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Speech by Senior Minister of State for Manpower Dr Koh Poh Koon at Committee of Supply 2022 at Committee of Supply 2022

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Manpower

A. Preamble

A1. Mr Chairman, I will continue along the lines of Upgrade, Uplift and Uphold, outlined by Minister. I will elaborate on how we will upgrade the capabilities of our local workforce, uplift our vulnerable workers, as well as transform our migrant worker ecosystem to support their well-being and resilience.

B. Upgrading Capabilities of our Local Workforce 

Extension of SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package and the Jobs Growth Incentive

B1. The SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package and the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) were introduced as extraordinary, time-bound measures to preserve human capital and expand local hiring amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Jobs Council’s efforts saw more than 174,000 local jobseekers placed into jobs and skills opportunities as at end-December 2021.

B2. The labour market is recovering steadily, and unemployment rates continued their downward trend. But we are not completely out of the woods. The COVID-19 situation may evolve further. There are segments of the workforce such as mature workers that we were more concerned about even before COVID-19, and they have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. Nonetheless, we have made good progress despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the close to 509,000 local hires supported through the JGI from September 2020 to August 2021, about half were mature workers. Some mature workers continue to face difficulties in finding permanent jobs. 

B3. We will press on with tackling three structural issues: 
a. Vulnerable workers who might need additional support in the hiring process, 
b. Mature workers who might need help transiting to new job roles, and 
c. Continuing the outreach to jobseekers requiring career matching services.

B4. In all three areas, some of the schemes launched during the pandemic have been especially useful and valuable in supporting the vulnerable jobseeker segments. We will continue to keep them in our toolkit of schemes, with some adjustments to their parameters.

B5. To address the issue of vulnerable workers who need additional support in the hiring process, we will extend the JGI. As noted by Mr Yip Hon Weng, the JGI has been effective in encouraging employers to expand local hiring. It was introduced in September 2020 and has been extended twice since then to March 2022. Close to 509,000 locals were hired into new jobs by 67,000 businesses from September 2020 to August 2021. 

a. JGI-eligible employers have continued to hire from a wide pool of jobseekers, including half who were not employed at the point of hire.

B6. Therefore, we will extend the JGI by another six months from March 2022 to September 2022, but we will concentrate our resources at the more vulnerable jobseeker segments as I had mentioned earlier – namely, the mature workers not in work for at least six months, persons with disabilities, and ex-offenders.

a. In the next phase of the JGI, employers of these groups of jobseekers will receive up to 40% salary support for the first six months, and up to 20% for the next six months. In line with previous JGI phases, employers should achieve local workforce growth and growth in local workforce earning at least $1,400 a month. This means that eligible employers may receive up to $21,600 per hire over a 12-month period.

b. The JGI will continue to work in concert with other existing structural programmes. For instance, to support employment of persons with disabilities, we have introduced the Enabling Employment Credit, which MOS Gan Siow Huang will elaborate on. Together, these schemes ensure that persons with disabilities continue to be well-supported during the economic recovery.

c. We hope that this will encourage employers to give them a chance – to hire them and train them if needed so that they can eventually form an integral part of your workforce. 

B7. Mature workers may also need more help in making career transitions or re-entering the workforce. Through the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme, we have equipped workers with skills and opportunities to take on new employment. The company attachment programme allows employers to take a greater chance on unproven candidates, provide them with on-the-job training and evaluate their job fit. Even trainees who are not offered a job by the host organisation come out of the attachment equipped with skills, experience and industry contacts. 76% of trainees who completed or exited the attachments found employment as at October 2021.

