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WP proposes SME bank, redundancy insurance in its manifesto

WORKERS’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh warned that there is a “real risk” of a wipe-out of elected opposition members of parliament (MPs) at the upcoming elections as he unveiled WP’s election slogan and manifesto on Sunday.

In a virtual press conference, he said that the party’s slogan “Make Your Vote Count” calls into focus the overwhelming parliamentary super-majority by the People's Action Party, urging voters not to rely on someone else to vote for WP.

The manifesto was presented by the three candidates unveiled the same day, namely lawyer He Ting Ru, former non-constituency MPs Gerald Giam and Leon Perera.

It tackles several key areas, including the plight of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) and seniors.

On the issue of PMETs, Ms He said that given the current economic climate fraught with uncertainty, the party has come up with various proposals to address the need for local enterprises, specifically small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to grow and thrive.

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The Mittelstand model of countries like Germany was cited as an example to show how enterprises can successfully expand internationally.

WP proposed an export-import (Exim) bank to finance SME growth globally, through the focus and financing for digitalisation and industry 4.0 projects for local firms.

Some attention could also be paid to develop green technology as a new growth area, she said.

WP also proposed for commercial and industrial rents to be “kept manageable”, with policies put in place to minimise rental surges.

Cost of living is another topic that was addressed in the manifesto.

Mr Perera said that the party opposes the government’s plans to hike the goods and services tax to 9 per cent. Alternative sources of revenue could be met by tapping “no more than a fifth of the approximately S$15 billion per year in land sales” that the government typically collects or by increasing the maximum net investment returns contribution from 50 per cent to 60 per cent.

This will not reduce the principal amount of reserves, even as reserves will grow at a slower pace, he noted.

WP also proposed a redundancy insurance scheme to ease financial pressure on workers, especially middle-aged ones, who have been hit by technological disruption and recent global events.

In its proposed scheme, a retrenched worker would receive a payout equivalent to 40 per cent of their last drawn salary for up to six months, with a cap of S$1,200 per month. To fund the scheme, the average worker will pay approximately S$4 a month into an Employment Security fund with matching contributions from employers.

This would not only ease the immediate financial pressure, but also provide an “automatic stabiliser” to the economy during a downturn, he said.

WP also proposed a minimum take-home wage of S$1,300 a month for full-time work, which can be pro-rated for part-time work.

This figure is the amount an average four-person household in Singapore needs to spend on basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter each month. 

WP said there are more than 100,000 Singaporeans who earn a take-home pay of less than $1,300 a month while engaged in full-time work.

This means a large number of Singaporean families have difficulty making ends meet, according to the manifesto.

Families and youth were also not left out, with the party calling for the average class size to be reduced to about 20 students and for the voting age to be lowered to 18.

WP also proposed a shared parental leave scheme that entitles parents to 24 weeks of government paid leave be shared between mothers and fathers as they choose, but with a minimum of four weeks for the father.

The manifesto also proposed that the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Payout Eligibility Age and CPF Life eligibility age be lowered to 60 from the current 65 years of age.

As Singapore's sovereign-wealth fund GIC invests CPF funds, it should also notify CPF members of the 10-year moving average difference between the GIC's investment returns and the net interest payable on CPF member balances.

Where positive, a third of this difference should be returned as a special dividend and paid into CPF members' Special Accounts to boost their retirement savings, said WP.

The manifesto also included proposals to address property issues, specifically the lease decay concerns for HDB flats.

The party proposed a universal buy-back scheme offered to all HDB lessees to back-stop resale prices to a certain degree, with some of the acquired flats potentially rented out to Singaporeans at rates in between commercial and HDB public assistance rentals, said Mr Giam.

WP also suggested that the government consider raising Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) rates and providing a SERS scheme based on Built-to-Order and balance flats for relocation instead of building on a nearby proxy site.

Mr Singh told reporters that the WP's manifesto process started in late 2018, with the party's central executive committee setting up a team comprising Ms He, Mr Giam, Mr Perera and Daniel Goh.

According to him, the team consulted widely when preparing the manifesto, speaking to specialists, industry experts and took in feedback from residents of Aljunied GRC, Hougang SMC, as well as other constituencies.

Party chairman Sylvia Lim closed the session on Sunday by saying that Singapore will need more perspectives. She added that “breaking away from the past” may be Singapore’s “best formula for the unknowns that lie ahead”.

For more of our Singapore GE2020 coverage, go to bt.sg/ge2020.

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