Skip to main content

Committee of Supply Speech by Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower, 07 March 2014, 3:30 PM, Parliament

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower, Parliament

  1. Madam Chair, I would first like to thank Members for their suggestions and comments. Making our workplaces better is an important part of MOM’s goal of better jobs for Singaporeans. What is a good workplace? Members covered many of the key aspects of the concept of a good workplace in their speeches. At the basic level, it is one where workers are treated fairly, accorded their due protection under the law, and is safe.
  2. But a good workplace goes beyond that. I will speak on measures that MOM is undertaking to assure Singaporeans of better, more progressive workplaces.
  3. Before that though, allow me to speak a little more on MOM’s targeted initiatives to help the more vulnerable segments of our workforce. Dr Amy Khor spoke on older workers. I will now touch on measures we are undertaking to help low-income Singaporeans benefit from economic growth.

  4. Mr Christopher de Souza highlighted the concerns of our low-wage workers. As Acting Minister for Manpower mentioned, supporting our low-wage workers continues to be a priority for MOM. We take a three-tiered approach.
  5. The first tier is about creating good jobs and growing the economic pie.
  6. The best way to help low-wage workers is to keep the labour market tight and unemployment down. Low-wage workers tend to be more severely affected when the economy takes a turn for the worse. Hence, maintaining a competitive and vibrant economy is in every Singaporean’s interest, especially our low-wage workers. Having wage interventions, including a minimum wage, in the face of high unemployment is hollow.
  7. But creating good jobs and having a vibrant economy is not enough. Because in a globalised world, the income gap widens as the talented with knowledge and skills are more sought after; and the lower-skilled find themselves competing with the millions of lower-educated workers in other developing countries. So we need a second tier of broad-based interventions targeted at our workers to supplement their income, encourage regular work and invest in their training so that they remain employable and productive. Workfare is key to this.
  8. We developed the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme (or WIS) to incentivise work by boosting the income and retirement savings of low-wage workers who are making an effort to support themselves and their families. Last year we enhanced the WIS quantum and expanded the coverage of the scheme. We expect over 400,000 Singaporeans to benefit from WIS for work done in 2013 and they will receive over $600 million in WIS payouts. The Workfare Training Support Scheme (or WTS), which we enhanced last year, provides generous subsidies for workers to up-skill. To-date, WTS has raised the incidence of training by more than a third.
  9. Let me cite an example. 64-year-old Mr Abdul Latiff Bin Abdul Wahab’s experience shows how training can benefit workers. Previously equipped with a Signalman certification and working as a stevedore, Mr Abdul Latiff tapped on WTS enhanced funding and training allowance for self-sponsored trainees to attend a Riggers course at WDA’s Career Centre via Central Singapore CDC. With a Rigger certificate, Mr Abdul Latiff was then able to undertake a Rigger’s job, earning an average monthly salary of $2,000, about a third more than his previous salary. I am happy to hear that proactive learning and career advancement does not stop with age, and strongly urge more workers and employers to tap on WTS.
  10. As SMS Amy Khor has mentioned, we are also in the midst of a major review of our CET Masterplan to make our CET system more relevant to our workers and businesses, and to strengthen the link between training and skills utilisation at the workplace.
  11. At the enterprise-level, we must ensure businesses are well-positioned to leverage on their workers’ training to achieve productivity gains. Mr De Souza mentioned the Inclusive Growth Programme (or IGP) which supports companies’ productivity improvement projects.
  12. Under the IGP, the resulting gains from increased productivity are shared with workers through wage increases. About 34,000 local workers have benefitted from IGP projects to date. For more than half of these workers, wages have gone up by at least 10% as a result of productivity improvements.
