SBF Dialogue with Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo on Support Measures and Implications for Businesses and Workers
Friday, 21 August 2020 [Singapore] – The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) held a virtual dialogue on 20 August with Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo to exchange views on the manpower challenges faced by businesses and workers, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future. Minister Teo was joined by other key office bearers in the Ministry of Manpower – Second Minister Dr Tan See Leng, Senior Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, and Minister of State Gan Siow Huang. Participants of the dialogue included members of the SBF Council, leaders of Trade Associations and Chambers, and business leaders.
Participants expressed commitment towards strengthening the Singaporean core and building the local talent pool through training and upskilling their local employees. They understand the need to be mindful of the proportion of foreign manpower in the workforce but highlighted the reality that foreign manpower continues to be needed to augment our local workforce in order to meet the needs of the economy. Participants also noted that the transfer of skills and knowledge from foreign employees to Singaporeans helps to develop local talent and urged employers to do this systematically to build up local talent and localise more jobs over time.
The presence of foreign companies and foreign manpower in Singapore has directly contributed to and continues to contribute to the creation of more and better jobs for Singaporeans. Even as we strengthen the Singaporean core, we must be mindful to guard against anti-foreigner sentiments that will be detrimental to Singapore and Singaporeans.
Participants welcomed the continued support for workers and jobs announced by the Deputy Prime Minister earlier this week, in particular the extension of the Jobs Support Scheme and the introduction of the Jobs Growth Incentive. Nevertheless, they shared the expectation that more companies will need to restructure, downsize or even close down in the coming months. An uptick in retrenchments can be expected, with sectors like air travel, aerospace and tourism being more affected.
Participants supported the adoption of fair retrenchment practices and urged companies to conduct retrenchments in a responsible and sensitive manner should the need arise. Companies should refer to SBF’s Advisory on Responsible Retrenchment Practices, and the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment.
Notwithstanding the expectation of more retrenchments, participants noted that there continue to be bright spots and opportunities in the economy. Sectors like manufacturing, healthcare, biotech, agri-tech and infocomm technology continue to do well and are creating new jobs and actively recruiting to fill vacancies. While there are efforts to help match displaced workers to these jobs, there are also signs of skills mismatches between displaced workers and the job vacancies. In particular, participants expressed concerns for older and lower skilled workers who may face more difficulties in transiting to another job.
Participants noted that continued tripartite efforts are needed to help workers re-skill and access the available jobs. Businesses should play their part in being open to recruiting mid-career workers and providing them with the necessary training. They can tap on various Government schemes to help with this. Workers should also keep an open mind and be prepared to re-skill and take on jobs in a different industry or of a different nature.
Supporting Low-Wage Workers
Participants highlighted the need to look after and support low-wage workers amidst the challenges posed by COVID-19. Businesses have a key role to play in helping to upskill and enlarging the job scope of their low-wage workers, so that these workers can command higher wages. SBF encourages more businesses to join the 145 companies who have signed SBF’s Sustainable Employment Pledge, and commit to adopting sustainable employment practices for low-wage workers, mature employees and PMETs. SBF welcomes the re-convening of the National Wages Council (NWC) and urges that due consideration be given to supporting and helping low-wage workers in the NWC recommendations.
Safe Re-opening of Border and Businesses
Participants shared that some re-opening of borders and resumption of travel will be vital to the recovery and survival of businesses. They noted the need to do this in a safe and measured manner and urged the implementation of more green lane arrangements to facilitate safe business travel.
Participants also supported the further easing of safe management measures, while balancing against and mitigating the risks. Extending opening hours and increasing the limit on group size for social gatherings and events will help sectors like F&B, retail and hospitality that have been badly affected.
Looking ahead to emerge stronger from the current downturn, Mr Lim Ming Yan, Chairman of SBF, said “With COVID-19 continuing to disrupt lives and livelihoods globally, our businesses and workers need to stand together to weather the storm. Businesses, unions and the Government must work together in a close tripartite partnership to protect jobs and create new ones. As businesses pivot into new markets and areas to seize growth opportunities, workers also need to reskill and retrain to seize job opportunities. SBF remains committed to working with our tripartite partners to help businesses and workers overcome these challenges and be future-ready in a post-COVID economy.”