Minimum income criterion for Workfare payouts will exclude Singaporeans who need them: MPs

New measures will affect older low-waged workers or caregivers who need the flexibility of part-time work, said Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC). ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The new minimum income criterion of $500 a month to qualify for Workfare Income Supplement payouts will disqualify some of the very people that the scheme is intended to support, said Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) on Monday (Feb 28).

Urging the Government to reconsider introducing this measure, Ms Tan said it will affect older low-waged workers or those who are caregivers and need the flexibility of part-time work.

"For this group of workers, while they can and do want to work, part-time work may be more suitable for them," she said, during the Budget 2022 debate.

She cited the situation of one of her residents, who works as a relief programme coordinator at an eldercare centre, covering staff who are on leave or medical leave and earning about $200 to a little over $500 each month.

The 69-year-old woman is appreciative of the Workfare support she receives now, but will no longer be eligible when the minimum income criterion takes effect next January.

Directing her request to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, Ms Tan said: "Will Minister consider a review of the minimum income criterion, as it will impact those that the scheme is intended to support?"

Mr Wong had announced changes to the scheme, which tops up the incomes and Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings of lower-wage workers, in his Budget speech on Feb 18.

The new minimum income criterion, which takes effect on Jan 1 next year, is to encourage part-timers and casual workers to take up regular, full-time work, he said.

However, the income cap for eligible employees to qualify for Workfare will be raised to $2,500 a month, instead of $2,300. The scheme will also be extended to younger workers aged 30 to 34, and payout levels will be increased.

On Monday, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) also called for the criterion to be removed, as it will deny some 46,600 employed residents who earned less than $500 a month last year, excluding employer CPF contributions, of Workfare payouts.

"There are legitimate reasons why Singaporeans take up part-time or casual work. Some may be caregivers who do not have the flexibility to take up full-time work. Others may not be able to stand for eight hours a day, for example in a food and beverage setting for various reasons, including their advanced years," he said.

"For such individuals, full-time work can be gruelling. For some, retraining is easier said than done. Yet some others simply cannot find full-time work in the limited areas they are qualified for, and take what part-time or casual work they can find."

Other MPs also suggested ways to better support lower-wage workers.

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For example, Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC) suggested slowing the supply of blue-collar foreign workers, and redesigning jobs to improve the working conditions of lower-wage jobs.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang) said lower-wage workers should be encouraged and supported to upskill so that they can further move up the wage ladder.

Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) asked if there was room to increase the local qualifying salary - the minimum salary that firms employing foreigners will need to pay to all local employees from September - to a gross amount of $1,600, which he said roughly corresponds to a take-home salary of $1,300. It is currently set at $1,400.

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