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Speech by Minister of State for Manpower Mr Zaqy Mohamad at MOM Committee of Supply 2020

A. Introduction

A1. As Minister for Manpower has shared, MOM will continue to champion fairness. 

A2. Fairness in the Workplace encompasses fair support for both employers and workers. I will share our plans to enable inclusive growth for lower-wage workers as well as persons with disabilities, and how we inculcate care for all workers. 

B. Enable inclusive growth for workers

Supporting lower-wage workers

B1. First, our initiatives for lower-wage workers. Over the years, we have improved their wages and skills through various policies.

Updates on Mandatory PWMs

B2. A handout on the achievements of the Progressive Wage Model, or PWM, can be found on members’ seats.

B3. Mr. Chong Kee Hiong’s asked for an update on PWM. The PWM has benefitted over 78,000 workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors by boosting their wages and providing clear paths for career progression. 

B4. Between 2013 and 2018, real median monthly gross wages of full-time cleaners, security officers and landscape workers grew cumulatively by around 30%, 31% and 32% respectively1, higher than the 16% for median full-time resident workers2. The current mandatory PWM framework has served us well.

B5. In 2018, we announced a PWM for the lift maintenance sector. MND plans to make this mandatory in due course. Meanwhile, Government is taking the lead by only awarding lift maintenance tenders to firms that have adopted the PWM.

B6. Mr. Zainal Sapari and Mr. Lim Swee Say asked to expand the PWM to more sectors. We have made some progress this year. We appointed a tripartite cluster to include escalator technicians under the lift PWM. Together, close to 1,300 resident lift and escalator maintenance workers stand to benefit. The Tripartite Cluster for Lift & Escalator Industry, the fourth such cluster, will aim to submit its recommendations by the end of the year.

New PWM Approach

B7. We will not stop at these four clusters, and intend to expand the PWM to more sectors. So far, the sectors that implemented PWM have found that a mandatory approach, where a regulator imposes a uniform obligation to comply with the PWM, delivers results most readily. If government agencies are themselves large buyers of such services, government procurement policies can also help to kick-start the process.

B8. However, the vision of Progressive Wages, which Mr. Lim first laid out many years ago as Secretary-General of the NTUC, is more far reaching than that. It is a vision that every sector should have a clear ladder for better jobs, better skills and as a result, better wages.

B9. Therefore, even as we extend mandatory PWM to a few other sectors, we intend to introduce PWM even to sectors where we may not be able to apply mandatory PWM. We want PWM to be a broader movement where the community can play a part as responsible consumers.

B10. Under this approach, we want to create a virtuous cycle, where companies that voluntarily pay progressive wages and provide job progression pathways to their lower-wage 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.

B11. We are actively working with tripartite partners to explore how we can expand the PWM in new sectors and with a new approach. However, we recognise that there are current market challenges with COVID-19, and we will have more to share when the economic climate and business conditions are more favourable.

Workfare Skills Support (WSS) Scheme

B12. Progressive wages are one way to support lower-wage workers. The Government also supports them through Workfare. The Workfare Training Support Scheme, or WTS, was introduced in 2010 to encourage companies to send their lower-wage workers for training, and encourage workers themselves to upgrade their skills. So far, WTS has benefitted over 12,000 companies and 270,000 individuals, and disbursed over $550 million. More details are in your handouts.

B13. I would like to assure Mr. Chong and Mr. Saktiandi Supaat that we will continue to provide strong support to lower-wage workers to undergo training.

B14. We will replace the WTS with a new Workfare Skills Support, or WSS. Over the years, our workers have benefited from the introduction of substantial SkillsFuture course fee subsidies of up to 90% and SkillsFuture Credit for training. The old WTS has therefore duplicated some features of SkillsFuture. Under the new Workfare Skills Support, we will no longer provide course fee subsidies.

B15. Instead, WSS will provide more support for workers who complete training leading to full qualifications under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications, or WSQ, and Academic CET Qualifications systems. This is because we have found that those who acquire full qualifications are more likely to earn higher wages.

B16. 42-year-old Mr. Syamsaini Ramli is one such example. Syamsaini’s employer, PARKROYAL COLLECTION Marina Bay, used WTS to sponsor him for courses that led to a WSQ Certificate in Security Operations – a full qualification. Syamsaini gained new skills in areas such as counter-terrorism and managing threatening behaviour, which his employer valued. He was promoted to Assistant Security Supervisor in 2019, with a pay increment of 10%.

