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Speech by Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad at Supplementary Budget Debate 2020

A. Introduction

“Your every day is full of sunshine
But into every life, a little rain must fall”
- Prose from a song by the legendary band, Queen.

A1. We are living in very challenging times, with unpredictable weather ahead. They say that in every crisis, lies opportunity. Therefore, we should make the best of every opportunity available, no matter how strong the headwinds are. This is why the Government and our tripartite partners are making every effort to create an umbrella of opportunities to weather the storm. 

A2. I will speak about how our workers and employers can tap on the opportunities and support available. We will help workers be flexible, to adapt and to widen their skills. We will also provide support for employers to make use of the downtime to upskill their workforce for transformed jobs. 

B. Guiding Fresh Graduates and Mature Workers to Seize Available Opportunities

B1. The Minister for Manpower has elaborated on the strong Government support for workers. I will focus on how fresh graduates and mature workers can tap on available opportunities.

Fresh Graduates

B2. Our fresh graduates are entering the job market amidst great uncertainty. I can personally relate to the anxiety of many fresh graduates who may be concerned with their job prospects. I graduated in 1999, shortly after the Asian Financial Crisis. There were few jobs, and fewer interviews.

B3. I would like to assure our fresh graduates and their parents that we are now more prepared and better resourced to support our fresh graduates.  

  • Despite the current economic conditions, there are still jobs available in some areas. We will support employers to take in and groom new hires, including through sector-specific programmes like the Company-Led Training Programme for Infocomm and Technology jobs. 
  • Some may not be able to find employment in this tough job market. This is why we launched the SGUnited Traineeships programme.  
  • We have more than doubled our initial goal from up to 8,000 traineeships to up to 21,000 traineeships. Our graduates can look forward to traineeships in sectors with good growth prospects such as Financial Services, Professional Services, and InfoComm Technology and Media. 
  • There are familiar roles in Marketing and Finance, and more specialised ones such as Sports Nutrition and Social Work. Graduates can check out available traineeships on MyCareersFuture.sg by searching for the hashtag #SGUnitedTraineeships. 
  • On this note, I would like to thank the Singapore Business Federation for helping to vet and approve the large volume of traineeship proposals from companies.
  • I would also like to acknowledge the many employers that have opened their doors to trainees. An example is Yang Kee Logistics, who will be offering traineeship opportunities in software development and food supply chain management. 
  • Two trainees will support the Logistics Integrated Transport Ecosystem project, a cloud-based platform that connects logistics industry stakeholders and multiple intermediaries. They will be able to sharpen their software development skills and gain deeper project management skills. Another trainee will be exposed to Yang Kee’s new food logistics business arm as a sales support coordinator. These traineeship experiences will be meaningful and valuable, providing them skills that are in-demand and hands-on industry experience. 
  • Traineeships help our fresh graduates to build their experience and skills. This puts the trainee in good stead to find a job, either with the host company or elsewhere in the sector.
  • To give our trainees a further boost, employers that hire them will receive the enhanced Hiring Incentive, with salary support of 20% of monthly salary for six months, capped at $6,000 in total.

B4. The Government will work with employers to provide as many job and traineeship opportunities as possible. As many opportunities are likely to come from firms in growth sectors, I encourage our graduates to keep an open mind and consider how their skills acquired in school can be applied to different careers.

Mature workers

B5. We are also paying close attention to our mature workers. Many of them may have been in the same occupation for a long time, and find it more challenging to make a career switch. As Mr Patrick Tay mentioned, we need to support our mid-career workers and help them access the opportunities available.

B6. How can mature workers do so?

B7. First, do consider making the switch into a new career. It is not easy, but you are not alone. Workforce Singapore’s Professional Conversion Programmes, or PCP, have helped nearly 14,500 Singaporeans since 2016 to successfully switch to new careers.

