Friday 15 March 2013

Parliament Highlights - 14 Mar 2013

Committee of Supply Debate: MSF, MOM

20,000 more childcare places in four years
New childcare centres being built will cater to average families here
By Ong Hwee Hwee, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

ABOUT 20,000 more childcare places will be added over the next four years, ensuring that there will be enough for at least one in two children in 2017, an improvement from one in three now.

But limited space may mean childcare centres may be located in places such as hawker centres and carparks, said Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

What is important, however, is they will cater to the average Singaporean family by charging affordable fees, he added as he outlined several pro-family initiatives in Parliament during the debate on his ministry's spending.

Mr Chan also had good news for single and unwed parents: From May 1, they will be given the same number of days of infant-care and childcare leave as their married counterparts.

His ministry will also set aside $40 million over the next three years to promote family education under the new Family Matters! initiative. Schools, businesses and community groups can tap on the fund to run programmes such as bonding activities.

Outlining his ministry's priorities, Mr Chan said the quality of care and education was "very crucial" to many young parents.

"Someone asked me: 'Why do you build more childcare centres? The TFR (total fertility rate) is decreasing'... But it can be a chicken-and-egg problem. People may not have children because they do not feel that they have adequate childcare provisions."

But the Government faces the problem of finding space. This is why the ministry is exploring "innovative" options, like co-locating them with other facilities.

For instance, one childcare centre will operate from a hawker centre in Woodlands. Facilities no longer in use can also be converted, such as the former swimming pool in Bukit Merah. The Early Childhood Development Agency, which starts on April 1, will identify suitable sites.

Another priority is improving the lot of vulnerable families, and giving help in a more flexible manner. "Delivery is as important as policy," said Mr Chan.

The first four of 20 new social service offices will be set up by year-end - in Kreta Ayer, Jalan Besar, Jurong West and Bukit Panjang-Choa Chu Kang - to make it more convenient for residents who need financial and social aid.

And the ComCare Transitions scheme, which gives cash payouts for up to six months, will be extended beyond a year for those who still need support. For those with more complex problems, the ministry is looking at extending help of between five and 10 years.

First 4 social service offices go to poor estates
Centres that will direct the needy to find aid to be ready by the year-end
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

THE initial four new social service offices will be built in HDB estates with a disproportionate number of poor and needy people.

These are: Kreta Ayer, Jalan Besar, Jurong West and Bukit Panjang-Choa Chu Kang.

The offices, which will help direct residents to social services nearer their homes, will be up and running by the year-end.

Currently, these residents go to the five Community Development Councils and various aid organisations, which may function on their own.

Another government move to ensure help is at hand is the review of social assistance schemes to ensure that those who need aid are not left out by rigid criteria.

These efforts were highlighted by Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing yesterday, when he explained why his ministry is intent on providing more "flexible and tailored assistance".

He said: "We don't want a case where a person in need goes to an agency and fails to meet the eligibility criteria just by a bit. And at each and every agency thereafter they fail by just a bit."

Hence, his ministry is looking at introducing medium-term help of five to 10 years for a group the Government views with "great concern", said Mr Chan.

These are often people who face health and complex family issues. "(They) require help beyond the short term of one to two years, but may not require permanent help," he added.

While he did not go into detail on the nature of help to be given, he called for a group of volunteers and mentors who can guide them, because their issues "go beyond the need for pure monetary help".

This new support fills the gap between the existing short-term and long-term help schemes.

Both are being modified.

The short-term help scheme will lend aid for a longer duration.

For instance, the ComCare Transitions scheme will give financial aid for more than one year if necessary, instead of three to six months. The help is for people who are out of work or unable to work due to injuries or accidents.

Aid can be in the form of a monthly cash allowance or payment of rent and utilities bills.

As for the long-term Public Assistance scheme, it is no more "one size fits all".

Those who need, say, medical or hygiene consumables such as adult diapers or syringes, will get the items paid for on top of their monthly cash payouts.

These efforts at flexibility, however, will come to naught if execution is found wanting, Mr Chan said. "Delivery, delivery and delivery is the key. Delivery is as important as policy."

For this reason, the new social service offices will work closely with welfare and other government agencies in the neighbourhood to direct residents to the appropriate aid agencies.

To illustrate this, Mr Chan said such an office will help integrate services offered in Toa Payoh estate, which has more than 20 voluntary welfare organisations providing different kinds of aid.

