Monday 31 August 2020

CECA: Clarifying 3 common misconceptions about Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement

Chan Chun Sing clarifies 3 common misconceptions about CECA
In an interview on Friday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing debunked three misconceptions about the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). The free trade pact has come under attack from some quarters on social media in recent months as well as during the general election.
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2020


It is not true that CECA gives Indian nationals the right to take up citizenship or permanent residency, said Mr Chan. In Chapter 9 of the agreement on movement of natural persons, Article 9.1.2 states: "This Chapter shall not apply to measures pertaining to citizenship, permanent residence, or employment on a permanent basis."

The proportion of ethnic Indian citizens in the Singapore population has remained stable, he said.

The agreement does not oblige Singapore to automatically grant employment passes (EPs) to Indian nationals. Like all other foreigners, they must meet the prevailing EP criteria, like minimum salary thresholds.

A key bone of contention is intra-corporate transferees (ICTs), which refer to transfers of a company's employees from one country to another. In these instances, companies that bring them in do not have to advertise the position to locals as part of the Fair Consideration Framework.

But they must still meet the EP criteria, as well as have industry experience and worked in the parent company for a minimum duration, said Mr Chan.

Under CECA, such transferees must have worked at least six months in the parent company, among other requirements. They can stay a total term of eight years, at most.

Mr Chan said Singapore's CECA commitments are neither unique nor overly broad, as most of the 164 members of the World Trade Organisation have also made commitments on entry of ICTs under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. Local companies tap Singaporean ICTs too, when they expand overseas, he said.

"It applies equally to Indian companies coming here and to Singapore companies going overseas - under CECA or under any other (free trade agreements). This is to help them kick-start the overseas operations."


Since CECA was signed in 2005, Singapore's trade with India has grown by $7.6 billion and investments, by 34 times.

By 2018, more than 650 companies in Singapore had invested in India.

Mr Chan said the trade pact not only protects Singapore companies that invest in India, but also attracts foreign investors who invest in India, and employ Singaporeans to manage their investments.

In Singapore, these companies employ nearly 100,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents.

What this means is that the Indian market, as with other large markets, helps these companies to diversify and make their operations more robust.

"Besides having better access to a huge market and all the savings that come with tariff reductions, it also allows us to grow our capabilities," said Mr Chan.

Companies such as PSA and engineering firm Meinhardt are also now key players in port management and engineering in India, he added.


Mr Chan said the presence of certain nationalities is shaped by the choice of sectors Singapore wants to grow.

Currently, these include new and fast-growing sectors, such as info-communications and technology, professional services and financial services.

It is not that Singaporeans are not good enough for the jobs in these sectors, but that Singapore does not have enough people for these jobs, he said.

"We do not have enough numbers to get to the critical mass."

Mr Chan said the profile of Singapore's foreign workforce will evolve over time as its industry profile changes.

"In the 1960s and 1970s, when we were building up our petrochemical industries, the top management positions (in companies such as Shell) were not mainly Singaporeans either. But after a few decades, why is it that the top spots are held by Singaporeans?

"Because we allowed the previous generation the opportunity to create jobs not only for themselves, but also for this generation."

The same thing happened in the 1980s and 1990s, when Singapore's focus was on electronics and semiconductors, he said.

"Today, we have a whole generation of precision engineering firms, engineers to support the semiconductor industry, and have many spin-offs."

Sunday 30 August 2020

CareShield Life: Singapore's national disability insurance will be launched on 1 October 2020

MediSave Care, which allows cash withdrawals from MediSave accounts for long-term care needs will also launch in October 2020
By Ang Hwee Min, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Aug 2020

Long-term care support schemes CareShield Life and MediSave Care will be launched on Oct 1, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Friday (Aug 28).

The CareShield Life and Long-term Care Bill was passed in September 2019, allowing for Singaporeans born in 1980 or later, including those with pre-existing disabilities, to be enrolled in compulsory long-term disability insurance.

The MediSave Care scheme allows for cash withdrawals from MediSave accounts for long-term care needs.