  • The results are encouraging. About nine in 10 remain in employment two years after getting a job, and seven in 10 earned higher wages. Clearly, the PCP has been effective in preparing workers for new careers.
  • The Government provides up to 90% of salary support and course fees subsidies to encourage employers to hire mature workers through these programmes. We are also ramping up our capacity to provide more programmes.
  • 55 year old Choa Wai Sim is one individual who successfully made the switch. She previously worked in a traditional sales role performing tasks such as quality control and quotation of sales. While she initially applied for a salesperson role at Aries Fresh Private Limited, she was open to take on a different role focusing on digital sales offered by Aries Fresh in March this year.
  • Thanks to the PCP for Digital Sales Executives, Wai Sim gained digital skills which complements her sales experience. I find it inspiring that Wai Sim has transformed her 30 plus years of experience to take on the digital world as well – she now uses Facebook and Google Ads to generate leads and increase sales. Wai Sim is earning 30% more compared to her previous traditional sales role. She is an encouraging role model for all of us. I would also like to thank Aries Fresh for investing in our mature workers and I hope many others will consider this too. 

B8. Second, mature jobseekers can also consider taking part in the new SGUnited Traineeships for mid-career workers, which will be named SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme. This programme will provide mid-career workers with company attachment opportunities to pick up industry-relevant skills and broaden their professional circles. This will boost their employability when the economy recovers.

  • We aim to provide up to 4,000 of such attachment opportunities. Compared to the SGUnited Traineeships, mid-careerists on this SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme can expect to receive a higher stipend based on their relevant experience and skills that they bring to the host company.
  • To encourage employers to hire mature workers who have gone through eligible programmes such as the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme, we doubled the Hiring Incentive to 40% of monthly salary for 6 months, capped at $12,000 in total.

C. Helping Employers Emerge Stronger

C1. Our employers play an important role in growing our economy and hiring our workers. It is important that we also guide them through this storm.

C2. Even when employers are in “survival mode”, their odds of survival will improve with a more skilled and productive workforce. I’d like to encourage employers to take a longer-term view and walk with their workers through these challenging times.

Employers with hiring demand 

C3. Different employers are affected in different ways by this unprecedented crisis.

C4. The first group of employers are those that are not so badly affected and are still growing. We encourage these employers to consider jobseekers who may not have all the skills needed to perform the job, but can do it with some training.

  • To support such employers, we will be ramping up the capacity of our career conversion programmes to more than 14,000 places this year. Taken together with the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) and the enhanced Hiring Incentive, the out-of-pocket costs of employers for hiring and training new workers are significantly reduced.

C5. For others who are cautious about hiring, do consider the traineeship programmes. I encourage you to offer as many positions as you can.

  • Not only will you benefit from the additional manpower to meet your business needs, you will help trainees pick up useful skills and work experience.
  • The Government will also subsidise the costs of providing these traineeship opportunities by funding 80% of the traineeship stipends. Employers only need to fund the remaining 20%. Host companies can indicate their interest at the SGUnited Traineeships page on WSG’s website.

Employers facing business difficulties 

C6. Many employers may face short-term difficulties. MP Patrick Tay expressed concerns about unfair practices on the ground. I share his concerns. While it may not be easy, employers should be fair to their workers during hard times.

  • The Government has provided significant wage support under the JSS to offset and protect local employees’ wages. Employers should act responsibly and fairly. Those who put local employees on mandatory no-pay-leave or retrench them will not be entitled to the enhanced JSS pay-outs for those employees. 
  • The updated Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment and National Wages Council guidelines issued in end-March provides guidance on managing excess manpower responsibly. Where there is a need to reduce wages, management should lead by example, and should seek the consent of unions and engage employees.

C7. Employers should take the lead to help their workers reskill to support business transformation plans.