Residents may apply for financial aid at these offices. If they need other services, like counselling, the office will link them with one near their home.

But MPs like the Workers' Party's Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap expressed concern that the new offices would duplicate services provided by other agencies.

Mr Chan said their role is to liaise with the agencies so that residents can get help easily.

"This is to simplify the work and not to add another layer of bureaucracy," he said.

Group homes for the elderly: From two now to 60 by 2016
By Janice Tai And Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

SIXTY senior group homes will be built by 2016, up from the current two, as the Government presses on with new ways to allow the elderly to age in the community.

These homes let elderly residents with little or no family support continue to live in an environment they are familiar with, instead of spending their golden years in a nursing home.

The 60 homes will be able to serve about 700 elderly people.

The first two homes being piloted are doing well, and more will be built, said Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in Parliament yesterday.

"Many of the elderly have given feedback to us that when they help to take care of each other, they actually feel a sense of purpose and mission and it actually helps them in their daily life and in their outlook," he said. "This is what we want to encourage."

Currently, there are two senior group homes, in Pipit Road and Bukit Merah View, run by Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities and NTUC Eldercare respectively.

Some 19 elderly residents are living in the Pipit Road home, which comprises eight one-room rental flats on the seventh floor of an HDB block. Occupants are free to pursue their own interests, but a full-time employee keeps tabs on them, making sure they take their medication.

These seniors are aged 65 and above and have little family support, yet they require minimal living assistance. Previously, most of them were being housed temporarily at their friends' rental flats or overstaying in hospitals.

By helping to take care of one another, the seniors are able to continue living in the community instead of in nursing homes.

Besides supporting the elderly, Mr Chan also responded to MPs' requests for an update on the Enabling Masterplan, a five-year plan that charts the development of programmes and services for the disabled. Mr Chan said he will chair the committee that looks at how to implement the plan.

The committee, formed in June last year, was previously chaired by Mr Sam Tan, who was then Senior Parliamentary Secretary at the former Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. After he moved to another ministry, Madam Halimah Yacob chaired it until she became Speaker of Parliament in January.

Some recommendations have been implemented in phases since last year, such as extending more transport options and financial schemes for the disabled.

More places in adult disability homes and day activity centres have also been planned for the disabled.

Infant care, childcare leave for single parents as well
By Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 15 Mar 2013

The call for single mothers to enjoy the same policy benefits as their married counterparts has long been uttered, and yesterday the Government responded, announcing that it would extend infant care and childcare leave to those who have children out of wedlock.

They will also get the two days of paid childcare leave a year when their children are between the ages of seven and 12, as announced in the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package in January.

Highlighting single-parent households as one of two groups that fell under “vulnerable families” that the Government pledged more help for, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said: “We understand and appreciate that many of these families need additional support, especially single mothers. But single mothers are not a uniform group — there are unwed single mothers, there are divorced single mothers, there are widowed single mothers ... We will continue to strive to provide better support for families under duress.”

The other group comprises those who need “medium-term assistance” — of between five and 10 years — because of “complex” circumstances, such as children of incarcerated parents, and parents of children with learning disabilities, Mr Chan said. These people fell outside of ComCare assistance but did not need permanent help under the Public Assistance Scheme, he noted.

Mr Chan said: “We are reviewing to see how we can pilot a scheme to hand-hold these people out of the dark that they are in ... The most important thing for this group of people is for us as a community, as a nation, to muster a group of volunteers and mentors to walk the journey with them so that their children will have a better future in time to come.”


The Government has long resisted calls to equalise parental benefits for unwed parents, citing the need to protect the traditional family structure.

Currently, single mothers get eight weeks’ paid maternity leave, half that of what married mothers potentially get. Sociologists said the opening up of parental leave benefits to single parents should not be read as the Government relenting on its stance.

Associate Professor Paulin Tay-Straughan said: “It’s a safety net approach to enable and empower any parent to take good care of the child. The Government is not acceding to any call to rethink a more liberal family structure.”

National University of Singapore Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser added that it signalled a shift of focus toward every child’s welfare, rather than the “moral values or circumstances leading to his or her conception”. He also noted that the changes were “important symbolically in regard to supporting the principle of equality of opportunity in a meritocracy”.

Describing the measures as “long overdue”, Nanyang Technological University sociologist Teo You Yenn noted that a “common claim to justify discrimination is that removing discrimination will encourage ‘lifestyle’ choices of single parenthood”.

