Amid rising costs, NTUC will serve as price benchmarks, address underserved needs: Seah Kian Peng

At the same time, it will ensure workers here remain competitive and employable. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will play its part in moderating prices of essential goods and services amid the rising cost of living, serving as price benchmarks and addressing underserved needs.

It has been supporting workers and their families by moderating living costs through various programmes, said NTUC Enterprise chief executive Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC). These include providing subsidised training and affordable daily essentials through its group of social enterprises.

At the same time, it will ensure workers here remain competitive and employable, he added during the debate on the Budget statement on Tuesday (March 01). "To do this, NTUC strives to help workers of all collars and ages get better jobs and earn better wages."

Mr Seah, who is also chief executive of the FairPrice group, asked if there can be coordinated efforts to keep basic items affordable, either by giving guidance on specific items or tax incentives for doing so.

There is also a need to look out for those whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic and offer aid to those who fall through the cracks, such as those with limited family support, he said.

"Perhaps it is not just a matter of having more schemes, but helping more people become aware of and applying for such schemes," added Mr Seah.

Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) president Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) said more can be done to protect consumers.

Case, for instance, launched its Price Kaki mobile application in 2019 to allow consumers to compare prices of household essentials, groceries and hawker food, he added.

The app will be expanded this year to include more retailers, products and services. The coverage of groceries and household essentials will increase from 4,000 to 10,000 items, said Mr Yong, who is also NTUC assistant secretary-general. It will also cover an additional 200 foodcourts and coffee shops, on top of the current 114 hawker centres.

"But comparing prices alone is insufficient, if a retailer chooses to maintain the price but reduce the quantity of the product," said Mr Yong, who called on the Government to introduce mandatory unit pricing for supermarkets and grocery retailers here to tackle this "shrinkflation".

Mandatory unit pricing is practised in countries such as Australia, Argentina and Chile, he pointed out. "With the wide use of digital price tags today, supermarkets should have no difficulty displaying unit pricing."

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) pointed out that inflation is making in-roads into the pockets of the man in the street, especially the lower socioeconomic group.

"Salaries, if there have been any increases at all, are unable to fend off the rise in the cost of transport, cost of food, as well as other essential household items and healthcare services," he added.

Meanwhile, Ms Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC) said the way to make sure that higher living costs "do not bite too hard, is to ensure that incomes grow faster than expenses at every level of the workforce".

Singaporeans must not feel that they are left to deal with the pressures of escalating living costs alone, said Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson).

Ms Tin said she believes it is necessary to draw on the reserves to help Singaporeans get through this storm, and "now is not the right time to put money back into the reserves".

"Still, we must keep in mind that we cannot deplete our reserves, that we must guard it judiciously and instil a discipline to put back what we took at the earliest opportunity when we can afford to do so," she added.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also face cost pressures from various fronts, including raw materials and manpower, Mr Seah said.

He touched on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, noting it will add further cost pressures to businesses. Ukraine is a major supplier of sunflower seed and sunflower oil, and a major producer of corn.

"Corn supply shortage may also impact the price of livestock feed where corn is a major ingredient. Indeed, many egg suppliers have told me that their costs have gone up very significantly, where energy costs and corn, which is the feed for chickens, are major cost items for them," he said.

SMEs form an important part of Singapore's economy, including as a source of jobs and meaningful livelihoods, said Mr Seah.

"When businesses fail, jobs are lost too. And behind each SME is a group of men and women with dreams and families."

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