  13. Such broad-based interventions at the second tier help lift the prospects for low-skilled workers who are struggling to compete in a globalised world. However, we also recognise that there are specific sectors that may need more help because they suffer from particular market failures, for example where there is a high prevalence of cheap-sourcing. Therefore, our third-tier help consists of targeted interventions to support wages at the very low end, through regulatory enforcement of the Progressive Wage Model (or PWM) concept developed by NTUC.
  14. We have started to do this in the cleaning sector. Parliament has just passed a Bill by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, to introduce a new licensing regime for cleaning companies under the Environment and Public Health Act. Cleaning companies have up to September this year to ensure that for all new cleaning contracts, they pay their resident cleaners basic wages in line with the progressive wage levels recommended by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners, or risk incurring penalties, including having their licenses revoked. By September 2015, the PWM requirement will apply to all existing contracts as well. We will work closely with our tripartite partners to provide greater clarity to the industry on how to ensure compliance with the PWM.
  15. Last year, we announced the formation of a Security Tripartite Cluster (or STC) to develop a PWM for the security sector.
  16. The STC is currently negotiating the terms of the PWM and, when ready, the Government will apply the PWM requirement to the licensing regime that is in place for the security sector. One of the key issues the STC is deliberating on is how to also address the issue of the industry’s reliance on very long overtime hours, in order to improve the working conditions of security officers. This is an important aspect of the tripartite discussions because wages alone will not ensure that employers will be able to better attract and retain manpower to address manpower shortages in the sector.
  17. Beyond the cleaning and security sectors, the landscape sector is the third sector where cheap sourcing is prevalent. Basic wages for resident workers are not as low as they are in the cleaning and security sectors but they have stagnated at around $1,000 for several years.
  18. Concurrently, we have seen little improvement in the number of local workers in the sector even though the number of jobs available has been on the rise.
  19. We will take steps to improve the wages and employment conditions of landscape workers. Like the cleaning and security sectors, we will set up a Tripartite Cluster for the Landscape Industry to study the need for mandating a progressive wage model for the sector. MOM and NParks will work with the tripartite cluster to assess whether and how best to do so.
  20. In total we expect the third tier of targeted interventions in wages in the three sectors – cleaning, security and landscape – to impact more than 80,000 local low-wage workers.
  21. Ms Mary Liew asked about extending the progressive wage model concept to PME jobs.
  22. NTUC has been working with employers to develop progressive wage structures and career progression pathways in sectors such as the hospitality and consumer business cluster. This covers not just rank-and-file workers, but PMEs in these sectors as well. Mr Patrick Tay spoke about this during the Budget debate. This is a good initiative to improve the skills and productivity of workers, thereby enabling them to command higher wages over time. It should continue to be done through negotiations between employers and unions.
  23. But I would like to stress here that beyond cleaning, security and landscaping, there is no plan to legislate the PWM in other sectors.
  24. As I mentioned, mandating the PWM through Government regulations is a very targeted intervention to support rank-and-file workers in sectors which suffer from cheap-sourcing. It is not appropriate for the Government to do this for all sectors and for all occupations. For most occupations, we should allow the market to determine the sustainable trajectory for wages taking into account productivity changes over time.
  25. I must also emphasise that the Government has not shifted from its fundamental position that raising incomes has to be based, first and foremost, on productivity improvements, to be sustainable in the long-run.