B8. Some mature workers who may continue to face challenges in finding permanent jobs may already have years of experience and would only require some training to take on their intended roles. Hence, we will retain the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme for mature jobseekers. This will complement the deeper re-skilling provided by our existing Career Conversion Programmes (CCPs). 

a. One such mature worker who was willing to undergo further training is Chan Wan Chuen. As a 45-year-old back-to-work mother who re-entered the workforce in 2020 after four years, she enrolled in the programme to upskill and improve her employability. I am glad to note that her positive mindset paid off, and she has transited well into her role as a Technology Assurance Domain Lead in UOB bank with her newly acquired skills in data analytics. 

b. Ms Rachel Ong and Mr Liang Eng Hwa have asked for more details on how this scheme will be extended. Mature trainees will continue to receive training allowances of up to $3,800. However, with the recovery of the labour market, we will scale back Government funding from 90% to 70%, with host organisations co-funding 30% of the allowance to jobseekers.

c. To encourage host organisations to hire the trainees earlier if they are a good fit, we will allow host organisations to receive the full support quantum if the trainees are hired at least three months into the attachment.

B9. Ms Janet Ang has called on local workers to keep reskilling to stay relevant and has highlighted CCPs as a useful way of helping our local workers to do this. I agree with her. The CCP provides employers with substantial salary support when they hire and train mid-career hires for new job roles. Since 2016, Workforce Singapore has placed over 39,000 locals into new jobs through CCPs. We want to continue to do more. This will require both employers and jobseekers to do their part. I encourage employers to adopt a “plug-train-play” mindset, and be prepared to train their new hires instead of expecting a perfect fit from the word ‘go’. The CCP and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme will support you. I also encourage jobseekers to have a more open mind to new opportunities, and to acquire new skills.

B10. To help scale up efforts to reach out to more jobseekers, SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres were introduced in June 2020 amidst the COVID-19 situation in all 24 HDB towns to provide career advisory and coaching services, and curate jobs opportunities available in the vicinity for jobseekers.

B11. To ensure that our job matching services remain readily accessible to our jobseekers in the heartlands, we will maintain SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres in all 24 HDB towns. Besides having career ambassadors deployed to the centres, we will roll out job kiosks and phone advisory services so that we can flexibly deploy career ambassadors while best meeting the needs of jobseekers. 

B12. We will also continue working with partners to provide more options for local jobseekers who are mature, long-term unemployed, or persons with disabilities. We appointed Adecco as a SGUnited Jobs and Skills Placement Partner in March 2021, and have appointed two additional employment agencies, Charterhouse and Good Job Creations, this month.

B13. We will not extend the SGUnited Traineeships after it expires in March 2022. The SGUnited Traineeship programme was introduced amidst a weak labour market to provide fresh graduates with traineeship opportunities to acquire industry-relevant experience and build up their skillsets and networks. With the economy recovering, fewer graduates are participating in the scheme. Current trainees will be supported to the end of their traineeships.

Expand Partnerships to Drive Transformation

B14. I will now move on to how we can drive transformation through working closely with our tripartite partners and industry players to provide greater support for companies and workers in their transformation journey.

B15. NTUC shares a close relationship with the Government – they champion workers’ interests, build trust with employers and the government to achieve win-win outcomes. 

a. Brother Heng Chee How suggested for a tripartite focus to identify priority sectors and occupations for re-skilling, especially for older workers, tapping on NTUC’s Company Training Committees (CTCs). As shared by Brother Chee Hong Tat, since April 2019, NTUC has mobilised more than 800 companies to form CTCs and supported companies to develop and implement their transformation plans, including re-skilling. This has enabled unions and companies to work together to respond with agility during COVID-19, to pivot operations to survive and help workers sustain livelihoods.

b. The efforts of the unions by CTCs have achieved positive outcomes and we want to accelerate these efforts to benefit more companies and workers. Mr Sharael Taha has asked for the resources to support NTUC to scale up CTCs. The Minister for Finance has shared in the Budget speech that we will support NTUC’s efforts to scale up to 2,500 CTCs by 2025. This will double the coverage from 250,000 workers today to 500,000 workers in 2025. About $100 million will be set aside to support NTUC. We will invest $28 million to support NTUC to drive this transformation, and another $70 million grant to enable companies to operationalise the transformation plans through the CTCs.

C. Support for Senior Workers 

C1. Next, I will talk about our efforts to uplift different workforce segments, starting with senior workers. As announced during Budget, the Government will continue to support the retirement adequacy of our seniors by raising CPF contribution rates. By the time we are done with the full increase around 2030, a 55-year-old member currently earning median income can expect his monthly retirement payouts to be boosted by around 10%.

