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MOM monitoring shifts in workplace practices due to remote working

THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is actively monitoring shifts in workplace practices due to remote working and sharing views with its international counterparts to assess the need for policy intervention, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad in Parliament on Wednesday.

He was responding to a question on how Singapore's workforce can remain competitive when remote workers from the region are usually willing to work for lower remuneration and how labour laws will be updated to address the impact.

Mr Zaqy acknowledged that remote working may prompt companies to redistribute their activities to take advantage of manpower availability in lower-cost locations. But this is similar to how activities such as garment manufacturing and call-centre operations have shifted out of Singapore over the years, he said.

"In their place, we have grown new manufacturing clusters such as biomedical sciences and expanded the services sector. At the same time, activities that remain in Singapore moved higher up the value chain."

Mr Zaqy outlined two ways the Republic can continue to retain a competitive edge: firstly, by strengthening the business environment to ensure Singapore remains the preferred location for trade and investment, particularly in emerging growth areas such as additive manufacturing and fintech, and secondly, by sustaining efforts to help Singaporeans build skills relevant to the global marketplace.

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In response to a separate question with regard to safeguards to ensure companies are not reducing their headcount of existing employees while leveraging the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) to recruit new workers, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore has put in place a robust anti-gaming framework to identify risks and prevent abuse.

She added that there may be valid reasons - such as retirement or voluntary resignations - why a firm that receives the JGI has to later let existing employees go.

"If we were to impose the condition that the firm promises not to let any workers go, that would impose significant rigidity to the firm," she said.

"Hence, we take a practical approach, where a firm's JGI payout is reduced in proportion to the number of existing employees that left the firm after the scheme started in September 2020. This gives firms assurance of funding support while signalling clearly that they should make efforts to retain existing employees even as they bring in new hires," Mrs Teo explained.

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