NTUC calls for flexibility in CPF withdrawals

SINGAPORE - Workers should be allowed to make a lump sum withdrawal of at least 20 per cent from their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings even if they do not meet the Minimum Sum, the labour movement said yesterday.

The National Trades Union Congress also wants the Government to raise the current ceiling of $60,000 that attracts an additional 1 percentage point in interest rates.

These two suggestions were among a raft of 15 proposals aimed at boosting CPF savings and giving CPF members more flexibility in using their own retirement funds, said NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong.

But even as the NTUC proposed major tweaks, she said it is not calling for a major overhaul of the system.

"The fundamentals of the system should remain. In no way will we want to convert it into a retirement (pension) benefits scheme," said Ms Cham.

"We have seen how it has evolved in other countries and how it has collapsed."

NTUC has submitted the recommendations, based on views it gathered from 250 union leaders and workers at the end of last year, to the government- appointed advisory panel reviewing the CPF.

At the National Day Rally last August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the Government would consider letting CPF members make lump sum withdrawals after they retire, but withdrawals should be capped and not too excessive.

Currently, members can withdraw only $5,000 from the CPF savings at age 55 if they do not meet the Minimum Sum.

Ms Cham said the NTUC supported Mr Lee's call and it wants workers to have the flexibility of withdrawing a lump sum, "minimally 20 per cent", from their CPF accounts at the drawdown age, even if they do not meet the Minimum Sum.

At the same time, the Government should introduce financial incentives to encourage workers to continue keeping their funds in CPF accounts, she added.

For older workers, who have their CPF rates cut as they age, the labour movement wants the CPF contribution rate of workers aged 50 to 55 to be the same as younger workers.

NTUC also suggested that the Government raise the CPF contribution ceiling from $5,000 to between $5,500 and $6,000.

To further boost savings, the NTUC also wants the $60,000 cap on CPF savings that earn an extra 1 percentage point in interest rates to be doubled to $120,000.

Acknowledging that these could add to rising costs, Ms Cham said: "We have to be reasonable and fair to employees as well."

But former Nominated MP Eugene Tan said the recommendations do not go far enough in addressing retirement adequacy.

Only half of CPF members who turn 55 in 2013 met the Minimum Sum, including 15 per cent who pledged their properties.

"The CPF system cannot just do with tweaks but needs an urgent overhaul," said Mr Tan, an associate law professor from Singapore Management University.