Speech at Committee of Supply 2019
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, Parliament House of Singapore
A1. Earlier, I spoke about how MOM uplifts the wages and skills of our lower-income workers through a mutually reinforcing system of different support measures, while maintaining a tight labour market.
A2. We also want to nurture an inclusive and caring society that will enable all workers to thrive and have meaningful opportunities at work. I will touch on four areas:
a) Supporting the integration of persons with special needs into the workforce;
b) Improving the well-being of lower-income workers;
c) Safeguarding the well-being of foreign workers; and
d) Making work conditions safer and healthier for all workers.
A3. With your permission, Mr Chairman, I have asked the Clerk to place a handout on members’ seats.
B. Supporting the integration of persons with special needs into the workforce
B1. We desire for a more inclusive society, where persons with special needs are given opportunities to make meaningful contributions as part of the workforce.
B2. Mr Patrick Tay, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Chong Kee Hiong, and Dr Intan Mokhtar have asked about initiatives to integrate persons with special needs into the workforce, and how successful they have been. Dr Intan and Ms Denise Phua also asked whether there could be more support for employers hiring persons with special needs such as wage support, recognition, or incentives to implement flexible work arrangements.
B3. Members would be pleased to know that employers of Singaporeans with special needs receive the Special Employment Credit (SEC) that provides wage offsets of up to 16% of the employee’s monthly income, regardless of age. With the Additional SEC (ASEC), employers of Singaporeans with special needs aged 67 and above receive wage offsets of up to 22% of the employee’s monthly income. These rates are already two times the highest rates of the mainstream schemes. The SEC and ASEC for Singaporeans with special needs will also be extended for one more year until end 2020 and reviewed for the longer term, alongside the mainstream schemes, as announced at Budget.
B4. On recognition for employers, SG Enable has been organising the Enabling Employers Awards, which is a nationally recognised award that honours and recognises the efforts of employers in hiring and retaining employees with special needs. Since 2011, more than 100 employers have been recognised for their inclusive efforts and excellence.
B5. Ms Cheryl Chan asked about interventions to assist students with special needs to prepare for employment. Efforts include the School-to-Work Transition programme for Special Education school graduates to receive on-site job training from job coaches for up to a year, as well as internship and mentoring programmes for students from Institutes of Higher Learning.
B6. Under Workforce Singapore’s (WSG) Adapt and Grow initiative, there are services and programmes to integrate persons with special needs into the workforce, namely the Open Door Programme (ODP) and Career Trial. These programmes cater to both PMET and rank-and-file jobs. In the past three years, more than 1,600 persons with special needs have been placed through these programmes.
B7. I will now share about my visits to two companies that have benefitted from ODP. Administered by SG Enable, ODP gives employers access to recruitment and job support services for persons with special needs. Grants for job redesign and training are also available to better support their integration.
B8. Referring to the first image in our handout, Sassax Pte. Ltd is a global energy and commodities SME founded and managed by Ms Cheang Tsu-fei.
a) When I met Tsu-fei, she shared with me how, through ODP, she hired Mr Erwayne Teo who sustained spinal injuries after a motorbike accident, as an Operations Executive.
b) Tsu-fei tapped on ODP’s Job Redesign Grant, which supports up to 90% of job redesign costs, up to $20,000 per employee with special needs, to make several thoughtful workplace modifications. I saw that office partitions were removed to make it easier for Erwayne to move around with his crutches. The manual-lock of the office door was also replaced with a digital-lock, as Erwayne had difficulty bending down.
c) Erwayne told me that he is grateful for the job opportunity and for what Sassax has done. He shared that such an opportunity is very precious for those with special needs, and it motivates him to work harder to “excel just like, or do even better than, a person without special needs”.
d) Tsu-fei shared that she was very pleased with Erwayne’s performance, when he was just 3 months into the job. Hence, she entrusted Erwayne with more responsibilities, such as the power to make some commercial decisions involving shipping and cargo operations. She also gave him a pay raise after a year.
e) I would like to commend Tsu-fei for being an exemplary employer. She embraced the need to make changes to the workplace in order to support and bring out the best in her employee. She has also hired a senior who is 62 years old, in addition to a person with special needs. In her own words, Tsu-fei calls on fellow employers to give more opportunities to these “hidden gems”.