CareShield Life was originally scheduled to launch in mid-2020, but was delayed because agencies and vendors had to reduce the “pace of development and testing work” due to COVID-19 safe distancing measures and the “circuit breaker” period, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong had said in June.

Singapore residents aged 30 to 40 in 2020 - or those born between 1980 and 1990, inclusive - will be the first cohorts to join the scheme from Oct 1 or their 30th birthday, whichever is later.

These individuals will receive a CareShield Life welcome package by Sep 2, or up to two months before their 30th birthday.

Subsequent cohorts, or those born after 1990, will automatically join the scheme when they turn 30, and will also receive a CareShield Life welcome package before they turn 30.

Those who are enrolled between 2020 and 2024 will receive up to S$250 in transitional subsidies, said the Health Ministry in a press release on Friday.

The scheme is optional for Singapore residents born in 1979 or earlier. Details on when these cohorts can join CareShield Life will be released in 2021, said MOH.

They will have the opportunity to join CareShield Life, with the option to switch from ElderShield towards the end of 2021. The launch of the scheme for existing cohorts was originally planned for mid-2021.

At S$600 per month in 2020, starting CareShield Life payouts for Singaporeans with severe disability will be higher than under the existing ElderShield Scheme, and will increase annually until age 67, or when a successful claim is made, said the Health Ministry.

While ElderShield pays out S$300 or S$400 per month for up to six years, CareShield Life’s higher payout lasts potentially for life, and as long as the person remains severely disabled.

Singapore residents can use MediSave to pay for their own CareShield Life premiums and for approved dependents, said MOH.

“No one will lose coverage because of an inability to pay their premiums,” said the ministry, adding that the Government will provide support measures to ensure that premiums remain affordable.

Up to two-thirds of households will be eligible for CareShield Life premium subsidies of up to 30 per cent, with permanent means-tested subsidies for lower- to middle-income Singapore residents, it added.

“Singapore citizens in financial need who are unable to pay for their premiums even after the premium subsidies can apply for additional premium support from the Government.”


Under MediSave Care, which also launches from Oct 1, Singapore residents aged 30 and above can tap on their own and their spouse’s MediSave accounts to withdraw cash of up to S$200 per month for long-term care needs, or a total of S$2,400 per year.

The amount that can be withdrawn is dependent on the MediSave account balance. A minimum of S$5,000 has to be set aside in the MediSave account “to ensure sufficient savings for other medical expenses such as hospitalisation and selected costly outpatient treatments”, said MOH.

Individuals whose MediSave account balances are insufficient can tap on their spouse’s MediSave account to supplement the withdrawal, up to a combined total of S$200 per month.

“As our population ages, we want to ensure that Singaporeans continue to have accessible and affordable long-term care. With CareShield Life, severely disabled Singaporeans can be assured that they will receive financial support for life,” said Mr Gan in Friday’s press release.

“They will also have another avenue to fund their long-term care needs, by tapping on their MediSave savings under MediSave Care," he added.

"Together with ElderFund, which provides discretionary government assistance to lower-income, severely disabled Singapore citizens, these schemes will collectively enhance support for long-term care costs.”

Claim applications for both schemes will be open from Oct 1, and interested applicants should arrange for a disability assessment by an MOH-accredited severe disability assessor and submit the scheme application to the Agency for Integrated Care.

Saturday 29 August 2020

Minimum salary for Employment Pass to rise to $4,500 from 1 September 2020; higher qualifying salary of $5,000 for financial services

Bar to hire foreigners raised

Employment Pass salary criterion to be raised to at least $5,000 for financial services sector from 1 December 2020

Employers who hire from abroad to pay more and have to look harder for locals for job first

Firms must advertise all S Pass jobs on portal for at least 28 days before hiring foreigners
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2020

From Sept 1, firms applying for new Employment Passes (EPs) for foreign professionals will need to pay them a fixed monthly salary of at least $4,500, up from $3,900 now.