C2. 政府一直竭尽所能,不断提升劳动队伍的素质和技能,让每个员工享有更良好的就业前景。接下来,让我把焦点放在年长员工。到了2030年, 我国65岁及以上的公民人口将增加近一倍,达到90万人。随着人口老化,善用年长国人所累积的人力资本来维持经济增长是至关重要的。

a. 为了让更多有意愿工作的年长员工继续就业,我们将从今年7月1日起,把法定退休年龄从62岁提高到63岁,并且把重新雇佣年龄从67岁提高到68岁。此外,在年满55岁后受雇的员工,只要为雇主工作两年,就有资格重新受雇。

C3. 根据年长员工劳资政工作小组在2019年提出的建议, 我们已经从今年开始调高年长员工的公积金缴交率,并在2023年接续上调。政府将继续为年长国人提供足够的退休保障。到了2030年,目前55岁中位数收入的公积金会员每月的退休入息预计将增加约10%。

D. Self-employed Persons

Update on Advisory Committee on Platform Workers

D1. For our self-employed persons (SEPs), the Government has progressively strengthened support for this workforce segment over the years. 

a. As announced at Budget 2022, eligible lower-income SEPs can receive enhanced Workfare payouts of up to $2,800 from 2023. 

b. The Government has worked with insurers to introduce prolonged medical leave insurance, which covers many self-employed drivers and riders.

c. The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management provides mediation services to SEPs to address disputes with their service buyers and SEPs can have their rights enforced at the Small Claims Tribunal.

D2. One group of SEPs that we are paying closer attention to are those that work with online matching platforms which provide transport and delivery services. Known as platform workers, they work as private hire car and taxi drivers, or deliver food and goods to consumers. The Government shares the concerns that Mr Louis Chua, Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Dr Shahira Abdullah, Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Abdul Samad and Ms Hazel Poa have raised about the welfare and job opportunities for platform workers. Mr Don Wee also highlighted this issue at the Budget Debate.

D3. With the emergence of digital platforms, it is now easier for people to source for work on online platforms. The profile of platform workers is diverse. We find that the majority of those who depend on platform work as their main job are older residents aged 50 and over, with non-tertiary qualifications, although delivery workers tend to be younger than other groups. Platform workers have consistently cited flexibility as a reason for taking up platform work. Some do it to supplement their main source of income, while others rely on it as their main source of income. 

D4. Earlier this week, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) published a study on platform work, involving a survey of more than 900 private-hire car drivers and in-depth interviews with both the drivers as well as delivery riders. 

a. The study found that the flexibility offered by platform work comes with caveats.

b. For instance, platform workers often have to follow working arrangements and pricing policies set by the platforms, which can change without their consent. 

D5. Some have indicated that they view platform work as a temporary arrangement, and would like to transit to regular employment. Even as we support them in their job search through career matching services and programmes under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, they may still face challenges such as lacking the time to job hunt, or having the requisite skills to take on new jobs. 

D6. This is a complex issue but clearly, more needs to be done to close the gap in the protections provided for platform workers to ensure a fairer relationship between platforms and platform workers. Hence, we convened an Advisory Committee in September last year that includes representatives from tripartite partners to review this carefully.

D7. Since then, the Committee has been consulting widely through a public consultation exercise. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of our preliminary observations from the exercise. 

a. On retirement and housing adequacy, most platform workers expressed concern over their ability to meet both current and future needs

i. More than half of platform workers who responded to our public consultation exercise felt that mandatory CPF contributions to their Special and Ordinary Accounts would be important for their retirement and housing needs. 

ii. On this issue, the IPS survey found that 84% were worried about whether they have enough savings for retirement.

iii. Take the example of Ms Peh Xin Xuan, a 28-year-old who has been working as a food delivery rider for many years. For a period, it also served as her main income. It was her full-time job at that point of time. Over time, she found that the irregular earnings, without CPF contributions, and physical demands of platform work took a toll on her – financially, physically and mentally. Furthermore, Ms Peh recently applied for a BTO flat with her fiancé. Like many young Singaporeans, she hopes to use her CPF savings to finance the flat and would like more support to help riders like herself better save up for their long-term needs.

