Committee of Supply (Speech 4) by Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Health and Manpower), 09 March 2011, 5:45PM, ParliamentPROGRESSIVE WORKPLACES AND INCLUSIVE GROWTH FOR ALL SINGAPOREANS
- Minister Gan has given the House an overview of our Ministry’s approach to fostering inclusive growth. I will now elaborate on the specific measures we have put in place to help different groups of Singaporeans enjoy our economic growth, namely low-wage workers, older workers and economically inactive residents.
I. INCLUSIVE GROWTH FOR ALL SINGAPOREANS – LOW-WAGE WORKERS
A. Comprehensive Approach to Low-Wage Worker Issues
- First, low-wage workers. Helping low-wage workers do better and earn more is a multi-faceted challenge. The Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) was set up to ensure that they can also gain from productivity. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean gave an update on the progress of the IGP, which is administered by NTUC, last week during the Budget Debate. Mr Seng Han Thong has shared some examples of how the labour movement is helping low-wage workers. We applaud all these efforts, and I agree with him that we must work together and continue with our efforts.
- Ms Irene Ng asked how we intend to help low-wage workers and older workers improve their wages. The Tripartite Committee for Low-Wage Workers and Inclusive Growth, which I chair, was established last year to assist low-wage workers in a range of areas. One of our priorities is promoting training for low-wage workers, which will enable them to become more productive and take on higher value jobs over time.
B. Promoting Training for Low-Wage Workers
- The Government has made a major commitment to the upgrading of low-wage workers with the launch of the Workfare Training Support (or WTS) Scheme in July last year. WTS consists of three components to support training of low-wage workers. First, the “Employer Grant” provides up to 95% of course fees and absentee payroll support to encourage employers to send workers for training. Second, the “Training Commitment Award” rewards workers up to $400 a year to encourage them to complete their training as they work. Third, the “Workfare-Skill Up” programme provides a holistic training roadmap with customised classes to help low-wage workers overcome training barriers, attain literacy and workplace skills and find suitable jobs.
- Mdm Halimah has asked for an update and made suggestions on the WTS. As of February 2011, more than 34,000 workers have benefited from the scheme. Specifically, over 11,000 workers and 1,300 employers have benefited from the WTS-Employer Grant. More than 24,000 workers received the Training Commitment Award. A total of 5,000 workers have also signed up for Workfare-Skill Up. Of the 2,800 workers who have already benefited and or attended the Skill Up motivational workshops, 1 in 5 continued on to literacy training. So we think that it is working. We can encourage more workers to take up various range of skills upgrading possibilities and I think all sectors can work together to do this.
- The WTS responds to Mr Ong Ah Heng’s concern that it is important for older workers to go for skills training to remain productive and employable. Here I would like to highlight the example of Ms Parwathy. Ms Parwathy upgraded her skills with the support of WTS and switched occupations at the age of 50. Some of us may think it is late, but she has proven that it is possible to change a profession or a career at the age of 50. After working for 7 years as a machine operator in an automotive company, Ms Parwathy took up a 6-month, full-time nursing care training course under the WSQ Healthcare Support framework. She is now employed at a restructured hospital1 as a healthcare assistant. Not only does she enjoy her new job, she also draws a 20 per cent higher salary.
- I would also like to assure Mr Zainudin Nordin and Mdm Halimah that the Government will continue to ensure that training courses remain affordable. However, we will still continue and require some co-payment from trainees. This is in line with the basic principle that each individual is responsible for his own upgrading, and ensures that workers go for training that is relevant to their needs. Workers who face difficulties can approach the career centres at the Community Development Councils or the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) for training advice and assistance. WTS is a new scheme, and we will take Mdm Halimah’s suggestions into account when we continue to improve on it.
- Mr Charles Chong asked what more the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) will do to encourage low-wage workers to take up training courses. I am glad to inform Mr Chong and Mr Zainudin that we have set up a WTS Promotion Working Group under my Tripartite Committee to enhance our outreach to eligible employers and workers. Chaired by WDA, the Workgroup will better coordinate the promotion of WTS among the tripartite partners and address training obstacles faced by low-wage workers.
- The group had organised two roadshows to promote WTS. At the one I attended in Clementi, the response by workers was encouraging. Many of them came forward to ask career counsellors on skills training possibilities so they can improve their skills, get better jobs and improve their income.