B9. J.CO Donuts & Coffee is another company that has participated in ODP.
a) Last year, J.CO hired Mr. Chia Tuck Ming who has mild intellectual disabilities, as a part-time Baker Assistant to decorate donuts.
b) Tuck Ming enjoys this job, as his personal interest is painting. As members can see in the second image, Tuck Ming created the artwork for the tumbler that he is holding.
c) During my visit to J.CO, Tuck Ming gave a demonstration. I was delighted to see his confidence and joy when decorating the donuts. However, this was not without initial challenges. His mentor said that he had difficulties mastering the donut piping techniques and memorising the various donut names. To help him, J.CO broke down the job into smaller tasks, and gave him time to learn.
d) Tuck Ming persevered and eventually succeeded with the guidance and encouragement of his mentor and job coach.
e) It was heart-warming to hear from J.CO’s HR Manager, Ms Jocelyn Wong, that “it has been a journey discovering Tuck Ming’s abilities, not disabilities”, and that Tuck Ming is adapting well and has been given more responsibilities to guide new employees.
B10. We want more employers to be inclusive, like Sassax and J.CO. However, not all employers and workers have had interactions with persons with special needs. Some employers may be unsure if a person with special needs can perform well on the job. Co-workers may be unsure on how to work with them. These are real concerns affecting companies’ decisions to hire persons with special needs.
B11. To address these, Career Trial provides opportunities for employers and persons with special needs to try out each other and make a better assessment of job fit. During the trial, which can be up to three months, jobseekers will receive a training allowance from the Government. To encourage hiring and retention of persons with special needs, employers receive salary support after the trial, while persons with special needs who are hired and stay for at least three months receive retention incentives.
B12. Ms Denise Phua and Mr Chong Kee Hiong have also asked why hiring targets for persons with special needs have not been set for companies and the Public Service. We have not done so for three main reasons.
a) First, it introduces labour market inflexibility and may invite competing calls for targets for other workforce segments such as older workers.
b) Second, companies may offer menial or low-paying jobs to meet the targets.
c) Third, it may signal to companies that they only need to meet the targets, even when they have the capacity to hire more.
B13. Hence, our goal is to build a supportive system to get buy-in from employers to embrace and promote gainful and sustainable employment for persons with special needs. I think creating a culture and an environment where companies willingly accept, adapt, and redesign jobs for persons with special needs is much better than one which is forced on them, and which could lead to tokenism instead. In this respect, Mr Patrick Tay and Dr Intan asked if more can be done.
B14. MOM and SG Enable will be releasing a Job Redesign Guide by the first half of this year. The Guide will provide companies with information on how to apply job redesign to better integrate persons with special needs - for instance, common workplace modifications, changes to working arrangements, and the use of assistive technology devices. Ms Denise Phua also asked the Ministry to consider the resourcing of inclusive hiring managers. This is something new, and we will have to study this further with MSF, SG Enable and MOE.
B15. MOM and WSG will continue to work closely with MSF and SG Enable to scale up efforts to build employers’ capabilities in hiring and managing persons with special needs under the Third Enabling Masterplan. As Mr Patrick Tay raised, we will also continue to study the successes of overseas models to build a strong framework in Singapore. But to achieve a more inclusive society, we need the private and people sectors to partner us.
B16. While there are existing Government-funded schemes to support hiring of persons with special needs, awareness may not be high. Therefore, I urge fellow members to spread the word on our initiatives such as the ODP. We are happy to partner your respective constituencies to organise briefing sessions for those who are interested.
B17. Mr Patrick Tay and Ms Cheryl Chan also spoke about employment support for persons with mental health conditions or special educational needs such as dyslexia or ADHD. In addition to our efforts for persons with special needs, there are several initiatives to support the employment of those with mental health conditions. For instance, the Job Club by MOH and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) assists jobseekers with employment needs, while managing their mental health conditions.
