Thousands matched with new work roles by NTUC job council

20,000 figure about double the number helped by early June; 9,000 companies now on board

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng (right) visiting Resorts World Sentosa staff amid a retrenchment exercise last month. In an interview on Thursday, Mr Ng noted that the overall level of anxiety among Singaporeans over foreigners working here has h
NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng (right) visiting Resorts World Sentosa staff amid a retrenchment exercise last month. In an interview on Thursday, Mr Ng noted that the overall level of anxiety among Singaporeans over foreigners working here has heightened, and suggested that Employment Pass policies may need to be tightened.PHOTO: NG CHEE MENG/ FACEBOOK

More than 20,000 workers have been matched with new roles amid the Covid-19 crisis by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Job Security Council, said labour chief Ng Chee Meng.

This is about double the number matched by early June.

The council, set up in February, helps displaced workers or those at risk of losing their jobs move into new jobs or temporary secondments in firms in the group.

The number of companies on board the council has also risen to more than 9,000, said Mr Ng, up from the more than 7,000 companies on board in June, when he gave an update in Parliament.

"In such circumstances, I suppose one can have two different views, that it has grown so fast because of the crisis. I am not really too delighted about it, but I am also quite happy we are able to value-add to the job matching scene in Singapore to help displaced workers," Mr Ng, who is NTUC secretary-general, said in an interview with The Straits Times on Thursday.

His comments came after Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said earlier this month that the National Wages Council (NWC) would meet for a second time this year. Yesterday, the ministry announced that the NWC will reconvene later this month and aims to release updated guidelines by next month.

Speaking to ST at the NTUC Centre, in the unusually quiet Central Business District, Mr Ng said he hopes the council will look at how to maximise job preservation and, at the same time, look after the welfare of workers, especially those earning low wages.

Based on feedback, he expects job losses to continue to rise in the next six to 12 months as the economic impact of the pandemic becomes more widely felt.

NTUC's priority hence is to preserve jobs, protect workers and, in retrenchments, provide care and support to workers, like through job matching, he said.

FAIR RETRENCHMENT FRAMEWORK

Layoffs, if necessary, must be done fairly, which is why NTUC proposed a Fair Retrenchment Framework last month, said Mr Ng.

 
 
 
 

Among other things, it protects the Singaporean core of the workforce, while foreigners with critical skills could be retained as well.

The framework had been months in the making but was announced amid tense union negotiations with aircraft maintenance company Eagle Services Asia, which was planning to carry out a retrenchment exercise unfairly.

Mr Ng had authorised three unions to conduct secret ballots among workers on whether to pursue legal industrial action.

If a legal strike had taken place, it would have been the first since the Hydril strike of 1986. In the end, industrial action was averted after an agreement was reached.

"My goal (in giving the unions the green light) was not to thump my chest and flex our muscles, but to have an amicable solution in this very difficult and challenging time for the company and the workers," said Mr Ng, adding that industrial action is always a last resort.

This is in line with the tripartite approach in Singapore, where the aim of the partnership between unions, employers and the Government is to help businesses succeed so that workers can have sustainable wage growth, better welfare and better work prospects, he said.

"But when companies for whatever reasons take on unfair practices against our workers, then the NTUC will stand up to make sure the fundamental interest of workers is protected," he said.

COMPETITION FOR JOBS

Mr Ng also noted that the overall level of anxiety among Singaporeans over foreigners working here has heightened, and suggested that Employment Pass policies may need to be tightened.

He said at the macro level, building Singapore's economy is for Singaporeans' interests, and foreigners are needed in numbers as well as in talent or skills to augment the local workforce to expand the economy.

But when there is intense competition for jobs at certain levels, the Government should put in policies for Singaporeans to have fair access to good jobs, he said.

It is a "never-ending process" of adjusting policies to each phase of the nation's development, he said.

 
 
 
 

The changes began initially with the work permit policy and then the mid-skilled S Pass workers, he noted.

The next step could be to look at possibilities for Employment Passes, "with a very fine balance between the numbers that are coming in, and also attracting the top talents into Singapore", he added.

Last week, NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay called on the authorities to disclose the names of companies on the Fair Consideration Framework watch list, after the Manpower Ministry said it had recently added 47 more employers for potentially discriminatory hiring practices, on top of an earlier 1,200.

Mr Ng said naming the employers would be useful - not to shame them but to boost the transparency of the hiring ecosystem and show job seekers which employers are good.

He understands the anxieties and frustrations among Singaporeans competing for a good job amid a downturn, he said.

"But we must also understand that Singapore is a very open economy. We need the linkages, the networks and the talents that would create and anchor Singapore as an international hub, where we are business-friendly, where we welcome diversity of people into the economy to create the biggest possible space in our nation state so that we can uplift Singaporeans' lives.

"That balance is the most challenging one in current circumstances, but nevertheless a critical one we as Singaporeans must think about."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2020, with the headline 'Thousands matched with new work roles by NTUC job council'. Subscribe