The bar will be set higher for those in the financial services sector - from Dec 1, new EP holders will need to be paid at least $5,000, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday. This is the first time it has specified a higher qualifying salary for a certain sector.

Qualifying salaries for experienced candidates in their 40s will also be raised so that they remain around double the minimum salary for the youngest applicants.

The new criteria, which mark the biggest adjustment for EPs in the last decade, will take effect from May 1 next year for EP renewals.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the financial services sector was singled out because of the higher salary norms, as well as strong hiring capacity in the sector.

Locals are also interested and available to take on jobs in the sector, though some may need training support before they can be effective in those roles, she said, adding that the move complements efforts by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to encourage financial institutions to strengthen their pipeline of local talent.

MAS said yesterday that the higher salary criteria will further support hiring of Singaporeans in the sector, while allowing financial institutions to continue to complement their local workforce by tapping a global talent pool for deep skills and new expertise in areas such as cyber security, green finance and pandemic risk insurance.

MOM is also making several other changes to foreign work pass policies to support employment opportunities for locals as the COVID-19 crisis weighs on the job market.

For mid-skilled foreigners on S Passes, the minimum qualifying salary will be raised from $2,400 to $2,500 from Oct 1 for new applicants, and May 1 next year for renewals. The salary criteria for older and more experienced S Pass holders will be raised accordingly.

Firms will also have to advertise jobs on the portal for at least 28 days, up from 14 currently, before they can apply for a new EP or S Pass, from Oct 1. The advertising rule currently applied only to EP-level jobs.

Said Mrs Teo: "If you (employers) are in a position to consider candidates from different sources, then they must not favour foreign applicants over local applicants that are equally qualified or equally suitable for the job.

"We also want to emphasise this point, once again, to businesses, that they must make efforts to build up and retain their Singaporean core. This is critical, particularly in a climate and a time like this."

While highlighting the Government's support for businesses which hire more locals, she stressed that Singapore must remain an open and connected hub for international businesses.

"We do value the contributions of our foreign workforce because they do complement the local workforce in keeping Singapore an attractive host to investors from around the world," she said.

There were 190,000 EP holders and 189,000 S Pass holders here as of June, said MOM.

It said in a statement yesterday that the growth of EP and S Pass holders has slowed in recent years, even as the economy expanded.

For EP holders, growth slowed from an average of 13,000 a year in the first half of the last decade to less than 3,000 in the second half. The growth in the number of S Pass holders slowed from an average of 17,500 annually in the first half of the last decade to less than 6,000 annually in the second half.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said yesterday that the latest moves send a strong signal to employers to ensure fair consideration and treatment of Singaporeans, especially in the current climate.

But he added in his Facebook post: "With higher wage floors for foreign workers, we will need to pay attention to ensuring wage parity, in particular for Singaporeans who are performing similar jobs."

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Opening of 14th Parliament of Singapore on 24 August 2020

President Halimah Yacob spells out how Govt will lead Singapore in time of major change
It will have to be open to new ideas, rethink policies, but stay the course when needed
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2020

Singapore is at an inflection point and the country needs to understand the major changes taking place, both at home and abroad, as its rethinks its social models and policies to suit the new circumstances, President Halimah Yacob said yesterday.

This includes taking a fresh look at its crucial pillars of society, such as its concept of meritocracy, multiracialism, and the way Singapore conducts its politics, the President said at the opening of the 14th Parliament.

For the first time, the event took place at two locations - Parliament House and the Arts House - to ensure safe distancing due to Covid-19.

Sketching out the Government's plans and priorities for its new term in office, President Halimah noted that this takes place under the shadow of Covid-19, which has sharpened global fault lines and disrupted the stable international order under which Singapore has long thrived.

The pandemic has fuelled a new wave of protectionism and this is "especially challenging for Singapore, as we make our living by doing business with the world", she said.

At home, new generations coming of age have their own aspirations, such as a desire for more diverse voices to be heard and stronger checks and balances. New leaders are also emerging to take the country forward, she noted, adding that they would have to forge bonds and a new compact with the people.