B18. The Job Club helps persons with mental health conditions assess their strengths, acquire job seeking skills, arrange for vocational training, and network with employers for job placements. In the past three financial years, the Job Club achieved an average job placement rate of 60%. For persons with special educational needs, support is also provided in schools to help them transit into the workforce as elaborated earlier by 2M Indranee.
C. Improving the well-being of lower-income workers
C1. As a society, it is also important to care for our workers’ well-being, especially vulnerable workers such as our lower-income workers.
C2. In addition to enhancing our lower-income workers’ wages and employability, I agree with Mr Zainal Sapari and Dr Intan that our care should extend to their working conditions and how they are treated at work.
C3. Take for example the access to proper rest areas which Dr Intan raised. Workers need safe and conducive environments for their rest breaks, such as for meals. Yet, we have encountered cases of cleaners having to use makeshift rest areas at stairwells or in open public areas.
C4. Such situations can and must be improved. Going forward, MOM will look into companies’ practices in giving workers’ access to proper rest areas. We will start with the cleaning sector.
C5. I am happy to share that the National Environment Agency (NEA) has made available proper rest areas such as the Cleaners’ Room in all of the seven new hawker centres. As members can see in the third image, this is a place where cleaners can take breaks, have meals, and safe-keep their belongings. I strongly encourage all service buyers and employers to do the same.
C6. Fellow Singaporeans should play their part too, and treat our lower-income workers with dignity and respect. Simple but practical ways to uplift them include returning our trays at the hawker centres, thanking them for their work, and giving them time to rest during their breaks. Ultimately, our society must view our lower-income workers also as persons of worth and deserving of our respect.
C7. Mr Zainal also asked MOM to review whether a scheme could provide financial or subsistence relief to help rank and file workers who are owed salaries due to company closure.
C8. The Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) can order employers to pay owed salaries to employees. If employers fail to do so because the company has closed down, employees can commence debt recovery by applying to the State Courts for a Writ of Seizure and Sale (WSS). MOM will assist lower-income claimants through the WSS process, including providing financial aid.
C9. If lower-income workers are unable to recover their claims via WSS, they can receive financial assistance from the Short Term Relief Fund (STRF). The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) will also refer them to MSF and their Social Service Offices for assistance on ComCare if needed.
D. Safeguarding the well-being of foreign workers
D1. Similarly, we should safeguard the well-being of our foreign workers. They share a common purpose in contributing to society, through building our homes and schools, working in our hospitals and factories, and keeping our environment clean. As we moderate the intake of foreign workers, treating them well can help us retain skilled and experienced foreign workers.
D2. Ms Anthea Ong suggested to extend MOM’s regulatory reach to overseas employment agencies. She also asked MOM to take more resolute actions against employers taking kickbacks from workers, whether transacted in Singapore or overseas.
D3. Within Singapore, MOM prohibits employment agencies in Singapore from charging workers beyond the stipulated fee cap. We actively enforce against errant agencies.
D4. However, we do not have the jurisdiction to act against agents taking kickbacks in other countries. This is not a matter we have a choice over. This includes foreign employment agencies that tie-up with local agents, or the overseas operations of local employment agencies.
D5. Nonetheless, MOM will do what we can.
a) Since 2012, employers are prohibited from collecting kickbacks from foreign workers in consideration for employment. Employers who do so can be liable to a maximum fine of $30,000 or up to 2 years’ jail, or to both. In 2018, 46 agencies and employers1 were taken to task for kickback-related offences. Mr Leon Pereira asked whether we have a hotline that members of public can call. We received 102 calls last year, of which 49 cases were investigated. The rest were just enquiries. I want to assure members that we take these cases seriously, and will investigate where there are credible leads.
b) Additionally, whenever our investigations reveal suspicious or irregular practices by overseas agents, information is shared with foreign embassies to enlist their help to combat any malpractices in their respective countries.
D6. As Mr Melvin Yong rightfully pointed out, we need to educate employers on their obligations to foreign workers. For example, MOM regularly updates the work pass obligations of employers in employers’ copy of the In-Principle Approval letter. Employers are also kept informed of new and existing work pass requirements through direct mailers and MOM’s website.
D7. Ms Anthea Ong and Mr Melvin Yong suggested that we improve the employment system to retain skilled and experienced foreign workers.