- One key obstacle that we are aware of is training accessibility. WDA, HDB and the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies have thus come together to roll out an on-site, bite-sized training programme for retail Small-Medium Enterprises (SME) in HDB estates since October 2010. 65-year-old Mr Puan Soo Hong, the owner of Hong Sheng Goldsmith, is one employer who has benefited from this programme. Of his 12 employees, Mr Puan was able to send all 8 frontline staff for training courses, as they were conducted before opening hours at a community centre near his shop. When Mr Puan noticed that his staff offered better customer service after the course, he introduced uniforms to enhance their professional image and instil a sense of pride in them.
(i) English @ Workplace Scheme
- Building on the success of on-site training, I am pleased to announce the launch of a new scheme, English @ Workplace. Under this scheme, employers can engage CET Centres to design customised curriculum and conduct in-house training for their staff. Employers who have the capability to be in-house WSQ Approved Training Organisations may also deliver their own Workplace Literacy training. This will enhance training accessibility for low-wage workers who may not be able to attend training due to their work schedules.
C. Promoting Responsible Outsourcing Practices
- Mr Zainudin Nordin would be pleased to know that we put emphasis on responsible outsourcing, which is the second priority area of my Committee. Many low-wage workers are employed in sectors where outsourcing is a common practice. How service buyers outsource can therefore have a powerful impact and effect on the well-being of low-wage workers.
(ii) Update of Tripartite Advisory on Responsible Outsourcing Practices
- In 2008, the tripartite partners introduced the Tripartite Advisory on Responsible Outsourcing Practices. Based on a survey last year, we found that more than 50% of companies that outsourced cleaning, security and landscaping services adopted three or more of the six responsible outsourcing practices listed in the Advisory. With a few years of experience, we now have a better sense of which practices are the most effective. The tripartite partners will be gathering more feedback on the Advisory and issue an updated version, and will take note of Mdm Halimah’s suggestion to include training. To further increase the adoption of responsible outsourcing practices, we plan to develop more resources for companies to tap on, such as handbooks to guide procurement managers.
(i) Stepping Up Enforcement Against Errant Employers
- MOM will also provide information for buyers of services, employees and customers, on individual companies that have infringed employment-related laws. We will start by publishing online a list of employers convicted under the Employment Act and Workplace Safety and Health Act from April this year. In due course, we will expand to cover other employment-related legislation such as the Central Provident Fund Act.
II. INCLUSIVE GROWTH FOR ALL SINGAPOREANS – OLDER EMPLOYEES
A. Enhancing Self-Reliance, Improving Employability
- Sir, now I would like to talk about the second group of workers, the older workers. Among low-wage workers, those who are older would benefit from even more targeted assistance. As the Minister for Finance announced in his Budget Statement, the Government will provide employers with a one-off Special Employment Credit (or SEC) for older low-wage Singaporean workers. This will benefit workers by raising their employability, and also help employers prepare for the new re-employment legislation that will take effect next year.
- For each Singaporean employee aged 55 to 59 on the employer's payroll in a given month, employers will receive an SEC of up to 50% of employer CPF contributions for that month. For each employee aged 60 and above, employers will receive a higher SEC of up to 80% of the employer CPF contributions for that month. In other words, employers can receive up to $420 a year for each qualifying employee.
- The SEC will be paid twice a year for three years, beginning with employees on the payroll from January 2011. The first payment for employees on the payroll for the first six months of this year will be made by 30 September 2011. The SEC is expected to be paid to about 43,000 employers employing 125,000 older low-wage Singaporean workers. It will cost the government about $100 million. Let me assure Mdm Halimah, Mr Heng Chee How and Mr Low Thia Khiang that we will review the SEC after its implementation to assess whether there are merits to extend it.
B. Helping Employers to be Re-Employment Ready
- Mr Seng Han Thong rightly pointed out that public perception of older employees is important. Last year, we launched the Re-employment Ready Campaign, which featured employees who were past the age of 62 and still making valuable contributions at work. This year, we will focus on helping employers to implement re-employment.
- I would like to share with Mdm Ho Geok Choo, Mr Ang Mong Seng and Ms Sylvia Lim the measures we have introduced to help companies recruit, retain and re-employ older employees. We will build on our existing programmes, such as the ADVANTAGE! Scheme that was introduced in 2005. A total of $13.6 million has been disbursed since its launch. We enhanced the scheme last year to encourage more companies to be re-employment ready ahead of 2012, and to provide additional support and help to SMEs. I am glad to update that 187 companies have signed up for the revised ADVANTAGE! Scheme since April last year. Companies that take action to improve the productivity of older workers can also benefit from the Productivity and Innovation Credit if their initiatives qualify for the scheme.