“This is highly implausible. A great deal of effort, money and personal sacrifice is required for raising a child in contemporary Singapore; we know that raising children as single parents is tremendously difficult,” said Assistant Professor Teo, who is also a board member of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). “Ours is a situation where married couples with two incomes are limiting their fertility, not one where people will eagerly ‘choose’ to raise children alone.”

During the Committee of Supply debate, some Members of Parliament, such as Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian, urged the Government to go even further in supporting single mothers by giving them the full maternity leave benefits. “Marital status is not really relevant because maternity leave is really for emotional bond building as well as physical recuperation for the mother,” she said.

Agreeing, AWARE Executive Director Corinna Lim noted that unwed mothers are also ineligible for childcare subsidies, which she described as a “huge setback” for the group. She said: “Unwed mothers often tend to be sole breadwinners who have to go to work to earn a living for themselves and their children, and they can’t do this without affordable childcare. Single mothers can easily fall into a poverty cycle if they are deprived of this social support.”

She added: “Continuing to deny unwed mothers of maternity leave, childcare subsidies and other benefits holds us back from giving every child an equal start in life and bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.”

Do more to encourage adoption over abortion, three MPs urge
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

THREE Members of Parliament yesterday called for more to be done to encourage women planning an abortion to consider letting the children be adopted instead.

Pointing out that there are some 12,000 abortions every year, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked if the Government could consider promoting adoption as a voluntary option for mothers thinking of abortion, and advertising "the culture of adopting children".

If that could be done, Mr de Souza said, "we could possibly make many, many families wanting children very happy, and also give the newborn baby a chance at life within a loving and nurturing family".

He added that this could also help increase the total fertility rate (TFR).

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) echoed his call.

Ms Foo said comprehensive help schemes should be put in place to guide the expectant mothers, and assure them that their children would go to couples who have been "rigorously assessed".

He noted that the decision to abort or carry a baby to term is "ultimately a deeply personal decision", and the state should instead enhance support for vulnerable families and women, to help them make informed decisions.

He noted that counselling on the risks and implications is provided to those thinking of aborting a child.

They must give written consent to abort the child, and first undergo a "cooling-off period". Social service agencies also provide guidance on other options, such as adoption.

Mr Chan said of the 12,000 abortions taking place every year, slightly more than half are by Singaporean women, and within this group, half of them are married.

He agreed that the Government could create more awareness of adoption, but the messaging had to be done carefully.

"Whether we call it the promotion of the adoption culture, I'm not so sure.

"Let me give this some thought because I think how you message this, it has to be done very sensitively," he said.

$40 million to encourage a pro-family environment
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2013

Forty million will be set aside over the next three years to cultivate a pro-family environment in the community. The funds will allow schools and workplaces to run family life education programmes aimed at helping Singaporeans improve the quality of their family life.

Acting Minister for the Ministry of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing announced this in Parliament on Thursday. In addition, the Government will now also cover 80 percent of the costs to run pro-family programmes in schools and workplaces instead of just paying for fixed speaker fees and refreshments as in the past.

The funds will be used under a new initiative called Family Matters! where programmes will be geared towards a national movement to look at areas such as relationships skills, marriage preparation, and work-life harmony. Programmes will also focus on issues pertinent to singles.

Currently, about 800 schools and 1,500 companies offer family life programmes. Besides more funding support for programmes, businesses keen on making their establishments more family-friendly for their customers can soon get more funds from the existing Business for Families grant to help them defray the additional staff training or infrastructure costs. Some $4 million has been committed to this grant.

Over the next year, MSF also hopes to increase the number of family life educators by ramping up training programmes for them. Those who have been trained will receive certificates in family life education which in turn, allow them to conduct this programme for others.

Have more pre-school anchor operators
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

LET a thousand flowers bloom or go for "one size fits all"?

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing yesterday weighed in on the debate over which model works best for the pre-school sector.

Citing the experience of other countries, he said if left entirely to private operators, it may mean that "the top end of the market, the for-profit (operators), will grow very quickly". "The mass market is the one that grows the slowest," he pointed out.

That is why some government intervention is needed to ensure there will be enough mass market pre-school operators that provide affordable and quality education.

One way is to raise the number of anchor operators, he said. More are set to join the current two - the PAP Community Foundation and the National Trades Union Congress' My First Skool - when the ministry calls for proposals in the second quarter.

