Job security and support dominate Budget debate
MPs highlight anxieties of workers, businesses dealing with virus outbreak
The issue of job security was on the tip of almost every MP's tongue yesterday as Parliament kicked off a three-day debate on this year's Budget.
While ministers and backbenchers, including Labour MPs, supported the slew of measures announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat last week, they highlighted the anxieties faced by local workers and businesses grappling with the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak and the longer-term challenge of adapting to a transforming economy, and said more could be done.
VIRUS SUPPORT PACKAGE
While MPs said the $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package to help firms and employees cope with the coronavirus outbreak was comprehensive, some asked if some of the measures could be expanded or if support could be given out sooner.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) suggested adding a condition to the Jobs Support Scheme such that wage support would only be valid for workers who remain employed from January to July this year.
He noted that qualifying period for the scheme, which will offset 8 per cent of wages for every local worker for three months to help retain jobs, is for salary paid between October and December last year and it is possible that employers could still lay off these workers after enjoying the benefits.
Employers will receive this money by end-July but National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay asked if this could be expedited as many enterprises need funding urgently.
Mr Tay (West Coast GRC) said many workers have also asked if the planned SkillsFuture top-ups scheduled for October could be moved forward so they can take advantage of the downtime to upskill and reskill.
Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) made the same suggestion and asked if the special $500 top-up given to workers between 40 and 60 could be used for more courses, as it is currently limited to 200 selected programmes.
Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked if more could be done to help smaller companies reskill workers.
"Some of these small firms are almost fire-fighting every day and they are so stretched for manpower, it is almost impossible to send workers for training," he said.
MPs also raised worries about more vulnerable workers, including the self-employed, lower-income, professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) and seniors.
Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) said most of the Budget 2020 measures are channelled through companies, so self-employed workers might not get the help they need.
Gig workers dependent on platforms, such as delivery riders, have an imbalance of bargaining powers, he added.
Many MPs pointed out that a waiver for foreign worker levies would be helpful, as many of the industries directly hit by the Covid-19 crisis, such as retail and tourism, tend to have a higher proportion of foreign workers.
During the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis, levies were reduced.
Addressing this in her speech, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said a levy waiver would not benefit firms which have only local employees.
Instead, the Government has put together a multi-agency support package worth over $15 million for businesses in the tourism sector to use the down time for training and transformation.
Mrs Teo added: "First, in supporting businesses, our priority was also to preserve local employment.
"Second, as much as we want to help businesses, measures to deal with the short-term fallout should not negate longer-term efforts for companies to become less reliant on foreign manpower.
"Levy waivers or reductions would have run counter to both objectives."