NTUC to set up task force to look at better protection for local PMEs

The task force's aims are to engage PMEs and employers over a six- to 12-month period and come up with recommendations on government policy, best practices for companies, and training. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - A new task force to champion the protection of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) is being set up by the labour movement, it announced on Thursday (Aug 27).

The group will be headed by National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) executive director Sim Gim Guan, and will likely start work in October.

Its aims are to engage PMEs and employers over a six- to 12-month period and come up with recommendations on government policy, best practices for companies and training, NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng told reporters on Wednesday.

He said Singapore has perhaps reached a tipping point where some degree of "market failure" has occurred, causing middle-aged local PMEs to become more vulnerable.

"Hopefully, we can jig market forces from all different levels so that we can move forward to achieve economic success and also equitable distribution of jobs to PMEs that are local," he said.

Mr Tay, a labour MP, said certain sectors have more heavy concentrations of PMEs, such as financial services, infocomm technology and professional services. This is especially so in multinational companies, which may move their staff between operating locations.

His sense is that local PMEs are not complaining about employing top foreign bankers who bring in millions in investments, but rather companies hiring foreigners for less specialised roles which anyone can do.

There should be more transparency, he said, when it comes to intra-company transfers, which are currently exempted from the Fair Consideration Framework rules, which require employers submitting Employment Pass applications to first advertise on MyCareersFuture.sg and fairly consider all candidates.

Mr Ng cautioned that a balance needs to be struck between the micro-level concerns of individual Singaporeans and the macro-level needs of the economy.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng speaks to reporters during a video conference on Aug 26, 2020. PHOTO: NTUC

"If we get it wrong on either side, it means that either Singaporean workers, PMEs, feel they don't have fair access to jobs," he said.

"Or if we get it wrong on the other side, what it means is that our macro needs in terms of being a vibrant economy where we attract the top talent in the world to come and the needed numbers of workers to come, if we get this balance wrong, either way our economy will not be at the optimal state to move forward."

He added that NTUC wants to work with the Government to review foreign manpower policy options. These could include a differentiated quota for EP holders at different salary levels.

The labour movement has been expanding its engagement with PMEs in recent years, such as through its U Associate scheme with professional bodies, which focuses on growing PMEs' networks.

Rank-and-file unions can represent PMEs in collective bargaining, and there are also PME unions such as the Port Officers' Union and the Air Transport Executive Staff Union.

But this is the most concerted effort so far to help this group of workers in the area of protection, said Mr Ng.

Mr Tay said that even after the recommendations are presented, NTUC hopes to have a stronger relationship with PMEs to be a collective voice for them and their issues.

Mr Ng and Snef president Robert Yap will be the task force's advisers.

Mr Yap said that although employers have immediate concerns about business survival, they are also thinking about how to retain and build capabilities for economic recovery.

"In working with NTUC, Snef hopes that we can develop Singaporean PMEs, especially those aged 40 to 60, that would meet employers' skills demand in the future economy.

"Employers should upskill and reskill their mature PMEs to enable them to contribute to their business more impactfully," he said.

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