Labour chief Ng Chee Meng: Adopt new mindset, adapt to new environment

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng said Singapore can leverage its strengths to overcome the crisis.
Labour chief Ng Chee Meng said Singapore can leverage its strengths to overcome the crisis.PHOTO: NTUC

Companies and workers have to adapt to the new environment while adopting a different mindset, said labour chief Ng Chee Meng yesterday.

Mr Ng, who is secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), told a virtual conference on national and job security: "Covid-19 has brought about many unprecedented disruptions.

Many business leaders, especially from small and medium-sized enterprises, "have shared with me that they are struggling and are fighting fire every day to keep their businesses afloat".

He said they have to adapt, with government support, to the new environment brought about by the pandemic. For instance, the Jobs Support Scheme alleviates manpower costs for companies by co-funding wages of local employees.

"Many business leaders across different sectors told me that without (the scheme), they really would not be able to keep workers on the payroll, even if workers are willing to do their part to accept pay cuts," noted Mr Ng.

The absentee payroll also allows firms to defray manpower costs when they send staff for training during work hours. He cited a firm in the aerospace industry that sent half of its 300 staff for training during this period. While it would have normally cost the firm $528,000 to do so, it had to pay only $99,000 after subsidies for the training courses.

Mr Ng added: "During this period, business owners and workers must be open and adopt a new mindset.

"While the unfortunate reality is that there will be job losses, what we can do is to minimise the impact by placing workers into new jobs - be it full-time, part-time or contract jobs, or even secondments - to ensure that workers are still able to draw a salary during this period."

The NTUC Job Security Council helps to match at-risk and displaced workers with available jobs ahead of time to minimise their period of unemployment.

"What the (council) does is to match workers in companies that have excess manpower to companies that need manpower," he explained.

"If the workers have skill gaps, NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) will work with the company to enhance workers' skill sets so that they are able to take on these new jobs."

 
 
 

One of the organisations on board is the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association (SSIA), which is partnering NTUC and e2i to match workers with skills in aerospace and plug them into the semiconductor industry.

Mr Ang Wee Seng, the association's executive director, said: "SSIA members find the strategies by (the council), such as temporary secondment and quick matching of workers through Telegram, especially useful at this time when the industry is still actively hiring."

But besides finding jobs, companies and workers must also transform and reskill for the future.

Mr Ng said: "This need for companies to transform is not new. If anything, Covid-19 has made it even more apparent and urgent that businesses will have to accelerate transformation, leverage digitalisation and move towards Industry 4.0."

Singapore can also leverage its strengths to overcome this crisis, he added. These include having a good investment climate, innovation index and strong institutions, so companies have confidence when investing here.

"Not only will we be able to overcome the short-term (crises), I have confidence that with these strengths we can even position ourselves for a better future," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2020, with the headline 'Labour chief: Adopt new mindset, adapt to new environment'. Print Edition | Subscribe