  26. A complement to our efforts to support workers is to encourage good employment practices. Good employment conditions are essential elements of a good job and can help encourage regular work. We have continued to raise standards through the Employment Act. We have also increased the penalties under the CPF Act against employers who do not make CPF contributions for their employees.
  27. In 2012 we introduced the WorkRight initiative to step up compliance with CPF Act and the Employment Act and increase awareness amongst low-wage workers of their basic statutory employment benefits.
  28. Since “WorkRight” inspections started in Nov 2012, about 30,000 Singaporeans have benefited. More than half of these were low-wage workers. One example is Mr Lim Kim Siong who was a lorry driver employed by a construction company. He was owed salary for working overtime and on public holidays, and for unutilised annual leave. Through “WorkRight”, Mr Lim was able to recover his outstanding salary, amounting to $4,000, within a month of coming forward to MOM for help.

  29. Let us now turn to another important area in our push towards better workplaces – that is, safety and health. The Acting Minister spoke about the number of workplace fatalities in 2013 and the state of safety in the construction sector.
  30. The top cause of construction site accidents, including the recent ones, continues to be “Falls from Height”. We have been making concerted efforts in the last two years and we have seen notable progress and improvement since then. On the one hand, we have seen an increase in the number of fatalities and accidents, but on the other hand, in particular, for Work-At-Heights, we have seen improvements over the years. The number of Work at Height fatalities has reduced by more than 35% from 27 fatalities in 2009 to 17 in 2013. We will press on with efforts of the National Work–At-Height taskforce.
  31. Mr Yeo Guat Kwang asked if MOM would put in place a stronger enforcement framework for recalcitrant employers. My Ministry plans to step up our enforcement actions against recalcitrant employers and individuals. We will press for stronger penalties, with higher fines and custodial sentences, for serious breaches of the law.
  32. We will tighten enforcement tools such as the Stop Work Order and Business under Surveillance (or BUS) Programme. For example, companies will have to resolve safety lapses and conduct compulsory refresher training in the key problem areas before the Stop Work Order imposed on them can be lifted.
  33. Regulation and enforcement are, however, only one side of the equation to bring about a safer workplace at the construction sites. Ensuring that our workforce, both local and foreign, keep up with the changes in technology and equipment needed to increase productivity - through up-skilling and re-training - is equally important. Employers have to ensure that all their workers, including their foreign workers, are adequately trained.
  34. Mr Yeo Guat Kwang also asked about MOM’s plans to influence a breakthrough in workplace safety and health outcomes. We have taken stock of our WSH2018 Roadmap. In the remaining five years of the blueprint, we will intensify our efforts in four areas.
  35. First, MOM and the WSH Council will ramp up efforts to strengthen the capabilities of WSH professionals and approved training providers, both in terms of quantity and quality. This is important as WSH professionals are our key enablers on the ground. We will broaden the ambit of the WSH profession by developing programmes and competency roadmaps for WSH professionals in a variety of fields, from occupational hygienists to workplace health professionals. This will help build up a pool of competent WSH professionals who can assist employers to identify, anticipate and manage not just workplace safety risks but also health risks.
  36. Second, we will enhance the current risk management framework, which is the corner stone of our WSH framework. The enhanced Risk Management Framework or RM 2.0 in short, will include considerations of personal risk factors and not just workplace safety measures. In terms of on-site implementation checks, it will focus on practices rather than the documentation of the system and processes. RM 2.0 will also place greater emphasis on upstream risk control measures instead of downstream risk mitigation controls.
  37. Several companies, in construction for example, have already been doing this through the Design for Safety process. One such company is City Developments Limited, which works closely with its designers, builders and other stakeholders to reduce risks at source through design. For its Tree House residential development, the project team, including the landscape consultants, achieved the signature design of a 24-storey vertical green wall, while at the same time mitigating work-at-height risks. It did this by designing in access platforms and making careful plant choices for safe and sustainable maintenance.
  38. Third, over the next five years, my Ministry and the WSH Council will collaborate with MOH and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to integrate workplace safety and health and wellbeing for all employees, including older workers. This is an area that Mr Heng Chee How spoke about. An integrated approach is needed because poor safety can impact the health and wellbeing of workers. Conversely, ill health can also impact safety.
  39. We call this holistic approach, Total Workplace Safety and Health (Total WSH in short). It means that while at work, the employee’s safety, occupational health and wellbeing are holistically managed through comprehensive risks reduction by their employers. WSHC will work with HPB and industry partners to develop practical assistance tool for companies on Total WSH. Outreach initiatives will begin in certain industries, including those with older workers. We will give more details later this year.
  40. The fourth area we will focus on is bringing about a paradigm shift in mindsets, which must happen if we are to raise our WSH standards to the next level. The WSH Council will lead this effort to nurture a WSH culture and a “Vision Zero mindset”. What is “Vision Zero”? It is a safety culture and a mindset that “all work injuries and ill health are preventable”. The concept of Vision Zero is not new. Companies which have adopted and applied its principles have been able to achieve and sustain good safety records.
  41. One such company is Jacobs. It is one of the world’s largest and most diverse providers of technical, professional and construction services, with revenue of nearly $12 billion in 2013. Its goal is to take safety BeyondZero® by preventing even one accident from happening, and putting the personal health and safety of their employees first – wherever they are. In 2012, Jacobs successfully achieved over 82 million of safe hours worked. Its BeyondZero® programme has helped the company to win industry-wide admiration and many accolades, in Singapore and its global operations. We hope to inspire more companies to adopt this Vision Zero mindset and translate it into concrete actions to reduce work injuries and ill health.
  42. As my Ministry charts the way forward for the next phase of our WSH journey, we will continue to provide support and assistance to deserving companies, especially SMEs.
  43. We have programmes to provide cost support to SMEs and enable them to build up WSH capabilities. These include the WSH Assist and CultureSAFE programmes, and Safety Compliance Assistance Visits. Over the years, the WSH Council has also built up an online library of resources with videos, guidelines and checklists that are customised to the different industries, including hospitality, logistics and transport.
  44. Finally, I would like to assure Mr Yeo Guat Kwang that my Ministry will work with NTUC on its U-SAFE initiatives to get the unions WSH ready. We will share best practices, provide expertise where necessary or resources where appropriate.
  45. Next, let me address the issue of mandating psychological health tests for new foreign domestic workers (or FDWs for short) raised by Mrs Lina Chiam.
  46. A medical examination framework for FDWs, which includes 6-monthly medical examinations, is already in place. It exists mainly to: screen for infectious diseases that are of public health concern; and, give a broad indication of the FDW’s general fitness for work, including her mental state at the point of examination. It is impractical to mandate a wide-ranging set of medical tests for all employers. Individual employers with specific concerns should send their FDW for other suitable medical tests.

