Ministry of Manpower Committee of Supply 2020 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 3 March 2020)

Mid-career Transitions – Sylvia Lim

Mr. Chairman, mid-career transitions may be one of the most daunting experiences for workers.  I will touch on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) and career transition schemes.

First, the FCF.  Four years ago, my colleague, MP Faisal Manap, highlighted that the original Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) needed enforcement measures.  Anecdotally, some mid-career transitioners have experienced being called up for third or fourth interviews with employers, but sensing from the body language of interviewers that everyone was “going through the motions” to tick boxes before applying for work passes to hire foreigners.  I believe that Minister is well aware of some employers who treat the FCF as, to quote her, “a paper exercise”.  The announcement in January that MOM is enhancing the FCF is welcome.  In particular, I note that MOM has started to charge employers in court under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, for making false declarations that they had considered local applicants fairly before trying to apply a foreigner.

However, it seems that in recent years, most of the discrimination cases came to the Ministry’s attention through whistleblowing.   Is Ministry going to step up proactive detection of its own?

My second point relates to career transition programmes.  Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) and Career Support Programmes (CSPs) are key planks of the Government’s Adapt and Grow initiative to help mid-career transitions.  In his Budget round-up speech last week, DPM Heng Swee Keat assessed that the results were encouraging.  He highlighted that career coaches worked with about 27,000 jobseekers every year and in 2018, managed to place about 70% into new jobs within six months.

However, I have encountered some in the balance 30%, who expressed difficulties in finding work through the schemes, despite their best efforts.  To what extent is success hampered by capacity issues i.e. insufficient job openings?  Or is matching of jobs to applicants the bigger issue?


Productivity of Older Workers – Chen Show Mao

Support for our older workers to improve their productivity helps provide our older workers with the choice of working longer if they wish — representing an opportunity to stay economically active, stay socially engaged at work, better provide for themselves in future retirement, and work to the best of their ability.

May I ask the Ministry for an update of its plans in the area?


CPF Contributions – Daniel Goh Pei Siong

Chairman Sir, last year in August, the government announced that the CPF contribution rates for older workers would be increased gradually starting from 2021 and carried out over the next 10 years. The full rate of 37% would be restored for workers aged 56 to 60, while workers aged 61 to 65 would see an increase to 26% and those aged 66 to 70 would see an increase to 16.5%. I have called for the restoration of the full rate for all older workers, but I can also understand the government’s position that there is a need to balance the demand-side of the labour market, that is, the employability of older workers who are usually more expensive for employers, and the supply-side, that is, the incentives and sense of worth for older workers to remain in the labour market.

I understand this balance is worked out in tripartite discussions between employers, unions and the government. Beyond tripartite discussions, my question is whether there is scope and flexibility for the government to spearhead changes when it can be shown that the increased rates are not attractive enough to retain productive older workers to remain in the workforce and that demand for workers remain high in labour-constrained Singapore?

Also, is the government still committed to the first increase in CPF contribution rates in 2021? I believe SMS Heng Chee How said the government is. Minster Josephine Teo also said last year that the government was committed despite the economic uncertainties faced by businesses in the context of the US-China trade war. Now that the COVID-19 emergency is certain to hit the global economy and our open economy hard, I hope the government is still committed to the increase.


CPF Usage for Education and Re-skilling – Sylvia Lim

During the debate on the Budget statement, I had asked whether it was time to consider other approaches to support mid-career transitioners, such as enabling CPF members in their 40s and 50s to tap on their CPF savings to chart their own continuing education and reskilling.  The Minister had responded briefly to reject the suggestion, stating that cost of training was not the main issue and that retirement adequacy should not be undermined.  I would like today to elaborate on why cost has been an issue for some, and why such a proposal need not affect retirement adequacy.

We are all aware of the Adapt & Grow initiatives and how they dovetail into the government’s Industry Transformation Maps.  These give effect to the broad national plan to enable the workforce to have relevant skills to take on jobs that are projected to be in demand now and in the future economy.   I appreciate the deliberations, consultations, planning and resources that have been devoted to this national endeavor, which has helped many mid-career employees find meaningful work in new industries.  Indeed, many courses endorsed under these frameworks are relatively low-cost and accessible.

