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Speech by Minister of State for Manpower Ms Gan Siow Huang at Committee of Supply 2021

Speech by Minister of State for Manpower Ms Gan Siow Huang

As delivered

A. INTRODUCTION

A1. The past year has not been easy for employers, employees and job seekers. 

a. The churn was high. More than 26,000 people were retrenched.

b. Overall, we saw non-resident1 employment decline by 180,000, while the number of residents employed went up by more than 9,000 compared to the year before.  

c. Considering our economy shrank 5.4%, it’s noteworthy that there was a net increase in the number of locals employed.  

A2. I thank Members who have contributed ideas on how we can raise employment standards and foster workplaces that are progressive and inclusive. 

A3. We need to continue to improve on these aspects of our workplaces so that we can achieve a society that is fair and leaves no one behind.  

B. Continuing Employment Support for Recent Graduates 

B1. One group that is new to our workforce, and learning to navigate their entrance into it, are our recent graduates. 

B2. Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about the progress of our SGUnited Traineeships and its impact on our graduates.

a. Not surprisingly, fewer graduates found permanent full-time employment last year. 

b. SGUnited Traineeships provided a viable alternative.

c. I agree with Prof Hoon Hian Teck that our graduates on traineeship can gain industry-relevant experience and build their networks, as pathways to future job opportunities.

d. About 9 in 10 graduates from our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) who entered the labour force last year found jobs or traineeships within 6 months of graduation. Among them, 5400 were on traineeships.

e. Most of these traineeships were in growth sectors such as Financial Services, Information & Communications, and Professional Services. 

Extension of SGUT

B3. The SGUnited Traineeships Programme will be extended by an additional year till 31 Mar 2022. This allows the programme to support the Class of 2021 as well. 

B4. We are making some adjustments to the SGUnited Traineeships. 

a. We will raise training allowances for our ITE and Polytechnic graduates. This is to give an extra boost to our ITE and Polytechnic graduates, who are facing more difficulty in finding jobs.

b. We hope that our recent graduates who have not been able to find jobs can seriously consider a traineeship. 

c. To facilitate this, the training allowance for ITE graduates will increase by about 30%, up to a maximum of $1,800, and about 20% for polytechnic graduates, up to a maximum of $2,100.

d. The traineeships are available to graduates from the Private Education Institutes as well.

B5. Ms Jessica Tan, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Ms Nadia Samdin will be pleased to know that we have made changes to facilitate trainees’ transition into jobs.

a. The maximum traineeship duration has been shortened from 9 to 6 months. Companies will not be allowed to take on the same trainee for a second traineeship. 

b. We want to encourage host organisations to hire trainees who have performed well during the traineeship stint. 

c. These changes will take effect from 1 April 2021.

C. Employment Support for Vulnerable Groups

Support for female workforce

C1. 2021 is the Year of Celebrating SG Women. I wholeheartedly support this initiative and would also like to take this opportunity to update on the employment of women in Singapore.

C2. Our female employment rate remained stable at 73%2 despite the impact of COVID-19.

C3. This speaks to the strength and resilience of our women amidst challenging labour market conditions and reflects our efforts in supporting female employment. 

C4. Mr Louis Ng asked if the practice of declaring the last drawn salary contributed to the gender pay gap. He referred to a Boston University study on the impact of salary history on gender pay gap. The USA introduced a salary history ban in 2016.

a. In Singapore, the adjusted gender pay gap is about 6%, which is lower than that in the USA.

b. According to a 2018 study by MOM and A/Prof Jessica Pan from the NUS, occupational segregation was a key contributor of the gender wage gap here.

c. In Singapore, jobseekers do not have to comply with requests for their last drawn salary, and employers cannot insist on it either.

d. If a jobseeker chooses to provide salary information, employers should use it carefully. 

C5. I share Ms Mariam Jaafar and Ms Yeo Wan Ling’s conviction that we should support women to stay active in the labour force. 

C6. The labour force participation rate for women has been rising steadily from 68.4% in 2010 to 76.6% in 2020. Even COVID-19 could not stop us.

a. It’s perhaps a sign that more men are sharing in caregiving responsibilities at home.

b. And our workplaces have become more supportive of women.

C7. We are mindful, however, that in our Asian culture, women carry a disproportionate weight in caregiving duties. 

a. In 2020, 65% of women who were outside the labour force cited family responsibilities as the main reason, as compared to only 8% of men3.

b. Our answer to this is not in asking men to stay at home and be full-time caregivers, but to increase support for caregivers as a whole so that they can contribute to work and have an income.

C8. Ms Mariam Jaafar shared a story about her resident who had quit her job as her employer had declined to provide her with a nursing room.

C9. We would like to share that the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) Code on Accessibility requires buildings that are frequented by the general public to have at least one lactation room. This applies to both new, as well as existing buildings undergoing addition and alteration works. The Code was recently enhanced to require even more building types to provide lactation rooms.

