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Speech by Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo at Supplementary Budget Debate 2020

A.           INTRODUCTION

A1.         In 2009, when the world was reeling from the shock of the Global Financial Crisis, I was a labour MP on the backbench. 

A2.         Just days before CNY, nearly 700 workers were retrenched by a textile manufacturing company.


  1. The timing was cruel;
  2. I felt for the workers, including the union leaders who had become my friends.
  3. Miraculously, by July, there were green shoots and the economy started on a V-shaped recovery.
  4. No one expected it but the Singapore economy grew by 1.9% that year.
  5. Job losses in Singapore were nowhere near the 100,000 predicted at the start of the year, even though at the peak, unemployment rose to about 5%.

A3.         Today, COVID-19 certainly appears to be more cruel than SARS, and even the GFC.

 

  1. No one can, at this point, seriously imagine a V-shaped recovery any time soon, if at all.
  2. After all, entire cities and nations have had to make drastic changes to the way people live.

A4.         Last Friday, the Prime Minister spoke on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore. To protect all of us, we had to make the difficult decision to implement a “circuit-breaker”

 

A5.         The temporary closure of most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, takes effect tomorrow.

 

  1. Many are asking – how will we get through the next one month?
  2. What will happen after that?

A6.         No one can say for sure.  But one thing we can be sure of is that we will get through this together. We will stand in solidarity with workers as well as businesses.

 

B.           PROTECTING LIVELIHOODS OF WORKERS

 

B1.         Let me start with MOM’s top priority: protecting livelihoods of workers.

 

B2.         Even as we close workplaces temporarily, we want to ensure that workers can still put food on the table and meet their financial obligations.

 

B3.         This is why DPM announced further enhancements to the Job Support Scheme (JSS).

 

  1. Businesses providing essential services are still allowed to operate. Their workers will be paid.
  2. For workers in non-essential businesses, those who can telecommute should do so. Their employers should pay them appropriately, instead of treating this period as no-pay leave.
  3. To Ms Jessica Tan’s question, SPS Low Yen Ling will say more about how MOM will help businesses enable employees to work from home.
  4. For those workers who are unable to work remotely, the enhanced JSS should still help fund the majority of their wages.

 

B4.         We know employers are making many adjustments, but they should also do their part.

 

  1. Given the generous JSS funding, employers should aim to pass the government support to their workers.
  2. We urge them to communicate clearly to their employees on work and pay arrangements for the next few weeks.

 

B5.         We will also ensure that vulnerable worker segments, such as self-employed persons and lower-wage workers, receive sufficient support.

 

B6.         As DPM has announced, we will broaden the coverage for the SEP Income Relief Scheme (SIRS).

 

  1. First, we will include SEPs who earn a small income as employees in addition to their main employment, which is self-employment, up to $2,300 per month in terms of their earned employment income, which is the current Workfare income ceiling. $2,300 is the current Workfare income ceiling.
  2. Second, the Annual Value threshold of SIRS will be raised from $13,000 to $21,000. This will include most condominiums outside prime areas.
  3. With the expanded criteria, about 100,000 SEPs will automatically qualify for SIRS, compared to 88,000 previously. This is a meaningful expansion.

 

B7.         There is no need for eligible SEPs to apply. Those aged 37 and above who declared a positive net trade income will be automatically notified and receive their first payout in end May.

 

B8.         For the rest of SEPs that narrowly missed qualifying for SIRS, they can appeal and we will consider their cases. To take care of appeals, I have reached out to Secretary-General of NTUC Brother Ng Chee Meng.

 

  1. The labour movement has established links with some groups of SEPs, and is already administering the SEP Training Support Scheme.
  2. I would like to thank NTUC for stepping up to help SEPs in need.

 

B9.         Tomorrow, MOS Zaqy will share how we have enhanced the Workfare Special Payment (WSP) to strengthen support for our lower-wage workers, many of whom MPs noted are critical to the provision of essential services.  

 

B10.       The evolving COVID-19 situation also brought about uncertainty to those looking for employment in this difficult job market. I can completely understand that many are anxious.

 

B11.       In spite of the tremendous difficulties, the Government will actively facilitate the matching of jobseekers to businesses who still have immediate vacancies during this period, be it for a new job, or to land a second job to supplement their income.

 

B12.       I had previously highlighted the SGUnited Jobs Initiative, which will create about 10,000 jobs over the next one year in both the public and private sector. The first SGUnited Jobs Virtual Career Fair is currently ongoing with 5,800 vacancies available, and 5,500 applicants. I’m quietly relieved that we have gotten good interest from employers and we will keep building up the pool of jobs that are immediately available.

 

B13.       Even as we go online, WSG’s Careers Connect and NTUC’s e2i centres will continue to provide face-to-face service to jobseekers who are in urgent need, of course with the appropriate safe distancing measures.

 

B14.       Our tripartite partners are also facilitating SGUnited Jobs at the company level. Through their networks, they bring together employers with complementary manpower needs - some have excess, some still have shortages. It’s another form of “gotong royong”. Adapt and Grow programmes will continue as far as possible, so that people can get back to jobs.