  • Employees often have many worries about training while working. For some, it is about whether they can find time to go for training without disadvantaging themselves at work. Others may find it difficult to identify relevant training to improve their career prospects. 
  • Employers should come in to provide guidance. They are best placed to identify relevant skills required for their business transformation strategies. It is also a good opportunity to send workers who would have not otherwise gone for training to reskill.
  • Moreover, employers can reskill their existing workers at a low cost by tapping on Government support. 
    • Employers can send existing workers to participate in job redesign programmes, a type of PCP to help existing employees take on new or redesigned job roles in the same company. Many employers think PCP are for you to transit to new sectors, but there are also PCP programmes that employers can adopt in their companies. The Government provides up to 90% salary support and course fee subsidies.
    • All Watches Private Limited is an employer that is reskilling their workers for enhanced job roles to support their digital transformation plans. They are ramping up its online e-commerce platform given the shift in consumer behaviour increase in demand for e-commerce. Through WSG’s Job Redesign Reskilling Programme for the Retail Industry, 11 workers are gaining relevant digital skills. For instance, their retail team leaders will gain skills to understand online and offline customer behaviour, and to develop and implement offline-to-online strategies in enhanced Customer Service Leader roles.
    • I encourage employers to consider this option. Not only would employers keep their workers at a low cost, their workers will emerge with new and relevant skills to support business transformation and growth. 

C8. Mr Speaker, before I conclude, let me address Mr Zainal Sapari’s points on lower-wage workers, particularly those in essential services. 

C9. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of the work done by our essential workers, many of whom come under the Progressive Wage Model (PWM). For the majority of them, their workloads have increased during this period. We appreciate their efforts.  

C10. Indeed, this is an important group that MOM and our tripartite partners have been working hard to uplift. To support our lower-wage workers, we have recently enhanced Workfare to benefit more workers and also provided a special Workfare Special Payment (WSP) payout of $3,000, as a result of the COVID-19 situation. The first payout of $1,500 will be made in the next month, with the second payout of $1,500 in Oct 2020. In these times, it is imperative that we bolster support for our lower-wage workers.

C11. Mr Zainal co-chairs the tripartite committees to review and enhance the wage and skills ladders in sectors under the PWM today, so that our workers can enjoy better wages and be more productive. 

C12. These efforts are complemented by the sectoral tripartite partners’ implementation of the various industry transformation maps, such as in the security and environmental services sectors. These will leverage technology to raise our workers’ productivity.

C13. MOM is and will continue to give our full support to these important efforts.

C14. Associate Professor Walter Theseira said, and I quote, “the unseen engine behind global cities worldwide is a vast army of essential workers, who are frequently paid too little to live next to those they provide services to”. As a society, we must uplift our lower-wage workers and bridge inequality; I believe that our society has matured enough such that we cannot turn a blind eye to this group of workers, and recognise that they too should be paid fairly for the essential work that they do. This is the right thing to do. But these efforts will not be able to come to fruition if we do not have the support of the wider community. At the end of the day, all of us would have to contribute towards the higher pay for these workers by sharing the rise in cost of products and services. 

C15. The PWMs have served us well in supporting our lower-wage workers, which includes workers in essential sectors such as cleaning and security. Between 2013 and 2018, real median monthly gross wages of full-time cleaners, security officers and landscape workers grew cumulatively by 30% or more , higher than the 16% for median full-time resident workers . As A/P Walter Theseira observed in his budget speech in February, the PWMs have reversed formerly stagnant wage growth for lower-income Singaporeans. 

C16. The vision of PWM was to create occupation, wage and skills ladders across all sectors. This will support our workers to upskill, raise their productivity and earn higher wages. Given the positive impact of the PWMs, MOM is committed to supporting our tripartite partners’ efforts to extend PWM to more sectors. Earlier this year, we announced that the tripartite partners are extending the PWM to escalator maintenance workers.

C17. Members of the community have also voiced their support for essential workers during COVID-19. As mentioned during my speech at the Committee of Supply debates in March, I painted a vision of how PWM should be a broader movement where the community can play a part as responsible consumers, even in sectors where mandatory PWM may not be possible. In this way, companies that voluntarily pay progressive wages and provide job progression pathways to their workers, are recognised and rewarded by consumers who support them by purchasing their products or services. This will in turn spur more companies to be progressive, as the best way to advance their business interests. MOM will share more details when the economic climate and business conditions are more favourable. 

