NTUC to focus on preserving and matching jobs, worker training, says Ng Chee Meng

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng underlined NTUC's intensified effort to help at-risk workers. PHOTO: NTUC

SINGAPORE - While technicians at an aerospace firm were facing the prospect of losing their jobs earlier this year, hard disk manufacturer Seagate was looking for similarly skilled workers.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) got wind of their needs and played matchmaker.

After a couple of weeks of training, the former aerospace technicians were back at work - but with a new employer, Seagate.

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng on Wednesday (May 27) recounted the employment switch, which took place amid the coronavirus pandemic, to underline NTUC's intensified effort to help at-risk workers.

NTUC expects the Covid-19 crisis to cause more job losses, he said at a virtual press conference.

Besides job matching, the NTUC will also focus on training as well as preserving and creating jobs.

Singapore's resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March, the highest in more than a decade. And earlier this week, the Government said the economy is expected to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent this year, potentially Singapore's worst recession since independence.

Mr Ng also told reporters many unionised companies are short of workers because their Malaysian employees are back home and unable to make the daily trip across the Causeway given the restrictions on movement in both countries.

NTUC has stepped in to help those with shortages by moving workers from companies with excess workers, he said.

"We are able to move workers even before they are retrenched, and in some cases, it is on a secondment basis for three months."

The seconded workers will return to their companies when the pandemic is over, he added.

More than 7,000 workers have moved into jobs in such sectors as logistics, medical technology and security by NTUC's Job Security Council, which was set up in February.

The council has also helped airline flight attendants become social distancing ambassadors, Mr Ng said, adding that more roles, like swabbers for coronavirus tests, will be created in the fight against Covid-19.

He also said the council, which represents about 7,000 companies, will play a supporting role to the National Jobs Council announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (May 26).

The National Jobs Council oversees efforts to help Singaporeans master skills needed to stay employable in a challenging economy. It will be chaired by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Mr Ng said more details will be released about the two councils after the two groups meet on Wednesday (May 27).

To preserve jobs during the pandemic, NTUC is working with companies to find ways for them to keep workers while cutting costs.

"In very highly impacted industries, our unions are also talking to employers about... wage deferment, using of annual leave, wage negotiations, so that, to the extent possible, the wage component of costs can be managed," he said.

NTUC will also keep an eye on how firms treat women and older employees as well as white-collar workers in their 40s and 50s during the pandemic to ensure fair practices at the workplace, he said.

"These are the workers we want to focus on, in helping them at the workplace, to make sure their welfare is taken care of," he added.

NTUC will also explore ways to involve the Government and employers in the Company Training Committee initiative that Mr Ng raised during the Budget debate last year.

Each company's committee will focus on preparing workers to adopt technology at work more readily.

On Tuesday, Mr Heng said in Parliament that a $2 billion jobs and training package will help create close to 100,000 opportunities for workers affected by the Covid-19 economic slowdown.

The package, part of a $33 billion supplementary Budget, will include 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 skills training opportunities, he added.

The new jobs will be in both the public and private sectors, and they will be long-term ones in areas such as early childhood education and healthcare, as well as temporary gigs related to Covid-19 operations, such as healthcare declaration assistants and swabbers, Mr Heng said.

The public sector will also give local job seekers two-year positions and train them with an eye to placing them eventually in relevant private-sector jobs, he added.

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