  47. Let’s come back to the issue of building better workplaces. Mr Hri Kumar asked if MOM will enact laws to prevent discriminatory workplace practices. This was a point that was also raised by Mr Zaqy Mohamad.
  48. The fundamental issue we are trying to address here is mindsets and attitudes. To deal with this today, we rely on TAFEP -- the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices. TAFEP was set up in 2006 to promote fair employment practices -- to educate and persuade employers to recruit employees based on merit, treat them fairly, and reward them based on ability, performance, contributions and experience.
  49. An anti-discrimination legislation is one possible way to address workplace discrimination. We do not reject the idea entirely. But having legislation is not a silver bullet that will solve all discrimination problems. It could address the form but not necessarily the underlying substance of discrimination – that is, mindsets and attitudes.
  50. The experiences of other countries with legislation have shown that it remains difficult for victims to prove discrimination and that they have suffered as a result.
  51. Legislation might also introduce labour market rigidity due to protracted disputes between employees and employers. These are complex issues that we need to address before we consider enacting legislation.
  52. For now, we will continue with the promotional approach through TAFEP. To bring about change in mindsets and persuade companies to implement fair and merit-based employment practices. Mr Hri Kumar suggested a Labour Tribunal for resolving employment disputes quickly and at low cost. As Acting Minister Tan mentioned in his earlier speech, MOM is exploring an expeditious and affordable avenue for dispute resolution related to breaches of individual contract of employment.
  53. TAFEP’s example has shown that promotion and education is an effective tool in influencing change in the workplace. The number of employers who have committed to implementing fair employment practices has risen steadily over the years, from only around 200 pledge signers in 2006 to over 2,600 in 2013.
  54. Mr Heng Chee How, Mr Zainudin Nordin, and Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked whether MOM has plans to enhance TAFEP’s work. We do. The Tripartite partners have agreed that it is timely to build upon TAFEP’s progress and expand its mandate beyond fair employment to include progressive employment practices. Using TAFEP’s model of education and promotion, we will pay more attention to progressive workplace practices such as work-life harmony and age management.
  55. We believe that good and more progressive workplace practices will not only mean better jobs and quality of life for Singaporeans, but also help companies attract and retain more local employees, which is important amidst foreign manpower tightening.
  56. Some companies, especially SMEs, may face challenges in adopting more progressive employment practices even if they are aware of its benefits and want to. To help such companies, TAFEP will operate as a one stop centre to promote the adoption of fair and progressive employment practices, and raise employers’ awareness of their statutory obligations. As Mr Zainudin pointed out, it is important that employees know their employment rights. MOM’s WorkRight campaign is precisely aimed at educating employees in this area, and we will continue with our efforts on this front.
  57. Singaporeans, including older citizens and disabled persons, are still concerned about discriminatory employment practices. Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Hri Kumar also highlighted perceptions of racial discrimination at workplaces. The expanded TAFEP will therefore retain its original purpose of promoting fair employment practices, even as it takes on this expanded role. TAFEP will progressively scale up its operations to cover progressive employment practices over the next 12 months.