- Mdm Ho Geok Choo further suggested having coaching clinics for employers. The tripartite partners have implemented The Programme for Re-employment Practices: A Roadmap for Employers (PREPARE) and the ‘4R’ (Recruitment, Retention, Re-employment and Re-career) Programme. These training programmes provide general guidance to companies on re-employment and how to better manage an older workforce. Employers can tap on ADVANTAGE! funds to send their staff for these courses.
- Our tripartite partners will also be leading the ACCELErating Re-Employment through Tripartite Efforts (ACCELERETE) programme to provide targeted assistance for companies seeking to implement re-employment. Teams will help companies assess whether they have policies and processes in place to facilitate re-employment, and follow up on the gaps identified.
C. Promoting Age-Friendly Workplaces
- Mr Low Thia Khiang raised concerns about discrimination against older employees. Through the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP), the tripartite partners have been working to promote fair and responsible employment practices, including age-neutral human resource policies. For example, employers are encouraged and assisted to use merit-based criteria when hiring. To date, over 1,500 employers who hire more than 650,000 employees have signed the Employers’ Pledge of Fair Employment Practices. To address Ms Sylvia Lim’s concerns, the tripartite partners are working hard to raise awareness of TAFEP and its work to address workplace discrimination. MOM and the tripartite partners also work closely with industries, employers and unions to help ensure that older workers continue to be gainfully employed.
- Mr. Low also suggested setting up a unit within MOM to look at older worker issues. With the passing of re-employment legislation, MOM has already allocated dedicated resources to work proactively with our tripartite partners to help companies get re-employment ready.
- I agree with Ms Denise Phua that we must continue our efforts to build an inclusive workforce for elderly employees. We will learn from the best practices of countries like Japan. In the long run, we want to look beyond re-employment to provide more holistic support to companies in managing a mature workforce. We urge employers to be more receptive towards mature workers and be creative in devising solutions to make their work and workplaces more age-friendly.
- Seng Choon Farm, which produces fresh eggs, is one local enterprise that has tapped on the ADVANTAGE! scheme to facilitate re-employment and raise productivity in the process. By introducing Auto Egg Inspection Equipment, Seng Choon Farm was able to re-deploy eight older egg inspection workers to production line and other duties. Seng Choon Farm also introduced automated scrubbers and mechanical stackers to reduce physical strain on their workers.
- Our tripartite partners have laid the groundwork for re-employment over the past 5 years, including the issuing of the Tripartite Guidelines. Most employers and unions have adopted the recommendations in the guidelines. I would like to assure Mr Heng Chee How that my Ministry is well-prepared to provide advice and assistance to employers, unions and employees to help them resolve re-employment disputes amicably. We urge all employers to implement re-employment early, even before the new legislation and its remedies take effect in January 2012.
III. INCLUSIVE GROWTH FOR ALL SINGAPOREANS – ECONOMICALLY INACTIVE RESIDENTS
A. Flexible Work Arrangements
- The third group I would like to talk about is the economically inactive residents. Ms Jessica Tan asked about measures to address the challenges of a tight labour market. On top of keeping older workers employed, my Ministry seeks to bring economically inactive residents into the labour force. In 2010, there were 270,400 economically inactive residents in the prime working age of 25 to 54, of which 87% were women. To encourage these residents to join the workforce, MOM has been actively promoting progressive work-life strategies. I am heartened to note that in 2010, 35% of establishments offered at least one form of flexible work arrangement, up from 25% in 2007. I would like to assure Mdm Halimah that we will continue to improve the promotion of flexible work arrangements. This year, MOM will re-examine the obstacles faced by economically inactive residents when returning to work, so as to put in place measures that cater to their needs.
- Here, I would like to commend the members of the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy, for their efforts in promoting work-life initiatives. Last year, the Committee received over 200 applications for the third Work-Life Excellence Awards, an increase of 50% from 2008. This demonstrates the growing interest in work-life initiatives among employers. 70 successful employers, including 13 SMEs, were recognised for their innovative and effective work-life strategies.
