Labour MPs: Overcoming Challenges, Creating Opportunities

15 May 2018, Tue

By Ramesh Subbaraman and Shukry Rashid

Trade and Industry Minister and NTUC Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing was the first Labour Movement Member of Parliament (MP) to speak during the debate on the motion of thanks to the Singapore President on 14 May 2018.

In his speech, Mr Chan mentioned the importance of fostering a caring and inclusive society, and the three areas of focus needed for Singapore going into the future.

Click here to read what NTUC Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament.

On 15 May 2018, NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng kickstarted the Labour Movement MPs’ debate for the day. They spoke up on various issues concerning the working people.

In his first Parliamentary speech as NTUC Deputy-Secretary, he shared the concerns of workers, especially the low-wage, mature as well as middle-age, middle income workers.

He spoke on the slew of initiatives that are in place to help them, and the Labour Movement is committed to do more for them. As Singapore moves into the next lap of growth, he highlighted that the Labour Movement also resolves to turn the 23 Industry Transformation Maps into real jobs with better wages for all working people.

Click here to read what NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament.

Read below for the latest coverage of what our Labour Movement MPs’ said in Parliament. They will appear in chronological order, with the latest at the top.

Seah Kian Peng: Changing Mindsets about Public Funding

MP for Marine Parade GRC and NTUC FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng called for Singapore to reform the way we evaluate ideas and the way we think. Mr Seah was commenting on the bold ideas put forth by his fellow MPs in Parliament in the past few days.

He also touched on the use of public funds and suggested a different approach when it comes to dealing with non-tangible items.

“We need regulations on responsible use of funds, on fiscal prudence, good procurement but equally, we ought to be having a conversation about reciprocity, trust and relationships,” explained Mr Seah.

He cited the example of teachers needing to pay for parking even though they “have all these years paid for all forms of children’s day treats and surprises for our children – all these things which cost them no small amount of money, and yet whose value transcends price.”

He called for a reform in the way of thinking, starting with the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

Mr Seah explained that MOF is “responsible for so many of our policy levers – a reform that requires an explicit recognition of the limits of price, cost and expenditure as a proxy for value, and to allow for greater use of discretion by public officers in recognising moral reasoning as a legitimate form of argumentation.”

Like many other MPs, Mr Seah also highlighted the issue of social inequality. He said that while the situation has gotten better since the start of Singapore’s journey, Singapore should also worry that there are also more social classes today than in the past.

To address this issue, his second suggestion for reform is to be more aggressively progressive such as “to ask more from the rich, and lessen the burden on the poor.”

His third idea for reform is to save the environment. He called for Singapore to do more for the environment such as lowering the carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency.

Koh Poh Koon: Changing Mindsets Key to Implement ITMs

Executing the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) and economic transformation will be a long-term endeavour not a one-off process, said Labour MP and NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Koh Poh Koon.

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the President’s speech, he said technologies and consumer preferences are constantly changing. Hence business models will have to adapt repeatedly to meet these needs, and workers will need to continually upgrade their skills to remain relevant.

Mr Koh said that in his concurrent appointments as Senior Minister of State (Trade and Industry) and DSG of the NTUC, he hopes to be able to further bridge the gap between government agencies and the Labour Movement, particularly in implementing the ITMs.

Key to implementing the ITMs is the need to change mindsets and not see technology as something complicated and beyond workers’ abilities to cope.

Mr Koh recounted his recent visit to PSA where the port has been testing and adopting many automated technologies to enhance productivity.

This includes the testing of unmanned automated guided vehicles (AGVs) as well as automated and remotely-controlled yard and quay cranes, which help to provide better service levels and enable the port to remain competitive.

“PSA has not pursued automation at the expense of its drivers and crane operators. In fact, automation has allowed for the creation of higher-skilled, better quality jobs for them. PSA, working together with the Singapore Port Workers Union (SPWU) and the Port Officers’ Union, reassured more than 1,000 PSA staff going through the transformation journey that jobs would still be available for all of them and that PSA would sponsor their training in the required skills. The training was well-designed and eased the process of change,” said Mr Koh.

Mr Koh said it is also important to tap on several of Singapore’s strengths like tripartism.

“Each ITM is an integrated plan bringing the tripartite partners together to drive change for its particular sector. But the ITMs are only of value if they can be executed and executed well. Tripartism is the ‘soul’ that brings the ITM to life,” he said.

To achieve this, more ways will be explored for unions to participate in the training and reskilling of the workforce to catalyse the mindset change, added Mr Koh.

Heng Chee How: A Commitment To Help Older Workers

It’s a topic he has been speaking about for many years now - the fair treatment and strengthening of employment and employability opportunities for older workers.