B17. We want more workers like Syamsaini to benefit from WSS. Hence, we will raise the Training Commitment Award for lower-wage workers who attain a full qualification to $500, from $200. Its annual cap will also be increased to $1,000, from $400.

B18. We will also raise the training allowance to $6 per hour, from $4.50, to offset the opportunity costs of workers’ training. We will tie the eligibility for training allowance to courses which are more likely to lead to better employment outcomes. The new WSS will commence on 1 July 2020.

Enhance employability and employment of persons with disabilities

B19. Let me turn to the concerns of Persons with Disabilities, or PwDs.

B20. Our current programmes to support PwDs have contributed to their improving employment rate. Last year, I shared that 3 in 10 of PwDs aged of 15 to 64 were in employment.

• Between 2016 and 2019, more than 2,000 PwDs found new jobs through the Adapt and Grow, or A&G, initiative.

• The Open Door Programme, or ODP, a special scheme under the A&G initiative is administered by SG Enable, and helps PwDs enter suitable jobs and better integrate into the workplace. It provides support for job placement, training and job redesign.

• The ODP Job Redesign Grant provides funding of up to 90% of job redesign costs, capped at $20,000 per PwD employee.

• MOM and SG Enable also launched the Job Redesign Guide to help companies better integrate PwDs into the workplace. One of the critical success factors of PwDs is to continue to be employed.

• Last year, more than 5,900 employers hiring over 9,000 Singaporeans with disabilities benefited from Special Employment Credit, or SEC, and Additional Special Employment Credit, or ASEC. This amounted to over $102 million since 2012.

B21. We want to do more to improve the employment and employability of PwDs. To study this, MSF set up the Enabling Masterplan workgroup comprising public, private and people sector representatives, last year. With the workgroup’s support, MOM will be enhancing our schemes to give PWDs a boost.

B22. The workgroup recognised that training and job redesign are key to helping PwDs stay employable.

B23. One of the beneficiaries of the ODP Training Grant, or ODP TG, is David.

• David was diagnosed with mild Retina pigmentosa in his teens, which led to worsening vision over time. He lost his job as an engineer in his mid-50s.

• David tapped on the ODP TG to pick up Workplace IT skills and telephone etiquette.

• The courses prepared him for an alternative career pathway as a call centre agent with Eureka Call Centre Systems, or EurekaCCS. 

• EurekaCCS also tapped on the Job Redesign Grant to purchase keyboards with larger font keys and high colour contrast, allowing employees such as David to work more productively.

• The training David underwent gave him confidence to attend to enquiries and feedback from customers. David performed so well that EurekaCCS recognised him as one of their top performing call agents, and rewarded him with an additional bonus incentive.

• In total, EurekaCCS has 14 employees with disabilities, who make up 87% of its workforce. Well done, EurekaCCS! I hope more employers will follow their lead.

B24. We will enhance the ODP TG to provide stronger funding support to employers who send their PwD employees for training, and PwDs seeking to upgrade themselves. We will:

• Raise course fee subsidies from 90% to 95% for eligible training courses curated by SG Enable;

• Raise training allowance for both unemployed and employed PwDs to $6 per hour; and 

• Introduce a training commitment award of $100 per completed eligible training course.

B25. The SEC and ASEC have served our PwD employees well and will expire this year. To replace the SEC and ASEC, we will introduce a new Enabling Employment Credit, or EEC, which will provide even stronger support for PwDs.

• The EEC will be given to employers that hire Singaporean PwDs earning below $4,000/month. This will cover about 4 in 5 of current PwD employees.

• The EEC provides a wage offset of up to 20% of the employee’s monthly income, capped at a maximum of $400 per month.

• In addition, employers hiring PwDs who have not been working for at least six months will receive an additional 10% wage offset, capped at $200 per month, for the first 6 months of employment.

B26. Mr. Alvin Yeo, the founder of Faith Music Centre, is one employer that will benefit from the new EEC. Faith Music Centre is a social enterprise which teaches music to PwDs, and has also hired several of the centre’s learners with disabilities as music instructors and stage masters. Today, Faith Music Centre has 15 employees with varied disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, sensory impairment, and intellectual disability. EEC will provide Faith Music Centre a larger wage offset as compared to SEC, and even more support if they hire more PwDs.