The not-for-profit anchor operators are required to provide good-quality, affordable services aimed at most low- and middle-income families, in exchange for recurrent government grants to help lower operating costs.

But he added there will still be support for private operators who will provide different approaches to childhood development, and "meet different needs and different aspirations of parents".

He was responding to varied views from MPs on how the childcare sector should be structured.

Some like Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) noted that some private operators "have embarked on ambitious acquisition plans", while others like Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) said anchor operators who receive heavy operating grants from the Government prevent fair competition in the childcare market, leading to fewer choices for parents.

"We will support all the operators in the sector now to see how we can uplift the quality together," assured Mr Chan.

When we collect (our children) at the end of the day, instead of thanking the childcare teachers when we reach there, (we) lift up the child and check whether there're mosquito bites, whether the child has fallen, and then walk off.
- Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, in calling for more respect for childcare teachers

Move towards fairer hiring with tighter EP system
Employment Pass framework will be adjusted, especially for Q1 pass holders
By Amelia Tan And Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

THE Employment Pass (EP) framework for hiring of foreigners will be tightened later this year to ensure a level playing field for citizens in the workforce and build up a Singapore core.

Any such refinement, however, will not mean that the country is closing itself off to opportunities and insisting that companies hire citizens regardless of merit, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday as he set out the thinking behind the impending change.

Singaporeans must remain open to the world for jobs and opportunities, even as there is scope to build in more safeguards against discriminatory hiring and put in place fair practices.

Given the larger proportion of Singaporeans who will enter the workforce as professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) in the future due to better educational levels, the EP framework will be adjusted, especially for the lowest-level Q1 pass holders. These are workers earning between $3,000 and $4,500 monthly.

The intent is to help level the playing field for junior to mid-level PMEs, Mr Tan said, as they may face competition from foreigners who have the same qualifications but are willing to take lower pay.

"There is a real impact as it can deprive our young of the opportunities they need to learn on- the-job and progress to more senior positions later on," he said during the debate on his ministry's budget.

The change to the EP framework was first raised by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget statement last month. It is the latest in steps to tighten eligibility requirements for this sector. At the start of last year, for instance, the minimum income for a Q1 Pass was raised from $2,800 to $3,000.

To ensure citizens are given fair consideration, the Manpower Ministry has been studying the work pass frameworks of other countries to explore how it can incorporate their best features and adapt them to local needs.

Stakeholders will be consulted in the coming months, to further explore and develop a practical fair employment framework.

"It is only fair and reasonable that foreign firms and foreigners working here bear a responsibility to the local communities. In a sense, this is a social compact. We do not require global firms to give preferential treatment to locals, but they must be fair to Singaporeans," said Mr Tan.

"There must be equal opportunities for our people whether at hiring or in advancement. There has to be a level playing field."

Mr Tan gave an illustration of what the Government finds "completely unacceptable".

A firm put up an online job advertisement saying it wanted to recruit only people of a certain nationality. Once the authorities were alerted, the unnamed company was ordered to remove it immediately. Its work pass privileges were suspended and the Government asked to see the firm's senior management.

Its privileges remain suspended and the Government will not hesitate to enforce such measures if similar issues arise with other firms, he warned. Mr Tan added: "We expect all employers doing business in Singapore to comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices."

To work against bias, the Government will rely on a combination of measures, including making the existing work pass framework more stringent, and relying on whistle-blowers within companies to report discriminatory practices.

To make jobs and workplaces better for citizens, the Government is also setting aside $170 million over the next three years for an all-in-one scheme to attract and retain more local workers, and improve their work-life harmony. This WorkPro scheme, which comes into effect next month, amalgamates three separate ones that push for work-life balance, help firms hire older workers, and aid those wanting to re-enter the workforce.

Building the Singapore core, Mr Tan concluded, is important as it provides a stable base for citizens to meet their aspirations.

"On our part, we aim to create better jobs, wages and opportunities for our people," he pledged.

More workers to qualify for overtime pay
Employment Act changes will also see junior PMEs getting greater protection
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

SINGAPORE'S main labour law will be changed to enable more workers to qualify for overtime and to provide more protection to professionals, managers and executives (PME).

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday gave details of changes to the Employment Act to be tabled later this year, with a view to implementation next year.

These changes are the culmination of consultation efforts which began in April last year.