Joining the debate in Parliament, Labour MP and NTUC Deputy Secretary-General (DSG) Heng Chee How said he is heartened that the President’s speech had emphasised this.

“And given that the speech bears the imprint of the 4G leadership, older Singaporean workers will have the confidence, comfort and expectation that this commitment will be kept,” he added.

However, he cautioned that there is no time to rest as companies and entire industries are facing disruption caused by rapidly advancing technologies and changing business models.

Mr Heng recommends the “three E” strategy of Extending the working life expectancy runway, improving the workplace Environment and be age-universal, and Energising older workers by strengthening their capability and confidence.

To put into effect the three Es, Mr Heng stressed that it is important to ensure that the uplifting of older workers’ skills is included in the implementation of the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs).

He said the next step is to enhance work redesign for ageless workplaces. Mr Heng said the Manpower Ministry’s WorkPro scheme is a good one in principle, and so far, some 650 companies have made use of it to redesign their workplaces and processes, benefiting some 10,000 older workers.

Finally, he suggested reviewing the way forward for retirement and re-employment, and called on the tripartite partners to come together to discuss the next step for extending the work life expectancy runway.

Ang Hin Kee: Looking out for Freelancers

Labour MP and NTUC Assistant Director-General Ang Hin Kee highlighted the plight of freelancers and self-employed in Singapore, especially private hire drivers.

When Uber left Singapore, many workers were disrupted. Mr Ang said that these workers had invested a lot in their jobs, such as quitting their previous jobs to drive with Uber, buying a car or leasing it long-term.

To strengthen the support for freelancers and those who are considering this career option, Mr Ang proposed four ways.

His first proposal is to educate jobseekers and school leavers on freelancing as a career option. He said that NTUC’s Freelance and Self-Employed unit has been working with the Ministry of Education to provide career advice to students. Similar has been done with career counsellors to provide advice for adult jobseekers who are considering freelancing.

Mr Ang’s second proposal is to look after the immediate needs of freelancers, especially in the area of healthcare. He suggested embracing the recommendations made by the Tripartite Workgroup on Self-Employed Persons, where private hire operators such as Grab have started to make co-contribution to workers’ Medisave accounts.

His third proposal is to accord recognition to the dispute resolution framework set up by the supervising government agency that procures freelancers’ services.

Mr Ang said: “More government agencies should set up such a framework so that freelancers under the purview of their respective sectors can be supported. Perhaps, applicants for government funding should be required to offer medical coverage and dispute management framework for freelancers if they engage freelancers.”

Current dispute resolution frameworks are in place for media freelancers, sports coaches and instructors, and taxi drivers.

His fourth is to remind service buyers to be careful when a deal looks too good to be true. And this applies to freelancers too. He said it is important that regulators move quickly to ensure a support system is in place for freelancers. He added, as an example: “Those affected with Uber’s exit from Singapore now question why the Government could not do more.”

Mr Ang added that it is equally important for freelancers to exercise caution towards private hire service platforms that do not want to be subject to or commit to tripartite standards, advisories and guidelines designed to do right by workers.

Desmond Choo: Responding to a New Job Market

What are some of the demands of the new economy and job market, and how can workers and employers respond to them?

Labour MP and NTUC Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) Desmond Choo shared his ideas during the Parliamentary debate.

He explained that there are three ways to respond to the new job market. 

Firstly, with the advent of automation and artificial intelligence, companies need to evolve new jobs quickly with workers ready to be trained.

For this, companies can work with NTUC to customise training for their workers, said Mr Choo.

“Ultimately, companies provide jobs. If they do not evolve fast enough, our workers’ wages would be stagnant and [they] might eventually lose their jobs. Therefore, our Industry Transformation Maps [ITMs] must be pervasive and help our companies to transform,” he said.

Secondly, there is a need to better match jobs and workers.

He said the recently launched portal is a useful start, but it will need refinements to improve participation by the smaller employers.

“Many micro small-and-medium-sized enterprises have yet to post their jobs on the platform. Many workers especially the older ones have also not used it because of language barriers which we need to address quickly. Many more workers need help to look beyond their current industry and navigate to new possibilities,” explained Mr Choo.

The third strategy is to develop capabilities to generate micro-jobs for an ageing population. He explained that many older workers preferred less physically demanding jobs.

“We need to find new job types within the community that can best meet the income and lifestyle needs of our older workers,” said Mr Choo.

Zainal Sapari: Doing Things Differently for Low-Wage Workers

Although much has been done by the Labour Movement to help low-wage workers (LWWs), Labour MP and NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari believes that a good indicator that gains are shared with LWWs is the narrowing income gap in real income inequality.

He urged Singapore to do things differently.

