Posted on 02 March 2020
The first two days of the parliamentary debate focused on the 2020 Budget, which included extensive measures to help the country tide over the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, the government reiterated that its commitment was not simply to help Singapore “survive”, but reiterated its commitment to focus on upskilling middle-aged workers to ensure their continued competitiveness.
Highlights of the budget debate included:
Support for vulnerable worker groups
NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay suggested extending absentee payroll funding to freelancers and self-employed people so as to encourage more of them to come forward for training. Absentee payroll funding is a government grant to offset the manpower costs incurred by employers when they send staff for certifiable skills training during working hours.
Upskilling for mid-career PMETs
As mid-career PMETs are especially vulnerable to lacking employment and employability, training should be made more relevant, affordable and physically closer to them. Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) voiced concerns that innovators, investors and high-skilled IT workers tend to benefit the most in the future economy, while the rest of the population could be at risk of being left out.
Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said that NTUC will set up on-demand mobile centres for PMEs to offer career development workshops and job preparation courses closer to the heartlands, while Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) suggested providing the SkillsFuture Credit top-ups earlier than October, so that workers can use this period of downtime amid the coronavirus outbreak to go for training.
Other suggestions included providing data on wage benchmarks by occupation and sector so that people can identify a fair wage and make more informed decisions about their careers, or for employers to intervene early with customised career planning for their easily-replaceable workers.
Several MPs suggested that employers and employees hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak should receive support sooner rather than later.
Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Manpower, suggested that payouts for the Jobs Support Scheme could be brought forward, and noted that many workers, especially freelancers and the self-employed, have also asked that the SkillsFuture top-up scheduled for October be rolled out earlier so they can make use of the downtime to train themselves.
Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) supported this suggestion, noting that the timing of the payouts could mean the difference between survival and failure for some firms. Mr Seah Kian Peng, Marine Parade GRC MP, also said that the grants, which will be given out by July 31, are “rather late and does little to help mitigate cash-flow issues” for small- and medium-sized enterprises that are now urgently crying out for help.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Mr Saktiandi (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) voiced reservations about the scheme, as the measures would not stop businesses from laying off workers before they receive the payouts in July. “Does that not defeat the primary purpose of this scheme which is employee retention?” Mr Saktiandi asked.
Prolonged support measures
As the outbreak continues, several MPs wondered if Singapore would be able to push out an off-Budget package to continue stabilising the country’s economy.
Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) said that the scenario of a long-drawn outbreak is a top-of-mind concern for many Singaporeans. While Mr Heng has provided assurance that the Government will do more if needed, many are worried about how long it will be able to sustain large deficits, she said.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) wanted to know whether, in a worst-case scenario of a global pandemic, the Government has enough resources to undertake an off-Budget package to help businesses and workers.
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