iv. Clearly, this concern warrants intervention. Failure to do so will result in unmet needs in the future and impose cost on other parts of society. 

v. Today, platform workers already contribute up to 10.5% of their earnings to their Medisave accounts. The Committee is considering the idea of requiring platform companies to make CPF contributions to support the retirement and housing needs of platform workers. Platform companies have raised concerns that such a move will result in a sudden increase in business cost. An option being considered is a phased approach which would allow time for the platform ecosystem to adjust.

b. To Ms Hazel Poa’s suggestion to allow a special scheme that allows platform workers to contribute and withdraw CPF on demand, I do not wish to prejudge the deliberation of the Committee but would like to make a few clarifications. Firstly, there are already private savings products which are available in the market for everyone, including platform workers. It is common for returns to be commensurate to the length of holding the funds in their accounts. It is impractical to “have our cake and eat it” by allowing platform workers to withdraw and deposit on demand like a savings account, while still enjoy interest rates higher than what is offered by a fixed deposit account by the banks. Secondly, allowing withdrawals on demand would also go against the objective of improving their long-term retirement adequacy by setting aside savings for old age and allowing the compounding of interest to take place over time. So I would say PSP’s and Ms Poa’s suggestion is populist but unpractical.  

c. On financial protection in the event of work injury, platform workers said they were concerned that injuries would affect their livelihoods, and that the insurance coverage provided was not consistent across platform companies. 

i. We are heartened by the general consensus among platform companies that they should provide some coverage against work injuries. The Committee is exploring how the overall Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) framework can be applied in this setting. 

ii. The Committee recognises that any solution will need to take into account the nature of platform work, including flexibility in working time and the ability to work for more than one platform company at the same time.

d. On the issue of representation, some platform workers said that they lack avenues to voice concerns, and expressed hope that unions could assist them if there were disputes. Others wanted a say in contract terms that impact their well-being. 

i. We are encouraged that, in response, platforms have indicated their willingness to support good industrial relations and improve working conditions of platform workers. 

ii. Suggestions from the platforms include the establishment of industry-wide norms through tripartite discussions or with an independent body. The Advisory Committee will be studying these possible solutions, including the idea for unions to represent platform workers. 

D8. Mr Patrick Tay asked if the Ministry will be reviewing the Employment Act. We regularly review our legislation, including the Employment Act, in consultation with tripartite partners to ensure that they are relevant. Several major policy reviews are still ongoing, such as in relation to the work of the Advisory Committee. It is too early to say how the recommendations will be implemented or what legislative changes are needed. We will consider the recommendations holistically and see how to ensure that our legislative frameworks can support the policies.

D9. The eventual recommendations will contribute towards a more sustainable equilibrium – one where the costs of labour protections are more equitably shared across each stakeholder in the platform ecosystem. 

E. Migrant Workers

Recap of efforts to transform migrant worker ecosystem and improve migrant worker well-being

E1. I will now talk about our migrant worker community. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, not least for our migrant workers. They have shown remarkable resilience during this COVID-19 pandemic.

E2. Their health and well-being have been a priority over the past year.

a. As of 20 February 2022, 99.4% of migrant workers residing in dormitories are fully vaccinated.

b. During the last COVID-19 wave in September, migrant workers who tested COVID-19 positive were given timely access to medical support, through regional medical centres, mobile clinical teams and telemedicine consults. Most experienced mild or no symptoms and were able to recover safely in recovery facilities, with fewer than 0.1% requiring hospitalisation.

c. Beyond physical health, we co-created a mental health support ecosystem for migrant workers with our partners including the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) and HealthServe. To date, close to 600 frontline officers have been trained in basic psychological first aid and more than 200 migrant worker peer leaders have undergone self-care and peer support training. They help to detect signs of distress amongst migrant workers more quickly and link them up with counselling services and support helplines in their native languages.

