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Support older workers with enhanced wage offsets and hiring incentives, says Heng Chee How

THE deputy secretary-general of the labour movement on Thursday called for enhanced wage offsets, expanded grants and longer hiring incentives to support and protect older workers amid the economic pressures of Covid-19. 

Heng Chee How, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence, noted during the debate on the Fortitude Budget that older workers are at a higher risk of being retrenched, and take longer to find new jobs than younger workers, so minimising their risk of retrenchment is key.

The decision to delay the increase in Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for older workers is thus a good step to avoid inadvertently raising the risk of retrenchment for those aged 55 and up, he said. But in delaying this change, the government also removed the corresponding wage offset that was meant to cushion the cost effects for employers.

Mr Heng expressed hope, firstly, that the S$80 million originally earmarked for that transition offset could instead be re-channelled into strengthening the Senior Employment Credit, which gives tiered wage offsets for older workers, for the next year.

He also noted that the original budget in February introduced a new Part-time Re-employment Grant, which gives funding support of up to S$125,000 to companies that commit to providing part-time re-employment to all eligible workers aged 62 and above who request for it.

He suggested that the scope of this grant be expanded to include eligible workers aged 55 and above, for the next year.

Mr Heng also referred to the February budget's introduction of a hiring incentive for employers to hire and reskill job-seekers over 40 who have undergone a reskilling programme under the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package. This hiring incentive provides 20 per cent salary support for six months, capped at a total of S$6,000.

Mr Heng called for the duration of this incentive to be extended to 12 months, to make it "more attractive to employers to offer job contracts of at least a year to such mature, mid-career job-seekers".

Urging employers not to simply target older workers when dealing with excess manpower, he warned: "The labour movement and tripartite partners will be on the lookout for age-specific and other unfair practices."

He also asked the government to consider giving help, both monetary and non-monetary, to firms to make their workplaces Covid-safe.

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