Singapore

NWC to reconvene as pandemic hits job market

This is only the fourth time the councilis assembling twice in the same year

In a rare move, the National Wages Council (NWC) will review its wage guidelines for a second time this year as the Covid-19 pandemic takes a toll on the labour market.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced this in a Facebook post yesterday after a meeting last week with National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Robert Yap.

"Both the views of workers and employers matter, especially at this critical time... We will remain in close consultation on jobs and the economy," she said.

She said they agreed to reconvene the NWC, usually convened once a year. More details will be provided later, The Straits Times understands.

The council, which is chaired by DBS Bank chairman Peter Seah and comprises representatives from the Government, employers and unions, had already been convened earlier than usual this year and released wage recommendations for April 1 this year to June 30 next year. The guidelines are typically for July to June the next year and released in end-May.

This is only the fourth time since being set up in 1972 that the council has been convened twice in the same year.

The previous times came amid major economic crises as well, in 2009, 2001 and 1998.

The preliminary labour market data for the second quarter has showed that unemployment and retrenchments surged compared with the first quarter, and observers said they expect unemployment to climb further.

The NWC released its latest guidelines on March 30. It had recommended, among other things, that employers affected by the pandemic first reduce non-wage costs and tap government support before looking to reduce wages. Special consideration should be given to low-wage workers earning a basic monthly wage of up to $1,400.

Retrenchment should be a last resort, it had said.

Mrs Teo said in her post yesterday that 3,600 employers notified the Manpower Ministry of cost-cutting steps taken since April that had impacted salaries, protecting 150,000 jobs that might otherwise have been lost and workers displaced.

Many employers took the cue from the council's recommendations this year, she said. Some are implementing a flexible work schedule to time-bank the hours not worked while continuing to pay their workers' salaries in full. Others are helping those whose commission or overtime pay were cut to get a second job.

"Many employers will continue to see weak demand and face pressure to retrench workers. It is therefore timely for NWC to update the tripartite position on wages and other issues of concern to workers and employers," said Mrs Teo.

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Employment