Response to Adjournment Motion On Strengthening The Singaporean Core
Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower
1. I thank Mr Patrick Tay, Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Mr Louis Ng for sharing their views on strengthening the Singaporean Core and ensuring workplace fairness. They have been championing these issues for many years, together with other PAP and labour MPs, past and present. I am grateful for their advocacy.
2. These issues are top of mind and longstanding priorities for MOM too. We address them in two key ways:
- Enabling Singaporeans to succeed as industries and jobs transform; and
- Tackling workplace discrimination.
3. I will speak on our key efforts in these areas, and plans to strengthen fair employment standards.
Enabling Singaporeans to Succeed
4. By accelerating technology adoption and equipping Singaporeans with skills for future jobs, we will enable them to seize new opportunities and succeed at the workplace. Businesses will also have a strong local talent pool to support their transformation and growth to compete globally. It is win-win.
5. Jobs and skills for Singaporeans are at the front and centre of MOM’s and sector agencies’ plans. The 23 Industry Transformation Maps guide our efforts to upskill and reskill Singaporeans at various stages of their careers.
- Our graduates are equipped with industry know-how at our institutes of higher learning, and we support lifelong learning and skills mastery through the national SkillsFuture movement.
- Middle-age workers making mid-career switches are supported through Career Conversion Programmes (CCPs). CCPs provide up to 90% training and salary support during the period of training to employers who hire and reskill mid-career jobseekers. Today, there are over 100 CCPs across 30 sectors, with more added every year.
- Our close partnership with employers and industry associations ensures training is relevant to employers’ needs, which means workers see direct benefit. Programmes such as the Technology in Finance Immersion Programme and TechSkills Accelerator Programme help Singaporeans gain experience in key tech areas in the Financial Services sector and allow company-led training programmes to accelerate professional development in 5G, Internet of Things and Cybersecurity respectively.
- MOM is also working with sector agencies to develop Jobs Transformation Maps (JTMs) with detailed job-level insights on the impact of technology on each industry. We have already launched three JTMs – for HR, logistics and financial services sectors – with plans for 12 more. These JTMs will be a useful compass to prepare for the future of work. For example, following the Financial Services JTM, financial institutions committed to reskill and redeploy more than 5,000 employees to take on new and enhanced roles.
6. We have also ramped up employment facilitation efforts through the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, placing more than 110,000 locals into jobs and skills opportunities as of end-April. To encourage local hiring, we introduced the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) in September 2020. Within six months it supported 42,000 employers who hired more than 270,000 new local workers.
7. Mdm Deputy Speaker, all these programmes are for our Singaporean Core, from young to old, including those with disabilities and ex-offenders. In fact, our efforts to support our local workforce in tackling accelerated structural changes have been commended by the International Monetary Fund. The work is of course, never finished, and we will press on.
Tackling Workplace Discrimination
8. Next, I will address workplace discrimination. I can understand the anxieties that Singaporeans feel in an open and competitive labour market. I assure you that MOM deals with workplace discrimination with utmost seriousness.
9. We will ensure that Singaporeans are considered fairly for employment opportunities.
- In my Ministerial Statement on 6 July, I elaborated extensively on how our work pass framework ensures that Singaporeans have fair access to jobs in a dynamic labour market.
- However, I want to reiterate the importance of remaining open. The combination of skilled locals and a diversity of foreign expertise is a key competitive advantage for us in drawing many international companies here, creating more good jobs for Singaporeans.
10. Beyond nationality-based discrimination, we will and must also tackle other types of discrimination, including on grounds of sex, age, race, religion, and disabilities, across all phases of employment.
11. In fact, MOM has been working on this for more than two decades, progressively stepping up our efforts.
- We started with the Tripartite Guidelines on Non-Discriminatory Job Advertisements in 1999, and formed the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices in 2006. We launched the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) in 2007, which clearly outlines the principles and practices employers must adopt at different stages of employment.
- Since 2013, we have penalised employers who do not abide by the TGFEP by suspending their work pass privileges. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) was also introduced to set clear expectations of employers to consider the workforce in Singapore fairly. More recently, we stiffened penalties for all forms of workplace discrimination.
12. The current approach has worked well for us so far.
- Employment outcomes for groups such as women and seniors have improved and are in fact better than in some advanced economies. If we look at the employment rate of women aged 25 to 64, it has risen steadily from 66% in 2010 to 73% in 2020, holding steady amidst COVID-19. Our adjusted Gender Pay Gap is also lower than in some advanced economies.
- TAFEP’s experience has also been that most employers are cooperative in working with them to close HR gaps.
13. In recent years, several MPs have raised the possibility of legislation to give more enforcement bite to the TGFEP and FCF. We have also received similar feedback through the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development.
14. We have never been closed to such suggestions. Legislation could give us more enforcement powers against errant employers beyond suspending work pass privileges, and confer better protection on employees who whistle-blow. It also sends a clearer signal on what we, as a society, will not tolerate as bad behaviour on the part of employers.
15. However, laws alone do not guarantee better employment outcomes.
We must therefore carefully study our options, weigh the costs and benefits, and determine what would work best in Singapore’s interest and in the Singaporean context.
- On the one hand, legislation will provide a clear premise to publicise the names of companies found to have breached the law.
- On the other hand, we should be mindful of unintended consequences. For example, if not properly designed, the legal framework could become overly onerous and inadvertently deter employers from setting up shop here and hiring the very groups that we seek to protect.
16. Nonetheless, we empathise with Singaporeans’ concerns and apprehensions.
Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness
17. I am therefore setting up a Tripartite Committee to examine if legislation is the best policy option to advance on the gains that we have made. Government, union and employer representatives will deliberate thoroughly whether legislation should be pursued, taking into consideration potential ramifications. The committee should be able to arrive at a decision on the approach that is in the best interests of workers and Singapore.
18. In conclusion, Mdm Deputy Speaker, Singapore has made good progress in giving opportunities to our workers and treating them fairly. Like many members in this House, we want to build on the progress we have made, and work towards fairer and more progressive workplaces, while preserving our competitiveness. Legislation has its merits – it is not a panacea and is not a silver bullet. We need a balanced suite of measures and to not be hampered by an overly rigid framework that hurts all parties involved. Only then can we continue to give Singaporeans the best chance to get ahead and secure their livelihoods. Thank you.