NTUC calls for unemployment support for PMEs beyond current grants

About 39 per cent of the resident workforce today consists of PMEs.
About 39 per cent of the resident workforce today consists of PMEs.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The labour movement is calling for monetary support beyond current grants to be given to professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) who have lost their jobs.

Speaking to the media on Thursday (Aug 26), Mr Patrick Tay, the assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said PMEs are worried about job security, and require greater support in employment and training opportunities.

Citing findings from a recent study of 9,000 PMEs between 20 and 60 years old, he added: "We sense a lot of anxieties and fears among PMEs, particularly mature PMEs (above 40 years old), and therefore we hope to see some form of (help) while they are in the midst of involuntary transition into new jobs."

Mr Tay, who is co-chair of a task force which comprises NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation, said mature PMEs in particular need help as they face heavier financial commitments, often providing for school-going children and caring for elderly parents.

They also typically take a longer time to find a new job and might experience a pay cut when they re-enter the labour market or a new industry.

Mr Tay said monetary support can be given to them when transitioning between jobs, but he added it will not be a simple exercise.

"We need to dive deeper into the exact details," he said. "There are many things to consider, like what's the trigger event, how much to give, how long to give and when to start giving."

He added that unemployment support cannot just be given for its own sake, and has to be provided alongside active labour market policies, like those introduced in Britain and the Scandinavian countries.

"These policies... encourage people to stay employed and engaged in the workforce.

"What some of these countries do is that before people qualify for the payouts, they have to demonstrate that they are going for career fairs or actively sending out resumes, for instance, to demonstrate that they are diligently trying to get gainfully employed," he said.

Such policies will prevent unemployment benefits from being handouts that can end up discouraging people from working, Mr Tay added.

He acknowledged that there are already a number of support schemes, such as Covid-19 relief grants and help for the self-employed.

"It doesn't mean that no help is being given today. But in terms of unemployment support, we need to put our hearts and minds to it - to layer it on top of the support schemes that are already available," he said.

Besides unemployment support, the study also found that PMEs are concerned about workplace discrimination.

Mr Tay said more has to be done to address workplace discrimination to ensure local PMEs receive fair opportunities and treatment when seeking employment or at their workplaces.

NTUC will be pushing for more hiring opportunities for mature PMEs so they can transition into quality jobs, and supporting them in skills upgrading for career progress.

He noted that mature PMEs in particular face challenges due to age or nationality.

While the number of errant employers is small, he said it is still a concern as Singapore has an ageing population and a growing number of PMEs.

About 39 per cent of the resident workforce today consists of PMEs. This figure can go up to 60 per cent when technicians are included.

The tripartite committee tackling workplace discrimination is currently sussing out issues on the ground, he said, which might result in laws or giving more powers to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices.

"The problem is not large enough to have a blanket thing," he noted.

"But there are small cases of very egregious employers who even after education... still run afoul of the law. So those are the ones we want to address in various forms, in rules, regulations, or even laws as a last resort."

The task force is currently exploring the findings of the study, which was conducted from October last year through online surveys, focus group discussions and engagement sessions.

Recommendations will be announced in the last quarter of this year.