He explained: “While the real wage increase for workers at and below the 20th percentile has increased because of tripartite efforts to push for workfare schemes, Progressive Wage Models (PWM), the Inclusive Growth Programme and many others, we cannot expect to get better results if we keep on doing the same things.”

He urged the fourth-generation ministers to direct industry stakeholders to think about how to engender inclusive growth into the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) under their purview. Mr Zainal explained that Singapore will be putting vulnerable workers at risk in the face of inflation and technological disruptions if this is not done.

Mr Zainal also called for a contextualisation of the ITMs for vulnerable workers. This would help translate to them what skills they need for future jobs. This is especially so for mature workers as Singapore faces an ageing population.

For companies and service buyers, Mr Zainal called on them to emulate big companies such as Gap, Starbucks and Walmart as they treat workers fairer and better.

He added: “These progressive companies went beyond the idea that only a token pay raise is needed to increase the morale of their workers within their companies. Instead, they started to treat their employees better, like giving better pay packages, generous worker benefits and creating a more positive work environment.

“When workers are happy at work, they become walking ambassadors for these companies, often going beyond the call of service to do a good job. They are smiling at work, and customers begin to believe in not just the companies, but also the workers as well.”

Workers, he said, must have the right mindset to be ready for the future by adapting their skills to the needs of the workplace.

He said: “Lifelong learning must become the norm in the course of our work and we need to leverage SkillsFuture to sustain our efforts in lifelong learning.”

K Thanaletchimi: Entrenching Tripartism

Tripartism is going to become more and more important in Singapore especially with the operationalising of the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs).

But do the younger workers understand the importance of it?

More needs to be done, said Labour Nominated MP and NTUC Central Committee member K Thanaletchimi.

She spoke about the topic during the debate on the Presidential address on 15 May 2018.

Ms Thanaletchimi told the House that she has been teaching tripartism and industrial relations to younger workers doing their degree programme in human resource.

“I am indeed surprised and amazed that through the years, I have only come across a handful of working cohorts who understood the working mechanism under tripartism and the National Wages Council’s recommendations. We are not talking about ordinary workers with minimal education, but graduates and those doing post-graduate studies,” she said.

Ms Thanaletchimi emphasised that in a country where importance is given to industrial peace, it is about time that the Government, employers and working people understand and cherish tripartism as a national treasure.

This, she said is going to play a big role in implementing the ITMs.

“SkillsFuture initiatives and lifelong learning can only sustain if employers partake in the responsibility of training their workers; employees embrace change as a constant, [and are] willing to learn, unlearn and relearn,” said Ms Thanaletchimi.

Melvin Yong: Tackling Job Security

Workers have told Melvin Yong, executive secretary for both the National Transport Workers’ Union and the United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries that they want to be a part of the transformation.

However, they wanted to know how they would be impacted, especially in terms of job security.

Mr Yong said that with a future filled with inevitable disruption, workers worry not only about their jobs because of redundancy, but also job losses due to mechanisation and whether future generations can get good jobs.

While the Industrial Transformation Maps (ITMs) lay a roadmap for future jobs, Mr Yong said that they do not touch on the jobs at risk right now. This, he added, is key to operationalise the ITMs.

Mr Yong proposed the “3Rs: Reimagine, Redesign, Reskill” strategy to prepare the current and future workforce to take on tomorrow’s jobs.

He called for workers, companies and the Government to reimagine jobs of the future as automation will become more prevalent.

“How would jobs look like in the next 10 to 20 years, with AI [Artificial Intelligence] possibly at the centre of most industries? We will have to reimagine the future in order to disrupt ourselves before we get disrupted,” he explained.

Mr Yong added that jobs redesign, processes and business models need to be future-ready.

Reskilling and upskilling was another strategy he highlighted. With NTUC apps such as U Leap, Mr Yong said that workers can upskill on the go.

Patrick Tay: Collective Action Needed

It is time for collective action by the various stakeholders to co-create the future economy now that the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) have been drawn up.

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) and Labour Movement MP Patrick Tay made the call when he spoke during the parliamentary debate on the President’s address to the House.

Mr Tay said the task of future-proofing businesses and workers here is urgent. 

“This is not about scaring the people. These potentially at-risk jobs will not be gone tomorrow just because of these conversations. As stakeholders, we need to use this time, while our workers are still employed, to upskill and prepare our workforce for the higher value jobs of the future so that when their current jobs are eliminated, they can still remain employed and employable. We can use this time to discuss and influence the adoption of progressive employment practices in times of change,” he emphasised.

He said this is what the Future Jobs, Skills & Training (FJST) capability set up by NTUC in 2017 has been doing.

FJST has developed a framework for collaborative action to change mindsets toward future-skilling.

He added that in order to raise awareness and urge people to take action, tripartite leaders must have the moral courage to be open to sharing information.

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