEs, it added.

The task force proposed improving human resources standards, including having shared services for smaller firms, and empowering the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices to enhance workplace fairness by imposing tough penalties on errant companies.

Dr Robert Yap (left), the president of SNEF, and Mr Ng Chee Meng, the secretary-general of NTUC during a media conference at the NTUC Building on Oct 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SNEF president Robert Yap said: "Providing support to strengthen the employability of local PMEs is essential for employers to meet their manpower and skill demand. Through developing a strong Singaporean core complemented by foreign manpower, this will help employers to grow their business in and from Singapore."

He added that the recommendations also aim to help local PMEs develop deeper skills and gain overseas exposure so they can take on global roles.

For instance, the task force proposed more funding for PMEs to be groomed for leadership roles in multinational corporations and large local enterprises, as well as incentives for firms to send local PMEs for overseas opportunities.

More structured jobs and skills plans will also help them to upskill in line with industry requirements, the report said.

The task force said that its consultation exercise found that PMEs were most concerned about the lack of job security and required greater support in employment and training opportunities.

These issues also affect those in their 40s to 60s more acutely, the SNEF and NTUC added.

"Even as businesses transform to ensure business sustainability, the skill sets possessed by PMEs, including younger PMEs, may be at risk of becoming obsolete. These are especially so as the Singapore economy has been impacted by Covid-19," they said.

Mr Ng said the Government could consider its recommendations. He hopes to get some clarity next year.

"I think this is an important and urgent issue for the labour movement, and NTUC wants to step in - in the interest of our vulnerable PMEs," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.