Labour movement confirms it conducted poll last year to gather feedback on Budget issues, including taxes

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents in the survey said they did not think GST should be raised, and of these, 44 people said the Government should tax the rich in order to balance revenue and expenditure. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The labour movement has confirmed that it conducted a poll towards the end of last year to gather feedback from union leaders on issues such as training and taxes, ahead of the annual Budget.

Along with input gathered through focus group discussions and dialogue sessions, the feedback was used to inform the National Trades Union Congress workplan for this year and its labour MPs' positions. But the results of the poll were not presented to the Government.

The NTUC's Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute said this on Wednesday (March 14) in response to queries from The Straits Times, after a selection of tax-related questions from the poll were posted on sociopolitical website The Online Citizen on Sunday (March 11).

Mr Steve Tan, the institute's director, said it has been conducting an average of 10 feedback exercises each year since he started heading it in 2015.

"As the voice for working people, the labour movement needs to be on top of their concerns. As such, we regularly gather feedback, both formally and informally... Naturally, this would include the national Budget," he said.

The pre-Budget poll was conducted in November and December last year, and about 440 people responded, said the institute, adding that the questions were chosen based on issues that affect working people. Taxes were "a much talked-about issue" at the time, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the definite need for a tax increase at the People's Action Party convention on Nov 19, it said.

Questions in the poll included when taxes should be raised, whether the goods and services tax (GST) should be increased, and if not, how the Government could balance revenue and expenditure.

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they did not think GST should be raised, and of these, 44 people said the Government should tax the rich in order to balance revenue and expenditure.

When asked when taxes should be raised, about 38 per cent of respondents - the largest group - chose the option "Between 2021 to 2025". Apart from options for "Between 2018 to 2020", "Never" or "Other", the other options were in five-year brackets up to the year 2050.

There were also questions on workers' immediate concerns, skills training schemes and areas the Government should spend on.

The institute did not say what it did with the feedback on taxes, but said that the results of its polls were not compiled and presented to the Government.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in the Budget statement last month that the GST will go up from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time between 2021 and 2025.

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim had then voiced her suspicion in Parliament on March 1 that the Government had intended to raise GST immediately and had floated "test balloons", but backtracked after it was called out that a hike would contradict previous statements by government leaders. Several ministers rebutted her statement, setting out the timeline of comments by government leaders from as far back as 2013, to show that the Government had been consistent in saying that it would need to raise revenue only beyond the current term.

On March 8, Ms Lim, an Aljunied GRC MP, said she accepted her suspicion "may have been wrong", but she refused to withdraw it or apologise, saying that she had some basis for voicing the suspicion.

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