C18. I would like to move on and address MPs’ points on the vulnerability of lower-wage essential workers. Ms. Jessica Tan spoke about the need to pay attention to working conditions as businesses resumed operations, especially for essential and front-line workers.

C19. COVID-19 has resulted in significant disruptions to the demand and supply of outsourced services by service buyers and providers. This has in turn affected the livelihoods of workers such as cleaners and security officers. 

C20. The tripartite partners have worked closely to issue Tripartite Advisories to guide service buyers and providers on how all stakeholders can navigate the situation together, to ensure the sustainability of these industries and protect our workers’ livelihoods. These advisories guide service providers in properly remunerating their workers, and urge service buyers to exercise restraint when activating penalty clauses or liquidated damages. These helps ensure that the workers are paid appropriately based on their workloads, and that their employers have the cashflow to pay them accordingly. Service buyers and providers are also encouraged to reallocate manpower based on their priorities. This helps to manage the employees’ workloads. Finally, employers are also urged to seize the opportunity to upskill their workers by tapping on Government support, which will prepare them for future challenges and opportunities. By adopting these recommendations, our lower-wage essential workers will be protected, and employers will be able to tide through this tough period together with them. 

C21. Beyond this, we are also maintaining our efforts to uplift the well-being of our lower-wage workers at work, through the Workcare initiative. As I shared earlier this year, we will be launching a new Workcare Grant later this year to support building owners and employers to provide rest areas for outsourced workers, with a view to eventually legislating this requirement. Given the importance of their work, it is only right that we promote a culture of care and provide them with the respect they deserve. I would like make a call for everyone to play a part in supporting our lower-wage workers and improving their well-being at work – even small gestures can be meaningful.

C22. The Government will always look after our lower-wage workers, through our social schemes. Initiatives such as Workfare supplements their wages, the Enhanced Housing Grant ensures that they have a roof under which their families can grow in stable environments, and ComCare provides meaningful social support. We hope that everyone can support us in uplifting our lower-wage workers, and caring for them in the way they deserve.

D. English Conclusion 

D1. I began my speech with how, in every crisis, lies opportunity. We must make every opportunity count. The Government is committed to supporting both our jobseekers and employers to ride out this storm, and to emerge stronger. We will help jobseekers seize available opportunities and employers, to use this period to build up a skilled workforce so that they are well-positioned for the recovery. We can achieve this by working together, as Singapore United.

Vernacular Speech Segment 

E1. Chairman, allow me to share a few key points on the Government’s support for employers and workers in Malay.

E2. Kami akan menyokong rakyat Singapura sepenuhnya. Terdapat banyak peluang pekerjaan dalam sektor pertumbuhan, jadi saya menggalakkan anda yang sedang mencari pekerjaan untuk lebih fleksibel dan bersedia menyesuaikan diri untuk memanfaatkan peluang yang ada. 

E3. Kini, terdapat program yang membantu anda mempertingkatkan kemahiran anda untuk mendapatkan pekerjaan dalam bidang-bidang baru, termasuk Program Pelatih SGUnited dan Program Peralihan Kerjaya Lain SGUnited. Program-program ini boleh membantu anda dapatkan pengalaman dalam industri pekerjaan yang relevan dan membina jaringan kerja profesional. 

E4. Kami juga telah memperkenalkan langkah-langkah untuk membantu peniaga menghadapi dugaan masa ini.  Saya menggesa majikan supaya bertanggungjawab dan bersikap adil kepada pekerja. Kekalkan pekerja, gunakan sokongan yang diberikan oleh Pemerintah untuk membantu pekerja mempertingkatkan kemahiran, sekaligus mentransformasikan syarikat anda untuk masa hadapan. 

