Ng Chee Meng moots committee to better support older workers

Labour chief Ng suggests a committee to help support older workers

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng has mooted the idea of a committee to better support older workers, as Singapore grapples with an ageing workforce.

Mr Ng, making his first speech in Parliament as deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said yesterday that this tripartite committee would look at ways to help mature workers to continue working if they choose to.

The committee will comprise representatives from the Government, the labour movement and companies.

Older workers are one of three groups of workers that Mr Ng said he wants to focus on. The other two are low-wage workers and the middle-aged middle-income.

While older workers might want to stay employed, the real question is whether employers are willing to hire them, instead of having the mindset that they are a burden, more expensive and untrainable, said Mr Ng.

"Union leaders and I are worried for this group of workers," he said during the debate on the President's Address. "For many of them, the job is essential - just like us, they have expenses, mortgages, and dependants relying on them."

There are some government initiatives in place to help older workers, he said, pointing to WorkPro, which gives employers funding support to redesign their workplaces into more elderly-friendly spaces.

There is also the Special Employment Credit, which subsidises the net cost of employing mature workers.

But more can be done, he added.

For example, he said the Government should empower the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices to look into workplace discrimination and do more to tackle the issue.

As for low-wage workers, Mr Ng noted that while the Progressive Wage model has done much to alleviate the hardship of such workers in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors since it was introduced in 2012, there are other sectors with low wage growth.

He proposed expanding the use of the Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) and finding ways to support more workers. The IGP is a fund that helps companies kick-start productivity projects, in return for sharing the productivity gains with their workers through higher wages.

Freelancers, part-timers and the self-employed are another group that needs support, he added. As project-based employment becomes more common, the Government should ensure they enjoy Central Provident Fund protection, medical coverage and skills development.

Mr Ng also noted that some middle-aged middle-income workers are seeing less demand for their skills, or lack the opportunities to progress.