D8. Given the constraints on the number of foreign workers we can bring in, we want to ensure that each worker we bring in counts, and their skills and experience can be retained in Singapore. This reinforces capability, productivity, and safety. For instance, more experienced construction workers were less likely to suffer work injuries.
D9. MOM has supported the recruitment and retention of experienced foreign workers in the following ways.
a) Traditional Source and North Asian Source Work Permit holders are not subject to a maximum period of employment. For Non-Traditional Source and PRC Work Permit holders, MOM has, over the years, extended the maximum period of employment to encourage companies to retain their trained and experienced workers, to raise overall workforce productivity. In response to industry feedback, MOM last increased the maximum period of employment by 4 years in all sectors in 2018. The period of employment can now extend up to 26 years for skilled Work Permit holders in selected sectors.
b) For foreign workers in the Construction and Process sectors, they can be transferred to another employer, upon the agreement of their existing employers, or the expiry of their work permits. They are given about a month to look for new employers.
c) We also allow all foreign workers to find another employer if they have valid claims. While they are given two weeks to seek new employment, we have given short extensions on case-by-case basis.
d) Mr Melvin Yong hoped to see greater assistance for foreign workers involved in disputes with their employers. Majority of these foreign workers came from the Construction sector, about 9 in 10. To improve their job facilitation outcomes, the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL) has made available the Foreign Construction Worker Directory System (FCWDS) that facilitates their search for new employers.
e) In 2018, about 34,000 workers in the Construction and Process sectors were successfully transferred to another employer. Additionally, about 900 workers with valid claims successfully found new employers, and continued to work in Singapore after their claims were resolved.
D10. I would like to assure Mr Melvin Yong that MOM will continue to work closely with the Labour Movement, Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), and SCAL to improve job facilitation outcomes for foreign workers involved in disputes.
E. Making work conditions safer and healthier for all workers
E1. Every life is precious. As a society, we must therefore strive to make work conditions safer and healthier for our workers.
E2. Singapore has made good progress in our WSH performance.
a) Our workplace fatality rate declined from 2.2 per 100,000 workers in 2010 to 1.2, or a record low of 41 fatal cases, in 2018.
b) Mr Yee Chia Hsing asked how our progress compares to other developed countries. Singapore’s three-year average fatality rate relative to OECD countries’, has improved from 18th place in 2010 to 7th in 20182.
E3. Such progress was made possible by a major shift in WSH culture, mindset, and practices, enabled by strong tripartism. Take last year for example:
a) The WSH Council, comprising employer and union representatives, worked closely with Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to tackle the leading causes of workplace fatalities. This included the “Target Zero Falls” campaign, where SCAL encouraged industry partners to conduct senior management walkabouts for work-at-heights activities.
b) For MOM, we continued to maintain a strong enforcement presence, especially in higher-risk industries.
E4. But we must do better, so that our workers can return home safe and healthy.
a) Our goal is to further reduce and sustain our workplace fatality rate at below 1 by 2028. This is an ambitious goal, but an achievable one. Only four amongst OECD countries have achieved it so far3.
b) We must also keep an eye on non-fatal injuries. Compared to 2017, we saw a 3% rise in numbers in 2018.
c) 1 in 3 working residents have either diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol4 , which can affect safety if the condition is not managed well. We agree with Mr Melvin Yong that a greater emphasis on workplace health is needed to address its potential impact on safety.
E5. I see three main ways to improve further.
E6. First, we need company management to be committed to improving WSH within their companies. Top management, including at the Board level, is best-placed to influence the company’s WSH culture, as they control its resources, policies, and practices.
E7. A good example is Lendlease, an international property and infrastructure company with operations in Singapore.
a) A Board member chairs its Sustainability Committee that is responsible for setting the WSH policy and strategic directions for Lendlease.
b) In addition, WSH performance is discussed at all Board meetings, with the CEO and top management being held accountable.
c) In the fourth image, members can see Lendlease’s Paya Lebar Quarter project. This is one example where the leadership team has taken ownership to champion progressive WSH practices, such as a near-miss reporting regime, WSH data analytics, and Building Information Modelling (BIM) technologies.
d) With WSH as a top business priority, Lendlease’s strong WSH track record has served as a competitive advantage in helping them to win repeat business.