d. As mentioned in my response to the adjournment motion put forth by Mr Louis Ng last month and in response to Mr Leon Perera’s question on easing of restrictions on migrant workers, let me say that migrant workers can visit any Recreation Centre (RC) daily since December 2021. Vaccinated migrant workers are allowed on community visits and as of mid-February 2022, more than 95,000 migrant workers have visited the community. 

e. The current community visit quotas are not fully used up. We will also be easing and adjusting the quotas as the Covid-19 situation improves.

f. From 18 February, we have also stepped down the requirement for migrant workers to undergo Rostered Routine Testing (RRT). This would provide a return to normalcy for these workers.

g. We are also prioritising the granting of entry approvals for migrant workers to return to Singapore after their home leave. This will facilitate them to go on home leave for visits.

E3. As we restore economic activities, we will need to continue bringing workers into Singapore safely, and help newly arrived migrant workers settle-in. Therefore, in March last year, we started the Migrant Worker Onboarding Centres (MWOCs), which have now been renamed Onboard centres. These function as a one-stop centre for newly arrived migrant workers, bringing together various entry requirements into an integrated and seamless end-to-end process. Workers can serve their Stay-Home-Notice as required, complete a medical examination, and undergo a residential Settling-in Programme, all under one roof. To date, more than 55,000 workers have gone through the Onboard centres.

Transformation Roadmap for Migrant Worker Ecosystem 
E4. Going forward, MOM will continue to improve the well-being of our migrant workers by (a) fortifying housing standards, (b) improving medical support, and (c) increasing recreation options.

a. First, fortifying housing standards is an ongoing process, and is necessary to create a safer and more comfortable living environment for our migrant workers.

b. As announced last year, the Government will build two new Purpose-Built Dormitories (PBDs) at Kranji and Jalan Tukang. These dormitories will be built to improved standards to minimise future outbreak of diseases. We will also work with dormitory operators and other partners to test new and innovative ideas for dormitory living and management. MOM is also reviewing the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA) to expand its coverage to smaller dormitories with fewer than 1,000 beds.

E5. Second, we will support employers in managing healthcare costs while improving medical support for our migrant workers. I will talk about this in outpatient setting and inpatient setting.

a. On the outpatient front, as announced on 19 February 2022, employers will be required to purchase a Primary Care Plan (PCP) for migrant workers with effect from 1 April 2022. MOM has appointed four medical service providers to deliver primary healthcare services across six geographical sectors. This integrated primary healthcare system builds on the medical support plan we set up amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Migrant workers can expect to access a range of primary healthcare services, including acute and chronic care, 24/7 telemedicine services, as well as mobile clinical teams to ensure rapid response to public health emergencies or concerns in dormitories. The appointed medical service providers will minimise language and cultural barriers in care provision, through hiring healthcare workers who can speak the native languages of our migrant workers. 

i. Employers can purchase the PCP at a fixed fee of $108 - $138 for each worker per year, or about $9 - $12 per worker a month. This gives employers cost clarity and will meet most of the primary care needs of their workers. To mitigate the moral hazard of overconsumption and instil personal responsibility, migrant workers will also be required to co-pay a small fee, ranging from $2 for a telemedicine session to $5 for each visit to the medical centre. 

ii. This PCP will be made mandatory for all workers living in the dormitories or working in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors, as part of work pass requirements. 

b. On the inpatient front, MOM will enhance the coverage of the mandatory medical insurance to better protect employers against large medical bills of their Work Permit and S Pass holders, including those of migrant domestic workers (MDWs). 

c. Today, employers are responsible for the medical expenses of their Work Permit and S Pass holders that are incurred in Singapore. Unlike that of locals, the medical bills of migrant workers and MDWs are not subsidised. They are also not covered under the national schemes such as MediShield Life and MediFund. To help employers better manage the medical bills of their migrant workers, employers are required to purchase a medical insurance with at least $15,000 coverage for their Work Permit and S Pass holders. 

d. As medical costs are expected to increase over time, more employers may end up incurring larger out of pocket expenses on their workers’ medical bills.

