GE2020

WP proposes SME bank, redundancy insurance in election manifesto; unveils final four candidates

Party leader Pritam Singh reveals "Make Your Vote Count" election slogan, while warning of "real risk" of wipe-out of elected opposition MPs at upcoming General Election

Singapore

A DEDICATED bank to help finance small and medium-sized enterprises' (SMEs) expansion overseas, minimum wage and redundancy insurance were among the proposals in the Workers' Party (WP) election manifesto unveiled on Sunday.

In a virtual press conference, WP's secretary-general Pritam Singh also revealed the party's "Make Your Vote Count" election slogan, warning that there is a "real risk" of a wipe-out of elected opposition members of parliament (MPs) at the upcoming General Election.

He said that the slogan calls into focus the overwhelming parliamentary super-majority by the People's Action Party, urging voters not to rely on someone else to vote WP.

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

It laid out the party's vision for Singapore along four main themes: social and education policies that help Singaporeans achieve their dreams, a dynamic economy with dignified jobs for workers, building "a home we want" by tackling cost of living issues and creating robust political, governance and defence institutions.

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 SMEs, to grow and thrive.

Among them is an export-import (Exim) bank to finance SME growth globally, through focus and financing for digitalisation and Industry 4.0 projects for local firms.

Meanwhile, Mr Perera said that the party opposes the government's plans to hike the goods and services tax from the current 7 per cent 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, he said.

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

The party 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 like Covid-19.

A retrenched worker would receive a payout equivalent to 40 per cent of 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 about S$4 a month into an Employment Security fund with matching contributions from employers, said Mr Perera.

This would not only ease the financial pressure, but also provide an "automatic stabiliser" to the economy during a downturn, he added.

The party 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.

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

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

In addition, the party 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.

Mr Giam said 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.

To tackle lease decay in public housing, the WP proposed a universal buy-back scheme to be offered to all HDB lessees in order to back-stop resale prices.

In the conference, Mr Singh said the party's manifesto process started in late 2018, with its central executive committee setting up a team comprising Ms He, Mr Giam, Mr Perera and Daniel Goh.

The team consulted specialists, industry experts and took in feedback from residents of Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC), Hougang single member constituency (SMC), as well as other constituencies, he added.

On Sunday, the WP also revealed its fourth and final slate of candidates who will be running in the upcoming election.

The only new name among the four was Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim. The 54-year-old had resigned from his job as a researcher to contest.

Mr Shariff, who is married with two children, started grassroots work in Aljunied, assisting in Mr Singh's Meet the People sessions since 2012.

He has a blue-collar background, having taken on various "menial" jobs along the way, including being a security guard, taxi driver and undertaker, after having disrupted his studies at Secondary 4 to do factory work.

He became a full-time mature student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and later obtained Bachelor of Science (Economics) and Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration degrees from the Singapore Management University, where he had worked part-time to pay his expenses.

Mr Shariff noted that he is among the many candidates introduced by the various parties to have come from "humble beginnings".

"It is my firm belief that coming from humble beginnings does not mean you are humble," he said. "When you believe that you have succeeded on individual merits, you may hold the view that those who are not successful have only themselves to blame."

He dedicated his candidacy to people who have been "dealt a bad hand in life", as well as vulnerable segments including the poor, elderly, single mothers, ethnic minorities and the disabled.

Meanwhile, Cambridge-educated Ms He, 37, is keen for strong, respectful debates to build a stronger society as well as to better balance Singapore's democratic and economic system.

Married with two children, the head of legal and communications for a multinational corporation said that she wants her children to be proud of a Singapore where the "most vulnerable" are not left behind, and a country which cares about its impact on the people and planet.

She started volunteering with the WP right after the General Election in 2011, and ran as a candidate in Marine Parade GRC in 2015.

As for Mr Perera, 49, and Mr Giam, 42, they will both be departing East Coast GRC (where they contested in 2015) to replace Low Thia Khiang and Chen Show Mao in Aljunied GRC.

The WP will be fielding 21 candidates in six constituencies - Hougang and Punggol West single member constituencies, and Marine Parade, Sengkang, East Coast and Aljunied GRCs.

The final lineup, however, will only be revealed on Nomination Day, said Mr Singh.

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