E8. Second, we need greater emphasis on workplace health. To address the potential impact of poorly managed health on workplace safety, the WSH Council partnered HPB to introduce Total WSH. Total WSH involves injury and occupational disease prevention, together with occupational health promotion, through health screening, physical activities, healthier diet initiatives, and adjustments in work processes so that those with chronic conditions can continue working safely. We agree with Mr Melvin Yong that more can be done, and encourage the Labour Movement to partner us to encourage more companies to adopt Total WSH.
E9. Third, WSH is another aspect where we can win with technology. Companies can leverage on technology advancements such as sensors, predictive analytics, and the Internet of Things to more effectively manage WSH risks. Mr Yee Chia Hsing asked for examples.
E10. Woodlands Transport and SIA Engineering Company have taken part in MOM’s WSH Tech Challenge to test-bed a fatigue detection and management device among their vehicle drivers.
a) As members can see in the fifth image, this device uses sensors and image processing technology to track the micro-movements of a driver’s head, eyes, and facial expressions to detect fatigue.
b) Those who show signs of fatigue will be alerted by an alarm from a buzzer and seat vibration.
c) 93% fewer fatigue episodes were detected among drivers whose vehicles were equipped with the device5, when compared to the baseline.
E11. Mr Melvin Yong also spoke about leveraging technology to make WSH training more productive and realistic. I agree. I recently tried virtual reality training that simulates working at height. As members can see in the sixth image, I experienced a virtual fall from a height of 14 storeys. This ingrained the importance of following safety procedures as they could make a difference between life and death. Mr Melvin Yong suggested forming a National Training Academy that consolidates training resources, and ensures high and consistent WSH standards. SSG has set a consistent standard for WSQ training providers in terms of curriculum and teaching methods. But we will consider how to improve training further, and will study this idea together with tripartite partners.
E12. Mr Melvin Yong had another suggestion to have a tiered insurance premium framework for work injury compensation, where companies with poor WSH records will have to pay higher premiums. We agree, and are looking into ways to facilitate this.
E13. Mr Yee Chia Hsing shared businesses’ concern that MOM would introduce safety requirements after every fatal accident. He used the example of 3 workers having to change a lightbulb to highlight the need to balance WSH and business productivity. On the other hand, Mr Melvin Yong asked to introduce more WSH requirements for better worker protection. This included mandating the need for a trained WSH representative in all workplaces.
E14. The contrasting views by both members show the tension between having more regulations that could be overly prescriptive versus being too lax such that WSH is compromised.
E15. This is why we have adopted a balanced approach under the Workplace Safety and Health Act’s (WSHA) outcome-based regime. Companies and individuals are responsible for taking reasonably practicable measures to ensure workers’ safety and health. This gives stakeholders the flexibility to adopt cost-effective WSH measures.
E16. Let me clarify the misconception in Mr Yee Chia Hsing’s lightbulb example.
a) There is no need for a worker to hold a ladder if it is securely fixed and stable, such as a platform ladder with guard-rails. Such equipment is not costly.
b) There is also no need for the supervisor to be present all the time, if workers have been informed earlier on safety measures.
c) Therefore, with the right equipment and measures, only one worker is needed to change the lightbulb. Being safe need not hamper productivity. We welcome employers who need advice to consult MOM or the WSH Council.
E17. Rather than mandating all workplaces to have a WSH representative, as Mr Melvin Yong suggested, our philosophy is to bring about WSH gains without adding rules willy-nilly. Better results can often be achieved through strengthening WSH ownership within company management. Uncommitted companies may hire a trained WSH representative to meet the letter of the law, but not follow through with internal systems to support the WSH representative in identifying and preventing hazards. Only with ownership, would companies be self-motivated to adopt WSH practices without us prescribing more requirements.
F. Speech (Delivered in Malay)
F1. Mr Chairman, allow me to recap the enhancements to the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme in Malay.
F2. Untuk memastikan pekerja yang berpendapatan rendah dapat maju bersama golongan pekerja lain, kami meningkatkan kehidupan mereka melalui Skim Tambahan Pendapatan (atau Workfare) yang menokok gaji mereka dan menolong mereka menabung untuk persaraan.