e. To provide employers a greater peace of mind in financing their workers’ inpatient and day surgery bills, the coverage of the mandatory medical insurance will be enhanced with the following features:

i. First, we will maintain the first dollar cover of at least $15,000. This ensures that the bulk of employers whose workers’ medical bills fall under $15,000 continue to be fully protected under the enhanced model.

ii. On average, there are over 1,000 employers per year who face bills that are larger than $15,000. A co-payment component will be introduced for them, up to an annual claim limit of at least $60,000. This ensures that healthcare costs remain affordable and sustainable. 

iii. Let me illustrate with an example. Under today’s existing requirement, if a migrant worker or a MDW incurs a $70,000 bill, the insurer will cover the first $15,000 and the employer will be left to bear the remaining $55,000. With the enhanced MI, the insurer will continue to cover the first $15,000 in full as per today. For the remaining $55,000, the insurer will co-pay 75% while the employer will pay the remaining bill. This means that the employer pays $13,750, which is significantly lower than the $55,000 he would need to fork out today. 

iv. Second, we will standardise a list of baseline allowable exclusions across insurers. This will provide greater clarity to employers on the coverage that they are entitled to. For example, insurers may exclude procedures that are not medically necessary, treatments arising from workers’ criminal acts, or repeat occurrences of undesirable acts by workers such as self-inflicted injuries as well as venereal diseases. Insurers may also exclude treatments for pre-existing illnesses that occurs within the first 12 months of the worker’s employment with the same employer.

v. Third, insurers will have to offer age-differentiated premiums for workers age 50 and below, and those above the age of 50. This will help to keep premiums affordable for the large majority of employers, given that 95% of our migrant workers and MDWs are below 50 years old.

vi. Fourth, we will require insurers to reimburse the claims for inpatient and day surgery bills directly to the hospitals instead of making employers pay for their workers’ medical treatment upfront and claim it from the insurers later. This will help employers who are cash-strapped and free up cashflow for businesses and help families having migrant domestic workers in this process.

f. Employers with existing Work Permit and S Pass workers will also progressively transition onto the new medical insurance policy when they renew the work passes. The enhanced coverage for medical insurance will be effected for all new work pass applications by the end of 2022.

g. The enhancements have been carefully calibrated to provide better support for businesses and MDW employers in managing large medical bills, while keeping premiums affordable. I thank employers, industry associations and NGOs who have expressed their support for the enhanced medical insurance scheme during our engagements with them. 

E6. The third area we want to do for our migrant workers is to enhance their social well-being and recreational needs. 

a. Our partnerships with NGOs and other Whole-of-Society partners have been crucial in helping us to support our migrant workers.

b. We have been working hand-in-hand with our migrant worker community too, as they would better understand the needs of their fellow workers. 

i. Mr Rajarathinam Sankaralingam has been a dorm supervisor since 2012 and assigned to oversee activities in 2 dorms. On top of his regular duties such as conducting briefings to fellow migrant workers on the latest Government advisories and guidelines, Mr Lingam often goes above and beyond by accompanying residents who require medical treatment at hospitals even when these incidents take place late at night. We are thankful for their partnership.

c. We are working with NGO partners to make our eight Recreation Centres livelier by bringing in more programmes and activities that our migrant workers enjoy such as retail bazaars as well as sports and cooking competitions. A 9th RC will be ready later this year in Sembawang.

d. Workers are able to visit the RCs for essential services like topping up and purchasing telephone cards, going to the barber, buying groceries, as well as for other recreational activities such as movie screenings, live performances and meeting their friends.

e. As mentioned earlier, migrant workers have also been visiting the community. Today, the visit slots are not fully utilised, but we are prepared to adjust the quota to allow more migrant workers to visit the community as the COVID-19 situation improves.

F. Concluding Remarks

F1. Mr Chairman, to help sustain the resilience of our workforce, we have put in place measures to (a) drive workforce transformation, (b) uplift our vulnerable workers, as well as (c) transform the migrant worker ecosystem by improving existing healthcare, housing and recreational needs.

F2. As we continue with our work for these groups of workers, there is still much work to be done for others, such as our platform workers. Strengthening our workforce will always be a priority, to ensure that we remain resilient in future storms.

F3. Thank you.