B27. As more PwDs become economically active, the issues of financial independence, whether they enjoy fair salaries and benefits as other employees and their rights at work, as raised by Dr. Intan Azura Mokhtar and Ms. Cheryl Chan, will become more important to PwDs. MOM will closely monitor workplace practices, and encourage progressive practices for PwDs, just as it does for other workers.

• Under the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, employers are expected to treat PwDs fairly, including asking only for information relevant to the job roles and paying them fairly.

• Lower-income PwDs also receive additional support through Workfare Income Supplements. In 2019, over 6,300 PwDs received WIS payouts amounting to $6.7 million.

• WIS has been further enhanced from 1 Jan 2020, with a higher qualifying income ceiling of $2,300 per month and higher maximum payouts of $4,000 per year.

B28. Ultimately, the best way to safeguard the interests of PwDs is to ensure that they have many good job opportunities to choose from. This means more employers hiring PwDs, and giving them opportunities for career growth. It also means more Singaporeans welcoming PwDs as colleagues in the workplace.

C. Caring for all workers

C1. Beyond inclusive growth, we want to promote a culture of care. It is important to uphold our workers’ dignity, and to support them by giving them the respect they deserve.

Workcare

C2. Last year, we launched Workcare, an initiative to uplift the well-being of our lower-wage workers. To begin with, we are focusing on access to proper rest areas.

C3. Mr. Chong and Dr. Intan asked for updates.

Last December, we launched the Tripartite Advisory, or TA, on Provision of Rest Areas for Outsourced Workers. I am happy to share our progress.

• West Coast and Ang Mo Kio Town Councils, with the support of Mr. Patrick Tay and Dr. Intan, have partnered MOM to spruce up 20 rest areas for their outsourced cleaners, as a pilot initiative.

• In sites with space constraints, cleaners asked minimally for means to safekeep their belongings. NEA has worked with their cleaning contractors to provide lockers in 10 MEWR hawker centres, and will do so for the remaining 16 centres by end-2020. NTUC Foodfare will also provide lockers in all 12 food-courts by end-2020.

C4. I am also happy to announce that all public agencies and Town Councils will lead by example, and have committed to adhere to the TA by end-2020.

C5. To further accelerate the provision of rest areas in other workplaces, MOM will launch a new Workcare Grant that we will announce later this year, with a view towards legislating this in time to come.

C6. Singaporeans can play a part too. Simple gestures such as thanking these workers for their services, are small but significant ways that will improve their well-being at work.

Promoting progressive practices in workplace safety and health

Maintaining focus on the importance of WSH

C7. Mr. Melvin Yong, Mr. Yee Chia Hsing and Mr. Zainal raised issues concerning Workplace Safety & Health (WSH). A culture of care includes ensuring the safety and health of our workers. Over the past decade, Singapore’s WSH performance has improved. The workplace fatal injury rate last year was no worse than in 2018. More details will be released in the 2019 WSH Statistics Report by next week. 

C8. In response to Mr. Zainal, there was no dominant trend that contributed to the fatal accidents in November last year. Investigations are still ongoing. Where necessary, we will issue Stop Work Orders to prevent risks to other workers.  Stop Work Orders are minimally for 3 weeks, and companies have to rectify all unsafe conditions before Orders are lifted.  If we find that companies or individuals have failed in their WSH obligations, we will prosecute them.   

C9. I agree with Mr. Zainal that tripartite partners should do more to prevent accidents. This was what many of the WSH2028 recommendations sought to do.  We are progressively implementing these recommendations. One of the underlying principles of WSH2028 is to make good WSH good for business. There will then be stronger impetus for firms to embed WSH in their culture and practices.

C10. For instance, this year, we will establish a framework for public sector developers to disqualify unsafe contractors when considering awarding contracts. Later this year, designated work injury compensation, or WIC, insurers will have access to potential clients’ WIC claim records. We expect insurers to set higher premiums for firms with poorer safety records.