F3. Lebih ramai pekerja Singapura akan mendapat manfaat daripada Workfare mulai Januari 2020 apabila kami:
a) Menaikkan had pendapatan kelayakkan Workfare dari $2,000 ke $2,300 sebulan; dan
b) Meningkatkan bayaran tahunan maksimum sehingga $400.
F4. Hampir 440,000 warga Singapura, termasuk mereka yang bekerja sendiri, akan menerima faedah menerusi peningkatan ini.
F5. Kebanyakan penerima Workfare juga menerima sokongan pemerintah yang lain, untuk membantu menampung keperluan sara hidup mereka, seperti Encik Gunasegaran, seorang penyelia pembersihan yang berusia 49 tahun.
F6. Beliau tinggal di flat tiga bilik bersama isteri dan tiga anaknya. Selain Workfare, beliau juga mendapat baucar GST dan rebat U-Save untuk membantu mengimbangi perbelanjaan keluarganya.
F7. Dua anak perempuannya menerima bantuan kewangan daripada Kementerian Pendidikan – mereka mendapat buku teks dan uniform percuma, dan kredit untuk pengangkutan awam.
F8. Anak bongsunya di tadika menerima Skim Bantuan Yuran Tadika, atau KiFAS (Kindergarten Financial Assistance), dan Encik Guna hanya perlu membayar kira-kira $1 sebulan.
F9. Pendekatan kami melalui sokongan pelbagai lapisan lebih responsif pada keperluan rencam rakyat Singapura. Marilah kita kukuhkan lagi usaha-usaha yang telah berjaya ini, dan terus gigih untuk meningkatkan kehidupan pekerja Singapura, seperti Encik Guna dan Cik Geok.
G1. In conclusion, the Government is committed to fostering an inclusive and caring society.
G2. To this end, we will continue to integrate persons with special needs into the workforce, improve the well-being of lower-income workers, safeguard the well-being of foreign workers, and make work conditions safer and healthier for all workers.
Annex: English version of Malay speech
Mr Chairman, allow me to recap the enhancements to the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme in Malay.
The WIS Scheme is a broad-based measure that tops up the salaries of our lower-income workers and helps them save for retirement.
As announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget speech, from January 2020, we will enhance Workfare by:
a) Raising the qualifying income cap from $2,000 to $2,300 per month; and
b) Increasing the maximum annual payouts by up to $400.
With these enhancements, close to 440,000 Singaporeans, including self-employed persons, will benefit
a) 64-year-old Mdm Goh Geok Kee will be one such beneficiary. Auntie Geok has been cleaning our MOM Service Centre for the past seven years, and receiving Workfare all these years. Many of her co-workers also receive Workfare.
b) With this year’s Workfare enhancements, Aunty Geok’s Workfare payouts will boost her income by 25%.
c) Auntie Geok told me that as long as she remains fit and healthy, she would like to continue working.
We will continue to review Workfare regularly to continue to help our target groups like Mr Gunasegaran.
Most Workfare recipients also receive other government support to help meet their living needs.
49-year-old Mr Gunasegaran S/O Sellayya is one such example. Mr Guna works as a supervisor, managing eight other cleaners.
a) Mr Guna has been receiving Workfare monthly.
b) GST Vouchers and U-Save rebates help to offset his daily household expenses.
c) Mr Guna owns a three-room flat that he lives in with his wife and three children.
d) His two elder daughters receive MOE Financial Assistance. Each gets a waiver of standard miscellaneous fees, free textbooks and school attire, and public transport credit.
e) His youngest son receives the Kindergarten Financial Assistance. With KiFAS, Mr Guna pays only about $1 monthly.
f) Mr Guna’s retired mother has a CHAS Orange card and receives subsidised care at CHAS clinics.
Our approach of providing multi-layered support is more responsive to the varied needs of individuals than any single minimum or living wage.
i. This cost of wage supplement is borne fully by the Government, with no cost passed on to employers and consumers.
ii. Importantly, we achieved significantly faster real median income growth and ranked high on employment rates compared to the other developed countries6.