For one thing, more workers will be covered by Part IV of the Act, which concerns issues such as working hours and overtime.

That section of the Act now covers manual workers earning up to $4,500, and non-manual workers earning up to $2,000.

The salary cap for non-manual workers will be raised to $2,500 "in line with the general increase in salary levels", said Mr Tan.

This means about 150,000 more workers will be covered, and thus entitled to overtime pay. But to help employers manage their costs, the amount of overtime payable will be capped at $17.70 an hour, which is what someone who earns $2,250 would receive.

PMEs earning up to $4,500 a month, who number about 300,000, will also get more protection. These are the only PMEs covered by the Act. Now, they are covered only in the area of salary payment.

"In view of the rising number of PME jobs in our economy, our laws should provide these same junior PMEs with employment protections beyond just basic salary claims," said Mr Tan.

Thus, after the review, this group of PMEs will receive general protection under the Act. This includes protection against unfair dismissal and sick leave benefits. However, they will still not be covered by Part IV on working hours.

Among other changes, bosses will be required to give itemised payslips to employees to help avoid salary disputes.

Mr Tan said the enhancements to employment protection will have to be balanced by "allowing employers some flexibility" in implementing them.

For instance, even as PMEs gain protection against unfair dismissal, they will have to have been in the job for at least one year before they can seek redress.

The Singapore National Employers Federation endorsed the proposals as fair and reasonable. It supported the higher salary ceiling for non-workmen, but welcomed the cap on overtime pay to help firms control costs.

The National Trades Union Congress also welcomed the changes, including the higher salary cap and more protection for PMEs, which it suggested.

It will continue to champion better protection for outsourced workers, short-term contract staff and freelancers, said Mr Patrick Tay, director of legal services and the PME Unit.

Protection for such workers is one of the issues to be considered during the second phase of changes to the Employment Act, due to begin later this year, said Mr Tan.

This second phase will deal with "more complex issues", such as alternative ways to resolve disputes between bosses and workers.

The Industrial Relations Act will also be updated.

Locals' salary level raised in rule for hiring foreign workers
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

THE number of foreign workers a company can hire is tied to the number of full-time local workers it has.

The quota system is known as the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC). It sets the maximum number of foreign workers a firm can hire for every full-time local worker it has in its employment.

Explaining the move yesterday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: "To ensure that local workers are employed meaningfully rather than being employed on token salaries just to allow the employer access to foreign workers, we adopt a salary threshold of $850 today.

"Given the increase in locals' wages, we will increase the threshold salary from $850 to $1,000."

This change comes as the Government continues to moderate the growth of the foreign workforce, and to clamp down on any attempts by firms to circumvent the tightening.

From July, a local worker has to be paid at least $1,000 a month to count as a full-time worker. The salary range for part-time workers will also be raised, to fall between $500 and less than $1,000. For foreign worker quota purposes, two part-time workers count as one full-time worker.

Manpower Senior Parliamentary Secretary Hawazi Daipi said later that the hike in the salary threshold will "have a positive effect on raising wages at the low end". He said the salary threshold hike also adds on to other measures to boost the pay of lower- wage workers.

These include the Wage Credit Scheme announced in this year's Budget. It supports efforts by companies to restructure and share productivity gains through wage increases.

The Manpower Ministry said in response to questions from The Straits Times that about 12 per cent of residents, or 238,000 workers, earn less than $1,000 a month for full-time and part- time work.

And 6.4 per cent of full-time resident workers, or 114,100, earn less than $1,000.

Mr Tan also said the Government's approach to moderating foreign manpower growth is both "adaptive and flexible". It aims to raise the quality profile of the foreign workforce and help companies restructure.

"The pace of our tightening will be guided by broad indicators such as overall foreign workforce growth, productivity growth as well as the real wage growth of Singaporeans."

Unskilled workers get new way to upgrade
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

UNSKILLED Work Permit holders in the service sector will soon get another pathway to upgrade themselves to skilled permit holders.

From July 1 this year, unskilled Work Permit holders who earn a fixed monthly salary of at least $1,600 and have worked here for at least four years will stand to be reclassified as skilled. The change will help employers save on foreign worker levies and encourage them to retain and upgrade workers, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Currently, Work Permit holders are classified as skilled if they have the required academic qualifications or pass skills-based tests.

Some 7,800 unskilled Work Permit holders in the service industry will qualify to be upgraded under this change, according to the Manpower Ministry.