- In addition, the Employer Alliance, a group of companies led by Ms Claire Chiang has aimed to make work-life integration part of Singapore’s corporate landscape. It saw its membership increase significantly from 766 to 916 in 2010. Over the years, the Employer Alliance has promoted best practices, conducted research and assisted employers in implementing work-life initiatives. I encourage interested companies to join the Alliance to benefit from its work.
- Mr Ong Ah Heng suggested promoting work-life harmony in foreign worker-dependent sectors in order to encourage more local workers to join these sectors. Our work-life promotion efforts are targeted at all employers, including these sectors. Companies are encouraged to tap on these initiatives, including the Work-Life Works! Fund or the WoW! Fund. Over 760 companies, mostly SMEs, have benefited from the WoW! Fund since it was launched in 2004.
- Another initiative to support companies in offering flexible work arrangements is the Flexi-Works! Scheme, which MOM introduced together with WDA and our tripartite partners in 2007. As of December 2010, 250 companies have committed to recruit 6,000 workers on flexible work arrangements under the scheme. One company that has readily offered flexible work arrangements is childcare centre Cherie Hearts. Drawing on the WOW! Fund and the Flexi-Works! Fund, Cherie Hearts customised work arrangements to suit staff’s needs. Ms Zuraini Abdul Rahim, for instance, worked from home on a half-day basis from October to December 2009 to help her son prepare for examinations. I think this sounds very familiar. Many parents take leave when their children sit for major examinations such as the PSLE and O levels. Ms Zuraini is one such employee who was assisted by her employer to meet her needs, to be with her child when her child sat for the examinations. Motivated by the company’s support and flexibility, Ms Zuraini has excelled in her work. She has since been promoted to Vice President of the IT department and was given an additional portfolio of Estate Management.
- Ms Zuraini’s example shows that there need not be a trade off between work and relationships, as mentioned by Assoc. Prof. Paulin Straughan. To her point on the need to monitor overtime work, my Ministry regularly collects and publishes data on paid hours worked per employee, as well as paid overtime hours worked. However, employees who engage in informal overtime work are usually given the flexibility to take unrecorded leave or “time-off,” which is difficult to keep track. While we do not collect data on the reasons for regular overtime work, they are likely to be dependent on the individual company and industry situation. Sometimes it is also seasonal.
B. Update on Tripartite Workgroup on ICT-enabled Home-based Jobs
- To further help employees meet their work-life needs, the tripartite partners are exploring how to leverage Singapore’s excellent Information and Communications Technology (or ICT) infrastructure to offer home-based jobs. Mdm Halimah Yacob asked for an update on the Tripartite Workgroup on ICT-enabled home-based jobs, which was established under the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy last year. Led by NMP Mrs Mildred Tan, the workgroup has studied best practices in countries where home-based work is more widespread. The workgroup has tabled its recommendations to the Tripartite Committee. We would like to thank the workgroup for their hard work and assure them that the committee is looking seriously into the recommendations.
IV. PROGRESSIVE WORKPLACES
A. Promoting Safe Workplaces
(ii) Workplace Safety and Health Performance
- Let me now move on to workplace safety and health. Workplace safety and health (WSH) is another important facet of MOM’s work. Despite the ramp-up in business and construction activities last year, I am pleased to note that Singapore’s workplace fatality rate fell from 2.9 per 100,000 employed persons in 2009 to a low of 2.2 in 2010 raised by Mr Charles Chong earlier. The absolute number of workplace fatalities dropped from 70 in 2009 to 55 last year. MOM and the WSH Council are mindful, however that there is still a lot to be done to achieve our national target of less than 1.8 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers by 2018.
- In the coming year, we will continue to roll out the initiatives under our WSH2018 national strategy, with construction remaining a priority visited by Mr Ong Ah Heng and Mr Charles Chong. Last year, MOM and the WSH Council launched a WSH sectoral plan for the construction sector, which sets an ambitious target of bringing the workplace fatality rate in the sector to below 1.8 by 2018, with an interim target of less than 3.4 by 2013. I would like to assure Mr Charles Chong that we will not pursue productivity at the expense of safety. In fact, we view a good safety record as critical to a high-productivity workplace
- Mr Chong and Mr Ong have asked about efforts to improve safety in the construction sector. One of the leading causes of fatalities is falls from heights. In December 2009, the National Work at Height Taskforce led by Sembcorp Marine Ltd President and CEO, Mr Wong Weng Sun, launched an Approved Code of Practice for Working Safely at Height. The Code of Practice includes a recommendation for worksites and shipyards to implement a Fall Prevention Plan. This will be made a requirement by the end of this year. Already, in the past eight months, more than 1,100 supervisors have been trained on how to implement a Fall Prevention Plan.
