Career News (March 2020)

Local news on the labour front for March 2020.

Manpower news in Singapore this month included:

Job vacancies fell in 2019, government emphasises reskilling during cautious hiring climate

The seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons fell to 0.84 in December 2019, down from 1.09 a year earlier. This indicates that even before the Covid-19 outbreak, employers have already begun to hire cautiously in reaction to economic uncertainties. An MOM report, which is based on a survey of about 15,300 private and public sector organisations, saw that despite economic uncertainties last year – like the United States-China trade war – which resulted in fewer job vacancies, employers were still creating new jobs through business expansion and formation. Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that there were fewer job vacancies overall last year but there were still many opportunities in growth sector. Going forward, however, the uncertainties amid the coronavirus outbreak mean vacancies are likely to fall further this year, she said. Mrs Teo also highlighted the jobs-skills mismatch as a longer-term issue that must be tackled.


SGUnited to create up to 10,000 job

The 10,000 jobs being created through the SGUnited Jobs initiative could be in such industries as infocomm technology, cleaning and logistics, as well as the public sector. Also, SBF will expand its SBF ManpowerConnect scheme – which links employers with excess Chinese work-pass holders to those with a shortage – to include helping companies requiring Singapore resident workers.


Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme to give approximately 88,000 self-employed persons three quarterly cash payouts of $3,000

The payouts are part of a landmark $48.4 billion supplementary budget announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat to help Singapore cope with the coronavirus outbreak. Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs), which will cost $1.2 billion in total, will be open to those who earn a net trade income of no more than $100,000, live in a property with an annual value of no more than $13,000 and do not own two or more properties. There are other conditions for eligibility as well.


Companies, MOM find accommodation for Malaysian workers affected by lockdown

On 16 March, Malaysia announced a movement control order that started 18 March. Hence, companies scrambled to secure accommodation for Malaysian workers who commute daily to Singapore before the travel restrictions took effect. The government reassured Malaysians working here, that all Malaysian workers who choose to remain in Singapore will have a place to stay, and that it is providing financial help to employers. SNEF, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, also supported this call and said that Singapore employers should arrange accommodation for their employees. Due to the ongoing situation, firms have been asked to prepare to house workers in the long-term as Malaysia’s borders remain closed.


MOM may penalise foreign workers who gather on their off-days

Migrant workers who gather in large numbers in public may have their work passes revoked if they do not disperse when ordered to by the authorities, as MOM stepped up inspections of large gatherings of foreign workers. It also advised them to spend their off days at home. “As outdoor gatherings among FDWs tend to be large, MOM will take action to disperse them as an added precaution… Workers who do not cooperate will have their work passes revoked,” it said. 


$600 million in payouts to go to over 90,000 employers under Wage Credit Scheme

This month, more than $600 million in payouts will be given out to more than 90,000 employers under the WCS. Approximately 70% of the employers who will receive payouts are SMEs, as the funds are intended to help companies cope with rising wage costs. Additionally, employers eligible for the Budget 2020 enhancements for 2019 wage increases will receive a supplementary payout in the second half of 2020. The wage credit payouts will be given out by 31 March, and employers do not need to apply to receive them.


Companies in affected sectors and financial companies freeze hiring, decrease salaries

Companies in affected sectors such as SIA, and financial companies such as DBS have frozen or delayed hiring. Other companies such as Temasek, SMRT and CapitaLand have decreased wages and bonuses, to cope with the excess manpower and decrease in the business throughout the outbreak. Some have also asked senior management to voluntarily reduce their base salaries for up to a year. In most cases, the voluntary pay cuts will be used for community-related efforts.


NTUC pilots Job Security Council, tops up freelancer training fund

NTUC is to pilot a new Job Security Council will gather information on PME job vacancies, jobs that can be redesigned as well as jobs being phased out, and match workers from “releasing” companies to “receiving” companies.

It also has set aside $4 million to help freelancers who are union members cope with the lull in business due to the coronavirus pandemic, enabling these members to claim higher training allowances to defray the opportunity cost of going for courses. This is in addition to the $36 million Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme announced by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo earlier this month, under which all Singaporean and permanent resident freelancers will receive a training allowance of $7.50 an hour when they undergo eligible courses.


MOM takes enforcement action against workplaces that fail to comply with safe distancing measures

MOM has taken enforcement action against 21 workplaces which have failed to comply with government advisories on safe distancing measures to reduce the risk of local transmission of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Thirteen stop-work orders and eight remedial orders were issued to workplaces which disregarded the need for safe distancing, and will be in place until rectifications are complete. The ministry reminded all employers to place their employees on work-from-home arrangements wherever possible, especially for vulnerable employees such as older workers, pregnant workers and those with pre-existing medical conditions.


