Interesting proposal by NTUC.Oct 27, 2005
NTUC proposes tweaking foreign worker quota
To help low-income Singaporeans, it suggests changes in seven areas
By Aaron Low
THE labour movement wants the Government to tweak its foreign-worker policy as part of an overall plan to help low-income workers.
This is among a raft of proposals the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has sent to a Government panel looking at ways to help those who earn $1,000 or less a month.
The NTUC also urged the Government to change Central Provident Fund (CPF) rules, to increase these workers' take-home pay.
Altogether, it hopes to see changes made in seven areas, its secretary-general Lim Boon Heng said in a statement yesterday.
These areas overlap with those a Government panel, known as the Ministerial Committee on Low-wage workers, said it would focus on. But NTUC went a step further than the committee by recommending specific changes in each area.
These include calling on the Manpower Ministry to 'tweak' the quota on foreign workers in service sectors, such as cleaning, landscaping and health care.
They make up some of the 12 domestic sectors in which unions are working to create decent-paying jobs for less-skilled Singaporeans.
In these areas, union leaders feel the country should reduce its 'over-dependency on low-skilled and low-wage workers', NTUC said.
On CPF, it felt workers who earn $1,000 or less a month should be exempted from CPF contributions, but not employers.
The aim: To give these workers more cash in hand for their expenses.
This could raise workers' take-home pay by up to $200 a month.
But this will also mean they save less for their housing and retirement needs. To make up for the shortfall, NTUC wants the Government to top up their CPF accounts.
The various proposals were drawn up by some 400 union leaders during a meeting last month and have been formally submitted to the committee chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen.
They include recommendations to give these workers higher subsidies for childcare and eldercare, as well as a review of the income ceiling of those eligible for such aid.
The ceiling now is $1,500 a month.
To further coax women to re-enter the workforce, NTUC is suggesting that childcare centres stay open longer and on weekends.
Reaching out to low-income contract workers and giving them protection will also be a priority for the unions.
Older workers like Mr Louis Tan, 59, were cheered by the recommendations.
Mr Tan, who drew $1,000 in his last pay as a security screening agent at Changi airport, was particularly happy about the CPF proposal: 'I need the extra cash for daily living, especially since the cost of living has gone up.'
Commenting on the proposals, labour economist Chew Seng Beng said reviewing the number of foreign workers in certain sectors is a 'positive step' as long as Singapore's competitiveness is not affected.
Prof Chew was especially in favour of the CPF recommendation: 'If these workers do not have to contribute to CPF, it will motivate them to work harder as the take-home pay is higher.'
Looks like CPF are not very popular among low-income workers in Singapore. It is not surprising as many are finding it hard to meet their ends with their low salary. A 20% boost in take home pay would mean a lot to them.
It would be even better if NTUC can lobby to raise the employers’ contribution rate for those who earn less than $1000 per month together with all the above measures. This will help to ensure that these workers will have a little more money for their retirement needs.
Lets just hope that most of the suggestions by NTUC would be taken up by the govt.