C11. We agree with Mr. Yong that every company should have representatives to champion progressive WSH practices. However, making this mandatory in every company may not be practical. In fact, the WSH 2028 Tripartite Strategies Committee concluded that a prescriptive approach is not the way forward. The more prudent approach is to promote this as a progressive practice.  We will support the Labour Movement in championing WSH representatives and other progressive WSH practices.

C12. I agree fully with Mr. Yee that support for the families affected by workplace accidents is essential. MOM will sensitise employers, including through the Institute for HR Professionals, because HR is usually the first interface with affected families.

Fostering supportive workplaces and tackling workplace discrimination against persons with mental health conditions (PwMCs)

C13. Workplace safety and health covers mental health at work too. Recently, there have been calls to better support employees’ mental well-being at workplaces.

C14. Ms. Anthea Ong asked whether sick leave entitlements can be used for both physical and mental health conditions. This is already the case. In fact, in issuing a medical certificate, a doctor should not indicate to the employer the nature of the patient’s medical condition unless the patient has consented to it.

C15. All employers are expected to practise fair and merit-based employment practices, as laid out in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

C16. For certain jobs, such as pilots and police officers, some mental health conditions may affect their ability to perform their job roles safely. In these cases, it is reasonable for employers to ask applicants for more information to make a holistic assessment of their well-being. Otherwise, employers should not be asking for information on the applicant’s mental health.

• Our recently enhanced penalty framework for discriminatory practices also apply to discrimination on grounds of a person’s mental health condition.

C17. We agree with Mr. Yong and Ms. Ong that employers have an important role in supporting employees’ mental well-being. Today, MINDEF and MOE already have well developed programmes to support their servicemen and educators.

We encourage more employers to do the same. Some employers may want to support their employee’s mental health, but do not know how.

• As Ms. Ong has suggested, we will formulate a Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being to educate employers on what could be done.  The advisory will highlight notable initiatives that companies should emulate, which is what Mr. Yong asked for. These could include progressive practices such as providing access to anonymised external counselling service, or training supervisors to identify mental health symptoms early. We will also work with tripartite partners and seek views from various stakeholders including members of the newly announced Youth Mental Well-being Network.

• Ms. Ong suggested including mental health expenses as part of employees’ medical benefits. One way is to include it as part of employer-provided medical benefits that complement our healthcare financing offerings, which the tripartite partners can discuss in crafting the TA later.

• We aim to finalise the Tripartite Advisory in the second half of this year.

C18. The Ministry is also happy to partner the Labour Movement to initiate mental health studies and support employee mental well-being.

• For instance, together we can promote the use of iWorkHealth, a web-based psychosocial assessment tool to help employers and their employees identify workplace stressors.

• The tool raises awareness of workplace factors that may cause excessive stress, and recommends ways to improve mental well-being. MOM is currently piloting the tool and will launch it later this year.

C19. Mr Zainal asked about medical insurance for work permit holders

• Foreign workers who sustained injuries from workplace accidents are entitled to claim compensation under the Work Injury and Compensation Act (WICA) framework. Compensation benefits under the WICA include medical leave wages, medical expenses of up to $45,000, as well as a lump sum compensation for permanent incapacity or death. The compensation cap of $45,000 for medical expenses will fully cover the medical expenses incurred in more than 95% of claims where hospitalisation was required. To meet WICA obligations, employers are required to purchase work injury compensation insurance.

• This is separate from the mandatory medical insurance that employers are required to purchase and maintain under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA). Under the EFMA, the medical insurance purchased can be used to either supplement the work injury compensation insurance or be used for non-work injury related treatment. So they are both different.

Supporting a fair workplace for employers and foreign workers

C20. We must always treat all workers fairly and inclusively. As the saying goes, “treat others how you want to be treated”. This is especially important today, as we face the COVID-19 threat together.

C21. As shared last week, MOM is working hard to educate our foreign workers on the COVID-19 situation and control measures. Materials such as posters and videos have been produced and are available in the workers’ native language. In addition, MOM has been sharing bite-size information through our foreign worker ambassadors on a daily basis.

C22. An employer from a trading company gave feedback that the handling of the COVID-19 situation was efficient and effective. One worker shared that he “felt no panic about COVID-19” and that the “government took a lot of steps against COVID-19”. This would not have been possible without our partners – employers, unions and NGOs.

