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S'pore Budget 2017: NTUC wants greater support for workers
SINGAPORE'S labour movement wants greater support to help workers move seamlessly into the new economy.
Given the current economic state, brought about by rapid technology disruption, new requirements for skills, changing employment structures, and an ageing and shrinking workforce, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is particularly concerned about workers' ability to maintain their competitiveness.
In its proposal to the Ministry of Finance ahead of Budget 2017, NTUC said the labour movement "stands ready to help our working people, especially those who might be displaced in the future, so that we can help them move into the jobs of tomorrow, today".
In its list of recommendations, the NTUC focused on four key areas: placement to address cyclical and structural unemployment, progression for workers to move into new and future jobs, productivity to unleash the potential of workers, and protection for workers in new forms of employment.
This is because as some job types and skills continue to evolve, it is inevitable that others become obsolete, NTUC said.
So, the labour movement leaders felt that more should be done to enhance job-matching efforts and narrow jobs-skills gaps.
To do so, they need to be more informed on the necessary skills required to customise and design training programmes, making it easier for working people to acquire relevant skills.
It said that the government and the labour movement must collaborate to identify new skills and translate this to training needs.
And as working people move into jobs of tomorrow, NTUC said it is crucial to upskill both blue and white collar workers to ensure they remain employable.
Unfortunately, a recent survey has shown that almost half of its respondents did not attend training or upskilling courses in the past year and NTUC said there is, therefore, a need to plug existing structural gaps with credit top-ups, more relevant courses, paid training leave and training allowance. The government and institutes of higher learning must also develop bite-sized courses that are more accessible.
NTUC said there is also a need for a Returnship Programme that facilitates women's re-entry into the workforce through job trials, flexible work arrangements and even incentives for employers.
With the labour market expected to tighten further and as productivity continues to be the key driver of change, NTUC said there should be more support for businesses as they adopt progressive, less labour intensive measures.
It said the government can take the lead in industry transformation projects and continue to focus on promoting universally-designed, safe and conducive work environments "to unleash the full potential of working people".
Besides broad-based measures for industrial companies, it said tripartite partners will need to help all companies up their productivity game, and ensure that such gains are shared with their workers.
The government must also take the lead as fair and responsible buyers of outsourced services like cleaning, security and landscaping as an example to the private sector; it must also promote age-friendly workplaces and provide better support for workers afflicted by workplace injuries, it said.
Given the changing employment models, there is a need to ensure that workers can continue to enjoy fair work terms. So, NTUC said there is a need to look at how laws can better protect the interests of working people on non-traditional work arrangements, such as freelancers, contract, low-wage and outsourced workers.
Apart from the four recommendations, NTUC pointed out that it is important for tripartism to evolve and deepen at sectoral levels to sustain its competitive advantage for Singapore's continued success.
In this aspect, it called on government agencies to institutionalise staff exchanges and cross-learning among the civil service, the labour movement and the Singapore National Employers Federation to strengthen mutual understanding and trust among future generations of tripartite leaders. It also wanted modules on tripartism to be introduced as foundation syllabus for human resource practitioners, employers, businesses and foreign investors.
NTUC submitted its recommendations for Singapore Budget 2017 to the Ministry of Finance last month.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver Singapore's Budget Statement for 2017 in Parliament on Feb 20.