 

B15.       One particular group weighs on my mind – recent graduates and graduating cohorts from ITE, polytechnics, universities and other educational institutions. This is a tough time to be entering the job market and I recognise their worries, as well as those of their parents.

 

B16.       I think members will agree with me: we must find a way to help these young people get started in their careers and not let COVID-19 derail them. This is why we are making a big effort to mobilise employers to support the SGUnited Traineeships programme. 

 

B17.       In normal years, most graduating students in Singapore can find a job within 6 months. But in this climate, many employers are hesitant to take on any jobseeker, let alone one with no relevant experience.

 

B18.       This programme aims to plug the gap. It helps graduating students, as well as recent graduates, gain valuable work experience and develop professionally.

 

B19.       Under this programme, the Government will fund 80% of the stipend that each trainee receives, with the host company paying the remaining 20%.

 

B20.       We are looking to support up to 8,000 traineeships this year. It will be rolled out from 1 June with the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) as the programme manager.

 

B21.       So far, more than 100 companies, such as ST Logistics, Surbana Jurong, Micron, Q&M Dental, and Commonwealth Capital, have committed to 1,500 positions. More are coming on boardand we are working hard on it.

 

C.           SUPPORTING BUSINESS VIABILITY

 

C1.         I spoke about support for workers. This is not all. We will also support businesses to resume operations after this “circuit-breaker”. We must hold on to the hope, that this is “pause”, not “stop”. 

 

C2.         Cash flow will be the foremost concern.

 

  1. MOM had earlier announced that SMEs will have three additional months to make their levy payments

C3.         The Government has further decided to waive levies due in April to provide extra relief.

 

C4.         In addition, we will provide a one-off rebate to employers, based on past levies paid. To process the rebate and reach businesses quickly, the levy rebate will be a flat $750 per worker, based on the number of workers holding work permits and S Passes, as employers only pay levies for these workers.

 

  1. In view of the levy waiver and rebate employers of foreign work permit and S Pass holders will no longer receive the daily allowance paid to employers of quarantined workers. This supersedes the Government’s earlier statement regarding the daily quarantine allowance. Let me qualify that from a workers’ standpoint, it is still paid hospitalisation leave, so the workers will still get paid.

C5.         I have asked my colleagues to get the levy rebate out to you as soon as possible. It can be done as early as 21 April 2020, which is two weeks from now. We need the employers to sign up quickly and we will provide the details.

 

C6.         Even before the payment is made, MPs have called for more. My commitment is that we will keep monitoring and reviewing the situation. This may go on for a while, so let us stay nimble and also sustainable.

 

C7.         During this period, there are also many firms in need of manpower.

 

  1. I urge them to leverage on the SGUnited Jobs and SGUnited Traineeships to provide opportunities for our locals.
  2. They can also tap on the existing pool of foreign workers already in Singapore, especially those that currently do not have work.
  3. SBF’s Manpower Connect programme will help businesses manage their manpower needs and tap on local and foreign workers.

C8.         Some people have asked and will continue to ask why we are providing support for businesses who hire foreign workers.

 

  1. This circuit-breaker is not at all usual.
  2. It will significantly impact all businesses with contractual and financial obligations, regardless of whether they employ locals or foreign workers.
  3. We are providing some support, to ensure that firms with foreign workers can also restart operations, and do right by their foreign workers during this period.
  4. This does not change the fact that supporting local workers remains our top priority. The schemes I mentioned fully demonstrate this commitment.
  5. But at such a time, we must stand united with all workers, and not draw too many lines. Sharing pain should also mean sharing the relief.

C9.         At the same time, I appeal to businesses to use this rebate wisely.

 

  1. It is to help retain your essential workforce, so that your business can restart or scale up again once it is possible to do so.
  2. We expect you to look after not only your local workers but also your foreign workers, and to take care of their upkeep during this circuit-breaker.
  3. Please demonstrate our solidarity with all our workers - both local and foreign. Remember how they have helped you and your businesses in good times. Do not forsake them in bad times.
  4. And take care especially of vulnerable groups.

 

D.           CONCLUSION

 

D1.         At the start of my speech, I recounted my experience during the GFC and how suddenly it has appeared, its effects wore out in a short time.

 

  1. For now, the dark clouds cast by COVID-19 seem determined to stay.
  2. But I am still hopeful, not because I have a crystal ball to tell me all will be well soon.
  3. In fact, personally, I expect things to get much tougher before they get better.

D2.         I feel hopeful because of the amazing spirit I see in our people –

 

  1. the ones who make funny videos to cheer us up,
  2. the ones who rewrite pop hits that go “viral”, and
  3. the ones who help make hand sanitisers and cloth masks.

D3.         I see businesses that go the extra mile to care for their customers and workers. Likewise, many workers have taken on a lot more work to help their employers or accepted pay cuts.

 

D4.         If there’s one thing I can say with confidence, it is this:

 

  1. Our economy may take a huge hit. So might jobs.
  2. But not our spirit. And never our solidarity.
  3. We are Singapore, we will overcome and we will emerge stronger.