  58. Let me now speak more on a particular progressive employment practice – flexible work arrangements. Singaporeans have increasingly indicated a stronger desire to have a more fulfilling pace of life; more space to pursue other goals and priorities outside of work. Many have called for greater support for flexible work arrangements and more pro-family practices.
  59. We are seeing more Singapore firms offer their employees flexible work arrangements. In 2012, 41% of firms offered their employees at least one form of flexible work arrangements. In 2007, this figure was 25%1.
  60. We will continue to encourage employers to adopt more work-life friendly arrangements. The Work-Life Grant, under WorkPro, was set up in April 2013 precisely to encourage the adoption of flexible work arrangements by firms. Each qualifying firm can receive up to $160,000 over 3 years when they introduce new flexible work arrangements and encourage utilisation amongst their employees. I think this is something that may interest Ms Lee Li Lian and Ms Mary Liew. Ms Lee suggested that the Government encourage investment in infocomm technology, or ICT, to facilitate flexible or remote working. In fact, firms can already tap on this funding to support ICT investments that enable employees to work more flexibly.
  61. We have been closely monitoring the response since the grant was set up less than a year ago. As of December 2013, 84 companies and over 8,000 employees in these organisations have benefited from the Work-Life Grant. We have also started to review how we can further improve the grant, and are in the process of seeking tripartite partners’ feedback. I would like to thank Ms Mary Liew for her various suggestions to enhance the Work-Life Grant, which MOM will carefully consider as part of our ongoing review. We expect to complete the review and implement the enhancements by mid 2014.
  62. Besides funding, we have also received feedback that it would be useful to provide guidance to employers on implementing flexible work arrangements as well as to employees on utilising them.
  63. The Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy, made up of MOM and its tripartite partners, has therefore begun work on a “Tripartite Advisory on Flexible Work Arrangements”, intended to guide employers and employees on how to implement and utilise flexible work arrangements, effectively.
  64. I think this is useful, especially for smaller companies. I often hear about challenges that employers face when introducing flexible work arrangements. Allow me to cite an example. Epigram and Epigram Books decided to implement staggered hours, part-time work and telecommuting to improve employee engagement and productivity, as well as support their employees in improving their work-life fit. When rolling out flexible work options, the two companies had to overcome management’s and staff’s mindset that employees on flexible work were less effective. At the same time, they had to learn to accommodate staff’s differing work schedules and reporting times.
  65. So, we recognise that it is not very easy for individual companies to implement work-life measures, but if they sit down and find out how it can benefit them as well as the workers, both the employee and the employer would benefit from this. The advisory is purposed to help employers deal with such challenges, by setting out the expectations and responsibilities of employers and employees. We aim to issue it in the second half of 2014. Together with the Government’s funding and enhancements to the national IT infrastructure to provide high-speed connectivity, we hope that this effort will result in greater buy-in and adoption of flexible work arrangements.
  66. Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef, Ms Ellen Lee and Ms Lee Li Lian have also called for pro-family workplace practices, specifically paid parent or eldercare leave, to be legislated. The PAP Women’s Wing has suggested the same.
  67. The Government will review the issue of legislated parent or eldercare leave, as part of our broader efforts to address the challenges of an ageing society. We are mindful that we have just implemented a series of enhanced and new leave schemes last year, as part of the Marriage and Parenthood package. We need to give businesses some time to adjust and adapt, not just to these leave requirements but also the broader effects of the economic restructuring and foreign manpower tightening. The Ministry of Health will elaborate on some of their plans to step up support for caregivers.
  68. Ms Foo Mee Har has also suggested that we consider measures such as legislation to accelerate the adoption of flexible work arrangements in Singapore.
  69. We fully agree that there is a need to foster the adoption of flexible work arrangements. But as with anti-discrimination, the fundamental issue we need to address is mindsets and attitudes.
  70. It is important to encourage mindset shifts and positive behaviour through education and promotion. The tripartite advisory is one step forward in the right direction. That is what creates the necessary conditions for sustainable and successful work-life strategies. We agree with Ms Mary Liew that a concerted effort by the tripartite partners is necessary to change mindsets of employers and employees to address many of these issues. We encourage employers to offer their employees the necessary benefits and flexibilities which will enable them to fulfil their familial commitments. And we believe that in the process, the employees will be more engaged, and may even be more loyal and will stay long with the organisation.
  71. We want to see work-life practices become a norm at the workplace. Good work-life harmony practices yield many benefits to both employees and employers. Employers have found that it leads to manifold tangible benefits - as I have said earlier - improved attraction and retention of talent, gains in productivity and reduced costs arising from less medical leave and absenteeism.
  72. In this tight labour market and amidst stricter foreign manpower hiring policies, good employment practices such as flexible work arrangements will play a crucial role in incentivising Singaporeans who are economically inactive, for example mothers, to return to work.

  73. Madam Chair, all the measures Acting Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, SMS Amy Khor and I have spoken about ultimately have one simple common objective – to create a vibrant, resilient economy and workforce, good jobs and incomes, so that ultimately, Singaporeans enjoy improvements to their lives.
  74. The government plays a fundamental role alongside the individual, society and the community in realising this objective. MOM will work hard to establish the necessary conditions and opportunities that will enable individual Singaporeans to secure better jobs and higher incomes for themselves and their families, and enjoy financial security in their retirement. For those particularly vulnerable to being left behind, we will step in with targeted help and stronger support.
  75. Learning, re-learning, up-skilling to ensure that we remain relevant in the fast-evolving global economy is crucial; not just for blue collar workers, but even highly skilled white collar ones.
  76. Our task is not easy, particularly in this time of economic restructuring. Acting Minister and members of the House have articulated the complexities of manpower issues. MOM will press on to work with stakeholders and partners to aid improvements to the lives of Singaporeans through appropriate and sustainable manpower policies. Thank you.

Refers to establishments offering at least one type of work-life arrangement (excluding unplanned time-off and informal/ad-hoc tele-working). Before 2011, the figures included informal/ad-hoc tele-working. Source: Conditions of Employment, MOM.