NTUC calls for review of Employment Pass, Workfare Income Supplement criteria

People walking in the financial district of Raffles Place on Feb 3, 2016.
People walking in the financial district of Raffles Place on Feb 3, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The labour movement has called on the Government to review the criteria for Employment Passes, and differentiate companies that show a commitment to hiring Singaporeans from those that do not.

"This is to ensure our workers have fair opportunities at their workplaces. At the same time, the Government should tighten enforcement on companies that show no intent to develop a Singaporean core of workers," the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said on Thursday.

This review should meet "the variegated needs of the industries whilst incentivising industries towards building a strong Singaporean Core", NTUC added in its recommendations for Budget 2016, which it submitted to the Finance Ministry on Thursday.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver the Budget statement in Parliament on March 24.

In its recommendations, NTUC suggested that the Government explore changing the single retirement age to a more variegated one beyond 62 for different industries, to allow workers who are able to stay in employment to do so.

There are already workers who are on the exemption notification list to the Retirement and Reemployment Act, as well as collective agreements that provide for working beyond the age of 62, it said in its recommendations.

NTUC made a variety of suggestions based on four themes: strengthening the Singaporean Core, improving productivity, enhancing training and skills upgrading, and improving retirement adequacy.

"Our recommendations underscore the importance of shaping and managing the current jobs and employment landscape in view of the changing workforce profile and aspirations of workers," it said.

To help local contract workers, it recommended a mandatory limit to the number of short-term contract extensions a worker is given, so that employers are obliged to permanently employ workers after a certain number of extensions.

It also urged the Government to make it illegal for employers to require a one-day break in between contracts to prevent employees from getting benefits for long service.

For low-wage workers, NTUC recommended reviewing the Workfare Income Supplement criteria to target all workers at the bottom 20 per cent of the wage ladder, so as to account for incomes growing over time, and to base the criteria on basic wages rather than gross wages which are inflated by overtime payments.

In discussing skills upgrading, NTUC suggested that unused Skills Future Credits of workers who are too ill, or who cannot use them for other reasons, be moved to their Medisave accounts instead. It also offered to provide career guidance counsellors to help match workers to courses as well as relevant job opportunities.

"This is to help ameliorate possible structural unemployment through mismatched skills and jobs," it said.