About 1,000 firms suspected of discriminatory hiring practices, five employers penalised

Approximately 1,000 firms have been placed on the Consideration Framework (FCF) Watchlist on suspicions of discriminatory hiring practices. These include firms with an exceptionally high share of foreign PMETs compared to other firms in the same industry, or high concentrations of single nationalities in a single firm. Additionally, five firms were taken to task by the Ministry of Manpower for age-related discrimination under the stiffer penalties framework which came into force in January. MOM has barred these employers from hiring foreign employees and from renewing the work passes of their existing foreign employees for 12 months, with immediate effect.

In a similar vein, Ti2 Logistics sole director Francis Chiang Tin Yui pleaded guilty to one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, the first prosecution under the enhanced Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). The company had falsely declared in its work pass application that it had considered local candidates fairly before deciding to hire a foreigner who, in fact, had been pre-selected for a position.


MOM reminds employers to keep up safety practices, as workplaces fatalities hit record low but non-fatal injury cases rise

Minister of State for National Development Zaqy Mohamad said that employers should not ignore workers’ safety even as they adjust work arrangements amid the evolving Covid-19 situation. To date, six workers have died in separate workplace accidents since mid-February, four of whom lost their lives while performing high-risk operations.

However, deaths at the workplace fell to 39 in 2019, or 1.1 per 100,000 workers. This was a record low compared to the 41 deaths in 2018 and also marks the lowest rate of fatalities since 2004, when records were first compiled. However, a total of 6,561 workplace injuries were recorded between January and June this year, an increase from 6,073 in the same period last year.


Employers must notify MOM if cost-cutting measures taken during the current slowdown have affected workers’ salaries

This requirement is part of an update to the tripartite advisory on managing excess manpower and responsible retrenchment, and began on 12 March 2020. The revised advisory recommends that employers send workers for training and upgrading before cutting headcount. Other changes to the advisory include the introduction of time-banking, which allows employees to be “paid now for work later”.


Labour productivity falls for the first time in 10 years

Singapore’s real value-added per actual hour worked declined by 1.5%, the first negative reading since the series was started in 2010. Measured as real value-added per worker, it fell by 0.8%. Productivity declines in manufacturing and services outweighed the improvement seen in the construction sector last year. Economists said the decline could be due to cyclical factors as Singapore is a highly open economy.


New retraining programme for logistic and supply chain workers

A new programme, the Redeployment Programme for Supply Chain and Logistics Coordinators, will provide participating companies with salary support to aid in re-skilling and redeployment of rank-and-file employees affected by a company’s business transformation efforts. It was jointly developed by Workforce Singapore (WSG), the Economic Development Board, Enterprise Singapore and the Supply Chain and Logistics Academy, and helps affected workers take on new or enhanced roles in their companies.


Dealing with data overwhelms Singaporean workers

While data is set to play a bigger and bigger roles in business, many Singaporeans report that they struggle to keep up. 84% of employees surveyed said they felt overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data. 47%, or nearly half of the Singapore respondents reported taking at least one day of sick leave in the last two years owing to stress from information, data and technology issues. The survey of 9,000 full-time employees, including 1,000 in Singapore, was conducted last September, and was commissioned by consulting firm Accenture and data solutions company Qlik.


New scheme for mid-career PMETs keen to work in law

In a move to encourage law firms to hire mid-career professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), a new professional conversion programme (PCP) will be launched to retrain such workers for paralegal or legal secretary jobs. This was previously announced by Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong during the debate on the Law Ministry’s budget.


Home Team’s tech arm to hire more talent

Mrs Josephine Teo, Second Minister for Home Affairs, announced in Parliament on 2 March 2020 that the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) will be hiring software, mechanical and electrical engineers as well as computer scientists to deal with the challenges posed by data and digital technologies.


1 in 4 PMETs on fixed-term contracts, worries labour experts

A survey commissioned by Straits Times has found that nearly a quarter of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) in Singapore are hired on fixed-term contracts. The figure is higher than the Government’s figure of 6.8 per cent for PMETs on fixed-term contracts last year, up from 6.3 per cent in 2018. Fixed-term contracts expire at the end of a specified period, unless they are renewed, and are an indication of employers being cautious about hiring amid economic uncertainty and other challenges. Human resource experts say market uncertainties and the caution around hiring even before the coronavirus outbreak have led employers to hire more fixed-term contract workers in general.


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