- The Taskforce also spearheaded the Safety Compliance Assistance Visits programme in March 2010, in which WSH professionals visit smaller construction worksites to provide them with advice on WSH management. This is an industry-led initiative, working with colleagues and industries in the same sector, which could encourage them to work better. The programme has seen positive results, with most worksites showing improvements during subsequent visits. The Taskforce has more than a thousand visits planned for this year. Overall, the Taskforce’s initiatives have borne fruit, with fatalities and injuries falling by 20% in 2010.
- Mr Yeo Guat Kwang asked about the support we will give to companies and workers in preparation for the extension of the Workplace Safety and Health Act to all workplaces later this year. MOM and the WSH Council have been holding WSH Clinics since September last year to educate employers, particularly SMEs, on their roles and obligations. The clinics also provide employers with one-on-one advisory services from experienced WSH professionals and service providers. We will be organising customised sessions for specific sectors, including heartland retailers, in the coming months. Members may have also seen the advertisements on workplace safety and health at bus stops and MRT stations reaching out to all workers.
- Mr Yeo also raised concerns about SMEs’ capability to invest in WSH. A key programme we have introduced to help SMEs build their risk management capabilities is the bizSAFE programme. We recently enhanced the Risk Management Assistance Fund to allow SMEs to tap on the fund for the risk management audits required under the bizSAFE programme. This will further help companies defray the cost of joining the bizSAFE programme.
(iii) Amendment of Work Injury Compensation Act
- Mr Yeo may be pleased to know that we are also enhancing the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA). We recently completed the public consultation process and are reviewing feedback received. We are targeting for the amendments to take effect in the second half of this year.
B. Fostering Inclusive and Harmonious Workplaces
- Madam, as Singapore’s workforce becomes more diverse, there is an increasing need to encourage employers to foster inclusive and harmonious workplaces, as Mr Yeo has observed.
(iv) Findings of National Integration Working Group on Workplaces Survey
- Mdm Halimah asked about the progress of our efforts on this front. Last year, the National Integration Working Group on Workplaces (NIWG-W) commissioned a study on workplace diversity management across gender, age and nationality. While 90% of companies agreed that workplace inclusiveness and harmony were important to business outcomes, 27% responded that they faced challenges in managing a diverse workforce. For large companies, line managers and supervisors often lacked skills and knowledge in this regard. SMEs, on the other hand, lacked resources to raise awareness and put systemic processes in place.
(v) Workplace Diversity Management Toolkit
- Based on these findings, MOM has developed a Workplace Diversity Management Toolkit. It will help employers to assess the state of inclusiveness and harmony in their workplaces, and offers examples of initiatives they can adopt. The toolkit is a first step to give employers some idea what workplace diversity management entails and reduce the proportion of companies who face challenges. In the year ahead, we will continue to work with our tripartite partners to encourage employers to adopt inclusive workplace practices.
- One example of the powerful impact that passionate employers have in creating inclusive workplaces is the creation of the Enabling Employers Network (or EEN) to advance employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Ms Denise Phua may be pleased to know that on top of hiring persons with disabilities, the Network has been proactive in advocating their employment amongst their industry peers. One initiative driven by the Network is the development of Centres for Training and Integration, which enable persons with disabilities to acquire new skills to improve their job prospects.
- MOM and WDA will continue to do our part in making training accessible to persons with disabilities, in collaboration with the MCYS and the National Council of Social Service. Ultimately, helping persons with disabilities requires efforts from all parties, including the Government, voluntary welfare organisations and employers. For this, MOM will continue to raise employers’ capabilities to respond to the diversity of our workforce.
- Through targeted measures to meet the needs of different workers, my Ministry will strive to ensure that all Singaporeans share in the benefits of economic growth. Above and beyond ensuring that minimum standards are in place, we will continue to make our workplaces welcoming to employees with diverse backgrounds and needs. In the long run, these efforts will maintain Singapore’s attractiveness as a talent capital, and ensure that all citizens have the support to develop their capabilities to their full potential. Thank you.
1 Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Factsheet for Workplace Literacy Programmes
Factsheet on the Special Employment Credit (SEC)
Last Updated on 09 March 2011