C10. For eligible private buildings constructed before these requirements were in place, BCA’s Accessibility Fund provides funding support for building owners to construct lactation rooms.

C11. We are committed to enabling women to remain in or return to the workforce and will spare no effort in building workplaces that are supportive of women.

Support for caregivers

C12. I share Ms Carrie Tan’s views on the importance of supporting caregivers in the workforce. 

a. The Government is committed to supporting caregivers in balancing their responsibilities.

b. We acknowledge that caregiver leave helps them take care of their loved ones through short-term illnesses.

c. However, it is also important to hear from caregivers what is most helpful to them. Our conversations with working caregivers showed that Flexible Work Arrangements were more important and sustainable.

d. We also support caregivers who would like to return to the workforce by providing career matching services from Workforce Singapore (WSG).  

C13. Through providing a supportive environment for our working caregivers, we can empower them to fulfil career aspirations concurrently with family commitments. 

C14. Lower-wage caregivers who are working may also be eligible for the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme, which provides up to $4,000 in cash and CPF top-ups annually. 

C15. We have also taken steps to help caregivers build their retirement nest egg. 

a. First, we encourage cash top-ups to CPF accounts of caregivers through tax incentives and government matching grants.

b. Second, we supplement the retirement income of seniors who had low incomes during their working years through the Silver Support scheme.

C16. Ms Carrie Tan also suggested for us to combine childcare and parent-care leave to form a more holistic family care leave provision. 

C17. While we agree that this might provide more flexibility to caregivers who have to take care of both their children and parents, we will also have to consider the long-term implications of such a measure.

D. Sustaining Progressive Workplace Practices

Normalising flexible work arrangements

D1. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of FWAs.

a. Most companies implemented FWAs last year in view of safe management requirement for the workplace.

b. Many successfully redesigned work processes and infrastructure to facilitate staggered work hours and work-from-home arrangements.

c. In 2020, the proportion of employers that provided some form of FWA rose to 93%, and almost half of employers provided formal tele-working4.

d. 8,600 employers adopted the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements as of January this year, a four-fold increase from a year ago.

D2. One example of a company that increased FWAs is Panasonic Appliances R&D Centre Singapore. 

a. The company implemented staggered work hours since 2015. COVID-19 catalysed the adoption of other FWAs, including working-from-home, and time banking. 

b. This benefits Assistant Senior Engineer, Mr Freddie Tan, who uses the time banking scheme to take time off and manage his personal commitments, such as accompanying his parents to medical appointments. 

D3. Mr Louis Chua and Mr Louis Ng would like to see FWAs continuing post-COVID. The importance of FWAs was echoed in the recent Emerging Stronger Conversation series.

a. Particularly on working from home, a survey conducted in July last year showed that 4 in 5 workers wished to continue to work-from-home for at least half the time, even after Government measures are lifted. 

b. Employers are aligned with workers on this. In a recent MOM online poll, more than 3 in 5 businesses indicated that they intend to continue to allow employees to work-from-home at least half the time post-COVID.

D4. Although COVID-19 has significantly increased the proportion of people working-from-home, further study is needed to understand the impact of such arrangements on work productivity and well-being of employees in the long term.

a. Some employers may feel that work-from-home, if protracted, could hinder collaboration, productivity and building of team spirit.

b. Some employees may prefer to work in the office if their home environment is not conducive, or for social interaction.

c. The degree to which work-from-home can be proliferated will vary across occupations.

D5. We will look at the experiences of other jurisdictions such as the UK and Australia, which have introduced FWA legislation.

D6. We need to work with tripartite partners to ensure a holistic representation of employees and employers’ interests as we decide on the steps for the longer-term. 

Tripartite Standard on Work-Life Harmony

D7. We recognise that companies need support in creating workplaces that enable workers to achieve work-life harmony. Certain sectors may have unique characteristics impeding their adoption of progressive work-life practices.

a. For example, the food & beverage and manufacturing sector may find it difficult to work-from-home as their activities generally involve handling objects and operating equipment.

D8. We have recently formed an Alliance for Action for Work-Life Harmony to help companies instil workplace practices and resources to promote work-life harmony. 

D9. In the long term, this will help companies better attract and retain talent.

E. Creating Inclusive Workplaces

Fostering inclusive workplaces free of discrimination and harassment

E1. At its heart, a progressive workplace is one where everyone is treated fairly and empowered to perform at their best. 

E2. There have been various calls by Members including Mr Patrick Tay and Mr Louis Ng to introduce additional legislation to tackle workplace discrimination and harassment.

E3. We have laws to raise employment standards as we update them regularly.

E4. For harassment, we have the Protection from Harassment Act and Penal Code. These laws enable the Government to take action against harassers, including at the workplace.

E5. We can have more legislation to enforce against bad behaviour at the workplace, but if we take a legal approach to every aspect of employment relations, we will have an adversarial industrial climate. 