Companies in the sector stand to benefit as they pay lower levies for skilled Work Permit holders compared with unskilled ones.

Skilled Work Permit holders can also be employed for a longer period - 18 years, compared with 10 for unskilled permit holders.

From July, companies will pay levies of $400 to $600 per unskilled Work Permit holder, depending on which tier they fall into. This will go up progressively to $450 to $800 by July 2015. But levies for skilled Work Permit holders will be frozen at $300 to $600 for two years from this July.

Mr Tan said the change aims to get employers to help Work Permit holders be more skilled and settled in Singapore. This will raise productivity and help them command higher pay and be better workers, he added.

$170m all-in-one kitty to replace 3 work schemes
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

COMPANIES that want to hire and retain more back-to-work locals as well as improve work-life harmony can turn to a $170 million government kitty for the next three years.

Called WorkPro, the programme will replace three others: Flexi-Works!, for back-to-work workers, Work-Life Works!, which supports work-life measures, and Advantage!, which helps firms hire older workers.

"It's a one-stop shop, not only pulling it all together, but also strengthening it at the same time," Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said of the new scheme during yesterday's debate on his ministry's budget.

"We want to help both Singaporeans and employers manage work and family commitments in a more holistic manner."

Flexi-Works! expired at the end of last year, while the other two will draw to a close at the end of this month.

Most of the $170 million for WorkPro is thus fresh funding, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday in response to media queries. MOM expects small and medium-sized enterprises to form about 70 per cent of the companies that will benefit.

For instance, companies can get up to $2,000 for each newly hired back-to-work or mature worker who stays at least half a year if the firm is already tapping one of the WorkPro grants to improve the workplace.

Back-to-work employees themselves will receive a retention bonus of up to $1,200 if their pay is below $4,500 and they stay with the company for a year.

Though WorkPro has many components, companies need to submit only one application and they can ask for help to do it from the National Trades Union Congress or the Singapore National Employers Federation.

Said Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor: "The most wonderful schemes on paper will not be effective if people find them too confusing to tap on."

Apart from WorkPro, the Government is putting aside $20 million over two years for the Enterprise Training Support scheme.

This scheme offers five types of grants to help fund companies' training plans and human resources development efforts. For instance, companies can get a one-time Capability Grant of up to $20,000 to help them build in-house training capabilities.

We often take a carrot-and-stick approach to policy but in manpower the stick often appears far bigger and heavier than the carrot. ...Perhaps it may be helpful at times for us to consider that a bigger carrot may prove beneficial.
- Labour MP Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC), on giving more recognition to employers with good employment practices

Some edginess, contention and dissent in industrial relations may well be the 'new normal' in industrial relations in the years ahead. Tripartite partners would be kept on their toes and not take the workers and industrial peace for granted.
- Nominated MP Eugene Tan, on keeping tripartism relevant, after last December's strike by SMRT bus drivers

Review of CPF valuation policy for home loan payments
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2013

THE amount of Central Provident Fund savings that home buyers can use to pay their mortgage could change.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday that the valuation limit policy, which caps the amount, is under review. But he did not give any details.

His remarks followed calls for an easing of the rules by at least five MPs. They had described the plight of CPF members left stranded by current rules, which allow them to use their Ordinary Account (OA) savings to pay their housing loans up to the valuation limit - the lower of the purchase price or market value of the property at the time of purchase.

Beyond the limit, they must set aside half of the Minimum Sum in their OA and Special Account if they want to withdraw more CPF savings to service the loan.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) said CPF members who have enough in their OA to pay their mortgage may be prevented from doing so because of the Minimum Sum rule.

Mr Tan acknowledged that as a result, some CPF members may find it difficult to finance their homes.

The Government has allowed the drawing of CPF monies beyond the valuation limit on a case-by-case basis, he added.

But he rejected another proposal by Mr Low to adjust the Minimum Sum according to the core inflation rate rather than the headline Consumer Price Index.

Mr Low said the lower- and middle-income groups are anxious as the amount of CPF savings they can withdraw at age 55 will be pared down by the rise in the Minimum Sum they must retain in their CPF accounts.

Mr Tan said the Minimum Sum cannot be completely de-linked from inflation as that ensures each cohort's basic retirement needs can be met. Also, headline and core inflation rates have not differed significantly over the past decade, and core inflation has even outstripped headline inflation in some years.

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