However, there are also other mid-career transitioners who will not be content with these offerings.  Some have remarked to me that to set themselves apart in a soft job market, they did not want a certification that so many others were also getting but to chart their own paths.   Some may already have tertiary qualifications and wish to do post-graduate courses in new areas conducted by overseas universities or professional bodies. Others may want to venture to work abroad, where the skill areas in demand may not be the same as those under Singapore’s economic transformation plan.  For these mid-career transitioners, the passion to take ownership of their own futures should be commended.

Yet, such mid-career transitioners may have multiple financial commitments and will be hesitant to dig into a significant portion of their current liquid savings to undergo unsubsidised and costly re-education and reskilling. It is in this context that I am suggesting that the government look into the feasibility of enabling CPF members to tap on their CPF savings to fund their re-education and re-skilling.

I agree that retirement adequacy will always be the over-arching aim of the CPF savings scheme.   However, reskilling potentially leads to better salary outcomes and could pay for itself.  This is important at a time where the retirement and reemployment ages are moving up.

The government could always put in safeguards, such as has been done with the CPF investment schemes. For CPF members currently in their 40s and 50s, there are probably significant numbers whose CPF savings exceed their applicable Minimum Sums, even before they reach 55.  The government could consider enabling these members to make such withdrawals.


Contribute-As-You-Earn (CAYE) – Chen Show Mao

The Ministry has taken a step towards buttressing the retirement adequacy of freelance workers in our economy with CAYE — the Contribute As You Earn model for Medisave whereby contribution to the self-employed workers’ Medisave accounts is made as and when a service fee is earned.

May I ask the Ministry for an update on the progress in the implementation of CAYE and an update of its plans in the area?


Working Mothers – Daniel Goh Pei Siong

Chairman Sir, according to MOM’s Labour Force in Singapore 2019 report, it is estimated that there were 49,000 unemployed women aged 15 to 49 who gave the main reason for leaving their previous job as either “Housework” or to “Care for Own Children Aged 12 & Below”. If we just compare the numbers for those who gave childcare as reason, there were 19,000 women in their 30’s and 10,000 women in their 40’s. This suggests that about half the women did not re-enter the workforce after fulfilling their primary childcare responsibilities. I believe we need to do more for our would-be working mothers in the two aspects of exiting and re-entering the workforce.

First, we should try to minimize the disincentives and maximize the incentives for working mothers to remain in the workforce. As raised by the Honourable Member Desmond Choo, this COVID-19 emergency has shown that flexi-work arrangements can work for many jobs and I would like second his call to give working mothers the right to make flexi-work arrangements with their employers when these are workable. Besides flexi-work arrangements, TAFEP and MOM should take proactive steps to clamp down on practices reflecting “motherhood bias”, where women are marked as poor performers for juggling family responsibilities while fulfilling their work commitments.

Second, the government is in a good position to help mothers to retrain and update their new skills and reintegrate them into the workforce, especially through various SkillsFuture programmes. I believe a targeted programme for unemployed mothers would be very useful in this respect. The government could also support community efforts and partner with initiatives such as the Mums@Work to encourage mothers to remain working or return to work.


Support for Informal Elder Caregivers – Chen Show Mao

Informal (or unpaid) caregivers enable other Singaporeans to carry out the economic activities that are figured in our GDP, while their own caregiving is not.  As of now, the burden of informal eldercare giving falls disproportionately on unmarried women.  Our dependence on this group of Singaporeans is real, substantial and very often unacknowledged.  Eldercare leave and the statutory right to flexible work arrangements could well help relieve some of the pressure on informal eldercare givers who also work at other jobs.

But almost half of our informal caregivers to seniors do not work at other jobs, often because of the unpaid caregiving responsibilities that they have taken on, to their own financial detriment and reduced retirement adequacy. For them, would the Ministry consider measures such as CPF top-ups and cash grants for full-time informal eldercare givers in low-income households, to reduce the pressure of being under-employed and under-prepared for retirement as a result of taking on the responsibilities of caring for their loved seniors?