Budget 2019 debate

Parliament: Sylvia Lim seeks better ways to measure underemployment


Official data indicates that the less educated in Singapore tend to be more prone to underemployment, a finding that led Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim to call on the Government to study the economic phenomenon more thoroughly, and monitor its effects on society.

Referring to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures, she noted that underemployment for university graduates is 2.3 per cent, which is lower than the overall rate of 3.3 per cent. But for those with just secondary education, it rises to nearly 4 per cent.

It grows further to 5 per cent for those without secondary education, she said in Parliament yes-terday, the second day of the Budget debate.

"The rate was derived by a time-based definition of underemployment... persons working part-time and would like to work full-time," said Ms Lim (Aljunied GRC), referring to the underemployed group - people working below capacity.

"Even by MOM's measure, the 3.3 per cent translates into nearly 73,000 workers," she added. Ci-ting the breakdown for those of different education levels, she said: "This may suggest that there may be a class dimension... with the less educated more prone to underemployment."

She asked the Government to continue improving the way underemployment is measured and monitor its effects on different segments of society. She also noted that the underemployed face challenges, such as being underpaid, feeling insecure about their income and lacking finances for daily expenses.

Citing a 2017 study by the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, she noted that it yielded an underemployment rate of 4.3 per cent, which is higher than MOM's 3.3 per cent as at June last year.


The question is how well such initiatives are serving to give economic security to workers.

WORKERS' PARTY CHAIRMAN SYLVIA LIM, on the effectiveness of reskilling programmes in helping workers who are affected by job disruptions.


The institute's survey adopted a multi-factor definition of underemployment and looked at those with university degrees and higher qualifications earning below $2,000 a month in a full-time job.

This state of vulnerability requires monitoring amid growing upheavals from job disruption.

Noting efforts to respond to such job disruption, with initiatives like Professional Conversion Programmes that help workers move into new roles, Ms Lim said the message that workers need to adapt is clear. She added: "The question is how well such initiatives are serving to give economic security to workers."

For instance, of the more than 76,000 job seekers who found employment through the Adapt and Grow Initiative from 2016 to last year, it would be useful to know if those who switched industries had comparable remuneration or took pay cuts.

Ms Lim also called for more support for vulnerable workers, like those in the gig economy.

With some needing flexibility of time to attend to family issues, and others finding it hard to take time off work to attend to personal matters, she suggested that they be allowed instalment payments for composition fines - so their cases do not go to court when they have trouble making payments.

"The direction of the Government in economic transformation and workforce reskilling... is necessary," she said. But, she added: "The other pillar that is equally necessary is to have compensatory policies in the form of social safety nets, to cushion citizens who face disruption."

Yesterday, Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) also called for a re-look at policies surrounding another group of workers - seniors facing re-employment.

She cited feedback that some were "forced to leave their company upon reaching retirement age" despite still being productive.

In another case, a worker was told to take a 40 per cent pay cut on re-employment, on top of added responsibilities.

"He was referred to the Tripartite Guidelines on the Re-employ-ment of Older Employees, which stated that wages can be adjusted to the mid-point of the salary range," she said.

"I understand that re-employment might not be at the same salary, but to suffer a 40 per cent pay cut for an additional job scope, that is too much."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline 'Sylvia Lim seeks better ways to measure underemployment'. Print Edition | Subscribe