National Wages Council to reconvene in August amid Covid-19's profound impact on jobs

The March guidelines recommended that employers should first reduce non-wage costs and consider measures to use and manage excess manpower. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Amid the growing threat to jobs posed by the coronavirus pandemic, tripartite partners will reconvene the National Wages Council (NWC) later this month, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement on Friday (Aug 14).

The council will update guidelines issued in March on wage and employment-related issues for more timely and relevant guidance to employers. It will aim to release the updated guidelines by September.

Earlier this month, observers called for more aggressive wage support, an office to look after gig workers and pay hikes for low-wage staff.

They said the council could consider measures such as higher support for job redesign and re-training and additional guidelines on retrenchment payments, as well as looking at whether the Jobs Support Scheme of wage subsidies can be extended.

The March guidelines, which cover the period from April 1 to June 30 next year, recommended that employers should first reduce non-wage costs and consider measures to use and manage excess manpower.

It also asked employers to tap government support to offset business and wage costs, and continue with workforce transformation to be in a better position to grow when economic recovery comes.

Employers that still find it necessary to trim wages to save jobs were urged to adopt a graduated approach and give special consideration to low-wage workers.

The guidelines also stated that layoffs should be the last resort and be conducted responsibly.

"The labour market has softened considerably since," MOM said, citing the preliminary findings from the labour market advance release for the second quarter, which indicated a huge decline in total employment, more than four times the drop in the first quarter.

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"The softness in the labour market is likely to persist amidst the weak external economic environment, and the pressure on companies to retrench will mount," it added.

NWC chairman Peter Seah, who is also chairman of DBS Bank, said: "In the light of the profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, companies and especially workers, it is important that the tripartite partners review the challenges posed and make recommendations to respond to the issues.

"In the past, the NWC with the tripartite partners have provided guidance to mitigate through very challenging times. It is timely now, for the NWC to meet again to do so."

The council comprises representatives from the Government, employers and unions.

Members include Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap, Singapore Business Federation vice-chairman Gan Seow Kee, National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew, NTUC assistant secretary-general Desmond Choo, MOM Permanent Secretary Aubeck Kam and Ministry of Trade and Industry Permanent Secretary Gabriel Lim.

This would be only the fourth time that the council has relooked guidelines twice in the same year since it was set up in 1972.

The other instances occurred in 2009 amid the global financial crisis, in 2001 after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, and in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis.

Members of the public can share their views on wage and employment-related issues, as well as pose suggestions to the guidelines, through a feedback form. The form will be open till Aug 28.

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