E5. Tuan Speaker, saya rasa teruja melihat warga Singapura dan pertubuhan masyarakat mengambil langkah untuk sama-sama melengkapi usaha Pemerintah membantu majikan dan pekerja dalam masa sukar ini. Antaranya ialah usaha-usaha kuat yang dijalankan oleh masyarakat Melayu/Islam kita. 

E6. Di bawah Pasukan Bertindak SGTeguhBersatu, badan-badan seperti MENDAKI SENSE dan Dewan Perniagaan dan Perusahaan Melayu Singapura, atau DPPMS, telah tampil ke hadapan untuk mengukuhkan pelaksanaan langkah-langkah sokongan nasional dan menerajui inisiatif yang disasarkan untuk membantu masyarakat Melayu/Islam dalam pekerjaan, mempertingkatkan kemahiran dan pendigitalan perniagaan. 

E7. SENSE telah menganjurkan tiga Pameran Kerjaya Maya (VCFs) yang berjaya menarik hampir 12,000 pelawat. Lebih dari 3,400 orang telah menghantar pemohonan kerja, dan jumlah pemohonan yang diterima secara keseluruhan melebihi 8,000. Terkini, aplikasi CariKerja telah dimuat turun lebih 22,000 kali.  Jumlah ini merupakan tanda permulaan yang baik. 

E8. SENSE juga akan meningkatkan usaha mendekati masyarakat, termasuk pekerja matang, siswazah baru serta mereka yang mencari pekerjaan PMET.

E9. Untuk perniagaan setempat, DPPMS, bersama rakan teknologi seperti Lalamove dan Shopback, telah membantu anggota mereka mengamalkan pendekatan baru yang mengoptimumkan perniagaan mereka dalam bidang seperti pemasaran dan e-Bayaran. DPPMS akan meneruskan usaha mengadakan seminar pembangunan keupayaan agar perniagaan tempatan boleh mengambil langkah untuk melakukan inovasi, transformasi dan mengekalkan daya tahan.

E10. Kita akan dapat melihat perubahan struktur pada ekonomi global dan Singapura dalam jangka  masa panjang.  Seperti yang telah dinyatakan oleh Menteri Masagos minggu lalu, saya akan menerajui kumpulan kerja baru yang melibatkan MENDAKI SENSE, DPPMS, NTUC, badan-badan lain dari sektor awam dan masyarakat untuk membantu pekerja Melayu/Islam.  

E11. Kumpulan ini akan menyokong usaha Majlis Pekerjaan Nasional yang diterajui oleh SM Tharman. Secara kolektif kami ingin membina usaha Pasukan Bertindak SGTeguhBersatu, memberikan sokongan kepada pekerja Melayu/Islam yang mencari pekerjaan, dan mempersiapkan mereka dan meningkatkan prospek mereka dalam mencari pekerjaan, dengan bantuan rakan kongsi dan Pemerintah.  Kami akan memperkukuhkan usaha mendekati masyarakat untuk mempersiapkan masyarakat kita untuk pekerjaan pada masa hadapan.  Ini termasuk pekerja yang matang, para siswazah baru, pekerja persendirian dan golongan asatizah. 

E12. Kami ingin membantu meningkatkan kemahiran mereka agar mereka kekal relevan dan terus diambil bekerja. Dengan itu, diharapkan mereka akan mempunyai prospek gaji yang lebih baik. Adalah penting bagi masyarakat Melayu/Islam bersedia untuk merebut peluang yang ada dalam keadaan krisis kini dan apabila ekonomi mula pulih.

E13. Perjalanan kita sukar tetapi kita akan tetap mengharunginya bersama-sama. Pemerintah akan terus memberikan bantuan kepada rakyat Singapura menyesuaikan diri dalam situasi baru.  Dengan sokongan masyarakat yang padu, kita akan berganding bahu membantu pekerja dan majikan mengambil peluang yang ada supaya Singapura bangun menjadi satu negara yang lebih kuat.