D. Conclusion

D1. In pursuing inclusive growth and a culture of care for all our workers, the Government is committed to ensuring fairness for both employers and workers. We can achieve this with the commitment and support of our tripartite partners and fellow Singaporeans. By working together hand-in-hand, we can build a workforce which provides fair support to all employers and workers in an inclusive, empathetic and caring manner.

D2.  Chairman, allow me to recap how we provide fair and inclusive support to employers and workers in Malay.

D3. MOM akan terus memperjuangkan keadilan, dan memberi sokongan yang adil kepada majikan dan juga pekerja. Ini termasuk pekerja bergaji rendah kita dan orang kurang upaya, atau PwD.

Pekerja Bergaji Rendah

Model Gaji Progresif

D4. Selama bertahun-tahun, Model Gaji Progresif, atau PWM, telah menyediakan gaji progresif dan laluan kemajuan pekerjaan untuk pekerja bergaji rendah. PWM telah memberi manfaat kepada lebih daripada 78,000 pekerja dalam sektor pembersihan, keselamatan dan landskap.

D5. Kami sudah nampak kesan positif. Antara 2013 dan 2018, gaji meningkat secara kumulatif sebanyak 30% atau lebih untuk pekerja pemastautin sepenuh masa dalam sektor ini, lebih tinggi daripada 16% untuk pekerja pemastautin sepenuh masa median.

D6. Awal tahun ini, kami melantik sebuah kelompok tiga pihak untuk menyertakan teknisyen eskalator di bawah PWM lif yang diumumkan pada 2018. Ia akan mengemukakan cadangannya menjelang akhir tahun ini.

D7. Kami berhasrat meluaskan PWM ke lebih banyak sektor, termasuk sektor yang kami mungkin tidak dapat menggunakan PWM wajib. Kami akan berkongsi lebih banyak apabila iklim ekonomi bertambah baik.

Skim Sokongan Kemahiran Daya Kerja (WSS)

D8. Kami juga telah membantu pekerja bergaji rendah meningkatkan kemahiran mereka melalui Skim Sokongan Latihan Daya Kerja, atau WTS. Sejak 2010, ia telah menyokong lebih daripada 12,000 syarikat dan 270,000 pekerja bergaji rendah.

D9. WTS akan digantikan dengan Skim Sokongan Kemahiran Daya Kerja yang baru, atau WSS. Kajian kami mengenai hasil WTS menunjukkan bahawa mereka yang berlatih dan memperolehi kelayakan penuh mendapat faedah daripada memperoleh gaji lebih tinggi sebagai hasilnya. WSS yang baru akan menyediakan insentif dan elaun latihan lebih tinggi untuk menyokong pekerja mencapai kelayakan penuh. Ia akan bermula pada 1 Julai 2020.

Jagaan Kerja

D10. Untuk meningkatkan kesejahteraan pekerja bergaji rendah, kami akan melancarkan Geran Jagaan Kerja yang baru tahun ini, untuk mempercepat penyediaan kawasan rehat di tempat kerja.

Orang Kurang Upaya

Kredit Menyokong Pengambilan Pekerja Kurang Upaya

E1. Untuk meningkatkan pengambilan pekerja dan daya diambil bekerja PwD, kami akan memperkenalkan Kredit Menyokong Pengambilan Pekerja Kurang Upaya yang baru atau EEC, yang akan menggantikan Kredit Pekerjaan Khas apabila ia tamat pada tahun ini. EEC akan menguatkan sokongan kepada majikan yang bersedia membantu PwD yang baru menyertai tenaga kerja atau telah meninggalkan tenaga kerja selama beberapa waktu, agar dapat disepadukan ke dalam tempat kerja.

Kesimpulan

F1. Dalam mengejar pertumbuhan inklusif, Pemerintah beriltizam memastikan keadilan bagi majikan dan juga pekerja. Bersama-sama, dengan sokongan rakan-rakan tiga pihak dan rakyat Singapura, kita akan dapat mencapai matlamat ini.

FOOTNOTE

  1. Median gross monthly wage (excluding employer CPF) of full-time resident employees, deflated by Consumer Price Index for all items at 2014 prices (2014=100).
  2. Median gross monthly income (excluding employer CPF) of full-time employed residents, deflated by Consumer Price Index for all items at 2014 prices (2014=100).