E6. Not legislating does not mean we don’t have higher aspirations for our workforce and workplaces. We have Tripartite Guidelines, Advisories, and Standards, and these have worked well in advancing both employers and employees’ interests, while maintaining positive and constructive relationship between both groups. 

E7. Members may recall that before the Retirement and Re-employment Act was introduced, we also adopted a promotional approach. We will continue to review this bag of tools, introduce or upgrade the tools as necessary. 

Workplace discrimination

E8. Over the past three years, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) handled an average of 400 discrimination cases annually, including those arising from proactive checks by MOM on discriminatory hiring practices. 

E9. In about 50 cases each year, the employers were found to be in breach of the Guidelines and had their work pass privileges suspended. .

E10. Through the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), we encourage fair employment practices that are open and merit-based. We hold employers to account for not considering the workforce in Singapore fairly.

E11. We proactively identify companies with suspicious workforce profiles – that is, companies that have an exceptionally high share of foreign PMETs compared to their industry peers, or high concentration of a single foreign nationality source. We place them on the FCF Watchlist for closer scrutiny of their hiring practices, even if they have not flouted any rules. 

E12. More importantly, schemes like the Jobs Support Scheme, Jobs Growth Incentive and Professional Conversion Programme tilt the balance in favour of hiring locals. 

E13. This is similar to how we take a progressive approach to reducing other forms of workplace discrimination. 

E14. Specifically, for seniors, job redesign and reskilling have also enabled us to increase their employment in Singapore. 

a. Despite the absence of an age discrimination law, Singapore’s senior employment rate5 increased from 59% to 67.5% in the past decade.

b. In contrast, countries like the UK and US have age discrimination laws but lower senior employment rates than in Singapore.

E15. In short, we use a range of tools as well as legal and regulatory measures to keep our workplaces progressive, fair and inclusive.

F. Strengthening Protection for Foreign Domestic Workers Against Abuse

F1. Mr Chairman, Singaporeans take pride in being a caring and kind society. We teach our children to take care of the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

F2. Many Singaporeans were outraged when we heard about what happened to Ms Piang Ngaih Don, a foreign domestic worker from Myanmar, who was brutally abused by her employer and died tragically in 2016. 

F3. This was an act of extreme evil.

F4. Let me first state unequivocally to this House that our society has no place for cruelty to anyone. 

a. We must do our best to support vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and foreign domestic workers. 

F5. Foreign domestic workers play a key role in supporting our families, whether in household chores or caregiving. 

a. Most employers appreciate the help from their foreign domestic workers and build good relationships with them. 

b. However, some employers treat their foreign domestic workers unreasonably.

c. In the worst cases, they inflict harm.

F6. Employers in Singapore must know that any abuse of foreign domestic workers will not be tolerated.

F7. The Penal Code was enhanced in 2020 to double the maximum punishment against individuals who abuse vulnerable people, including foreign domestic workers. 

F8. In this particular case, Ms Piang Ngaih Don had been examined by a doctor twice, in the 8th and 11th month of employment. Separately, her employment agency had spoken with her on two occasions. Despite these touch points, the abuse of Ms Piang was not brought to light. 

F9. MOM has been reviewing measures to better support FDWs and strengthen safeguards against abuse, in three areas. 

a. First, making greater use of existing touch points with FDWs:

i. Employment Agents should have an interest to ensure that the FDWs they place settle in well, especially those working in Singapore for the first time. 
ii. One-on-one interviews after newly arrived FDWs start work with employers, and mandatory off days would also give abused FDWs better opportunities to seek help.

b. Second, in terms of the reporting by doctors, we will work with the medical fraternity to better identify signs of abuse or distress.

c. Third, our partner organisations like CDE and FAST can also expand their outreach and engagement, to strengthen the network of support to FDWs.

F10. These measures do not in any way, remove or reduce the responsibility of each employer to take care of his or her foreign domestic worker.

F11. Neither can they eliminate completely the risk of foreign domestic worker abuse.

F12. But we must do all we can to minimise its incidence, and build a culture of respect for foreign domestic workers, in our homes and in the community.  

F13. MOM will provide an update in due course.

G. Concluding Remarks

G1. Mr Chairman, please allow me to conclude in Mandarin.

G2. 尽管面对当前的挑战, 我们会继续努力,为工友打造更加公平、更加包容的工作场所。无论性别、年龄、种族或身体状况,我们要所有国人都能在职场上发辉所长。

G3. 不管是政府、雇主、工友或是社会大众,我们都能尽一份力,保障社会里的弱势群体。让我们应该携手同行,一同迈向一个更公平,和更具 凝聚力的社会。

FOOTNOTE

  1. Non-resident employment data exclude foreign domestic workers.
  2. For female residents aged 25 to 64.
  3. Source: Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020. Data pertain to residents aged 25 to 64.
  4. Source: Conditions of Employment Survey 2020
  5. Aged 55 – 64 years