Friday 27 December 2013

National Jobs Bank should cater to openings in all work categories: Tan Chuan-Jin

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Dec 2013

Singapore's Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in the longer term, he would like to see an all-encompassing National Jobs Bank that would advertise job requirements for all work categories, and not just cater to vacancies currently filled by Employment Pass (EP) holders.

When the National Jobs Bank kicks off in the middle of 2014, employers looking for workers in the EP category can submit an EP application only if they have not been successful in recruiting a Singaporean after the advertising period.

For the longer term, Mr Tan said the mark of the job portal's success is when everyone goes to it as a primary search portal.

Mr Tan said: “We are looking forward to it, keeping it simple, we are in the process of constructing that, we need to test it, we are also gathering feedback from other job portals, working closely with them, get their inputs and see what else we can do with that platform.

“Obviously this raises concerns with existing jobs portals and we recognise that, and we are looking at how best to work with the existing jobs portals to see whether (there is) some form of partnership because there are strengths they have.”

Mr Tan also said the second phase of the ongoing review of the Employment Act is looking at some new trends in the employment world.

He said: "More people are looking to working on contract, rather than long term. How do you then protect them and look after them? For example, CASE exists to deal with some of the disputes people may have. Can we have an equivalent or somewhat related set-up where we can help the workforce, which have disputes which are non-statutory in nature by providing them a fairly easy access, expeditious, slightly lower-cost process rather than go through the civil legal route? That is also something we are looking at to make sure that we can look after our workforce adequately.”

The ministry expects to complete work on the second phase of the Employment Act review in the next one to two years. 

Workers stayed in approved dorms
They did not face poor living conditions, had no known employment disputes: Chuan-Jin
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

THE workers allegedly involved in the Little India riot were staying in approved dormitories, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

While substandard worker housing does exist here, the rioters stayed in those which meet official standards, he told Bloomberg TV in an interview aired yesterday.

"So they are not living in some decrepit shack somewhere," he said, in response to allegations that the workers at the riot faced poor living conditions.

From what is known so far, the workers had "no particular employment disputes" that may have contributed to the riot, he added in a wide-ranging interview covering issues such as productivity and politics.

On foreign labour curbs, he said these were similar to government policies to cool a strong property market: "You don't know exactly at which point it will bite and you don't want to overdo it."

But the curbs seem to be taking effect, he added. As the economy restructures, there are some "positive glimpses" in productivity figures for the third quarter of this year.

On politics, Mr Tan was asked what former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's "deepest imprint" on Singapore was.

He named two things: A largely corruption-free system, and a Government that is "prepared to make the calls".

Even as Singapore evolves and political pressures mount, the Government remains mindful of the danger of becoming populist.

"Listening to people, engaging, isn't about being populist," he noted. "But making a policy, still believing that that's in the best interests of the people, remains - I think - sacrosanct."

But he does not resent the changing landscape. A questioning, challenging electorate "keeps us on our toes", he said.

As for the People's Action Party itself, it still has the support of many, he said.

"They believe that PAP remains the party that is in a good position to lead and to govern. Certainly in the near future, perhaps also in the medium term."

But many also want more options and competition, he noted. That is for the people to decide, and "that's what democracy is", he said.

Meanwhile, civil society group Workfair Singapore yesterday called on the Commitee of Inquiry, set up to investigate the riot, to deliberate in public and at a publicly accessible venue.

2014 to see manpower changes to keep Singaporean core
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Dec 2013

A slew of measures were announced this year aimed at emphasising the Singaporean core of the workforce. Many of these measures will take effect in 2014.

The country's manpower sector and tripartite partners face challenges as they aim to ensure that Singaporeans benefit from economic growth and that there are sufficient workers to sustain that growth.

Employers in Singapore said 2013 was a good year, with the economy doing well and unemployment remaining low.

Stephen Lee, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said: "Companies continue to experience a tight labour market, and the tight labour is exerting upwards forces on wage increases.

“Compared to last year when we came out with about five per cent wage increase, we think this year's wage increase would be slightly moderated.

"But one point I would like to point out is the lower wage earners are actually experiencing a higher percentage increase, which is a reverse of the past. This will help to narrow the wage gap."

But as the country continues to restructure its economy to meet future challenges, employers will have to deal with the continued tightening of foreign worker quotas.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: "It is beginning to bite; companies are beginning to feel the pain. For some, it could possibly mean the closing of the companies. But with all restructuring, unfortunately, that is part of the process.

"How do we help match that with the manpower that they might need. We will track strategic projects; construction is one area which needs a major change in the way they do things (because) productivity is a significant laggard.

“At the same time as we are tightening in terms of the manpower front, it impacts the construction sector.

"For example, there are important projects -- hospitals need to be built, clinics, the MRT lines (too) -- how do we balance that? It is something we watch closely, something which we work closely with industries. When we look at dealing with some of these industries and wanting to move up the productivity chain, manpower policy is just one component.”

Improving productivity levels will also be a key focus for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2014.

An inter-agency work group set up to look into the challenges will roll out its first set of recommendations in the new year, said its chairman and Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck.

Mr Teo said: "What we try to do is to make the schemes more accessible, and enhance some of them so that we can be more inclusive to include SMEs, not just the larger ones but also those who have a lack of resources, the micro SMEs as well.

"We are going to outreach to more SMEs in the near future. More SME centres will be set up in the heartlands.

"It’s not just at the CDCs (Community Development Councils) level, but more importantly, we will look at the broader schemes and challenges the SMEs face -- the cost of operations, the other aspects of costs in managing that through schemes or indirect benefits or assistance.

"We also look at opening up new areas and markets for them."

The new Fair Consideration Framework is also likely to have a major impact on the manpower sector.

It requires companies which want to apply for employment passes for workers to advertise on a National Jobs Bank to hire Singaporeans first, if they qualify for the job.

Mr Tan said: “The Fair Consideration Framework will be important for a number of reasons. One, it will enable Singaporeans to be fairly considered. The jobs bank is actually going to be potentially a game changer in some ways on many fronts, because every EP (employment pass) job needs to be advertised in one portal.

"What happens is that you have a one-stop place to go and look at what's available. We have very low unemployment but not zero unemployment. Many companies are keen to employ Singaporeans but many have also indicated that seems difficult. Like all jobs market, it’s about information, how does that information flow."

Mr Lee said: "For local companies, their worry is whether the Fair Consideration Framework will slow down their speed to fill the places. So I think MOM (Ministry of Manpower) has clarified that companies can use multiple channels at the same time. So with the new requirements, we do not think it will slow down the companies' speed to fill places."

Public education on the Fair Consideration Framework will pick up in the new year, and the National Jobs Bank is due to be set up by the middle of 2014.

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