"For Singapore to continue to succeed, we need to understand these changes in our external and domestic environments, rethink our problems and improve on our status quo," said President Halimah.

There is also a "great urgency to transform the economy and find new ways of making a living", including a push for sustainable growth and a greener future.

Singapore, she said, cannot take its hub status for granted, assuming that its role and scope would remain unchanged.

Securing jobs for Singaporeans will remain the Government's top priority for the next few years, but it must also ensure the benefits of progress are shared widely with all citizens, she said.

While meritocracy has served Singapore well for the past 55 years, the model has to evolve in tandem with the country's development, the same way social safety nets have been strengthened over the past decade.

As part of this shift in social policy, she said the Government will do more to support every Singaporean, at each stage of life.

"More redistribution cannot be the only way to level up those who are doing less well," she said. "We also have to continue strengthening social mobility and broadening our conception of merit."

And while multiracialism has been a core element of Singaporean identity since independence, it remains a work in progress, said the President. Younger Singaporeans want these issues discussed candidly, but it must be done with care, she added.

Singaporeans need to recognise that there are larger forces at play that will test the nation's solidarity and pull people in different directions, she said.

Urging against turning inward in the face of tough times, she said: "Our Singaporean identity has been formed and strengthened not by excluding those who arrive later, but by successive arrivals adding to the richness of our society."

On politics, the designation of a Leader of the Opposition reflects the larger number of opposition MPs in Parliament, and that both the Government and the opposition have roles to play to build trust in Singapore's public institutions and achieve good outcomes for the country, said the President.

The Government will be open to constructive criticism, rational debate and a new way of doing things, while the opposition should propose policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated besides raising questions and criticisms, she said.

"The key question is how to forge a common cause together, regardless of our own political inclinations," she said. "We need to base our rhetoric on a responsible sense of the realities, and come to a shared understanding about our goals and constraints."

For its part, the Government will evolve its policies, recognising that no solutions are right for all time, and will listen to new ideas objectively.

But where staying the course remains the best way forward, it will have to convince Singaporeans to persevere. The Government must not shy away from taking tough decisions in the national interest, or shirk the duty of winning support for such decisions, she added. "In all cases, we will seek to do what is best for Singapore and Singaporeans," she said.

Monday 24 August 2020

FTAs or CECA have not hurt Singaporeans' job prospects: DPM Heng Swee Keat

Bilateral agreements have not jeopardised employment opportunities for Singaporeans: DPM Heng
They can help attract investments from abroad and create better jobs, says DPM
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2020

Singapore's bilateral agreements with other countries have not jeopardised job opportunities for its citizens, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday. In fact, they have opened doors to better jobs.

Responding to criticisms about how free trade agreements or comprehensive economic cooperation agreements had caused Singapore to "sign away important protection for Singaporean (jobs)", Mr Heng said that such statements were totally false.

"In fact, what we are doing is to ensure that it creates better jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

These agreements can help draw in investments from abroad and, in turn, pave the way for Singaporean firms to invest overseas and be fairly treated there, he said. "This, in turn, creates jobs back home."

He stressed that the agreements do not mean that Singapore was negotiating away its rights to determine who becomes a citizen or a permanent resident here, or who gets awarded an employment pass.

It is Singapore's sovereign right to decide on these issues, he added.

But Mr Heng acknowledged that some may feel there are too many foreigners residing in Singapore. He cited residents' concerns about the large number of expatriates at Changi Business Park - which is part of East Coast GRC where Mr Heng is an MP.

Speaking during a virtual constituency event, he explained the reason for this was that Singapore was still growing expertise in certain sectors, and that the Republic was facing a shortage of manpower in technology and in risk management areas.

These areas were ones where the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also saw scope for improvement, when it recently said it would engage financial institutions in an effort to grow the Singaporean core of their workforce.

Mr Heng also assured Singaporeans that there are proper channels in place - such as the Fair Consideration Framework - for the Government to monitor and take action against companies which have discriminatory hiring practices.

He cited a group of 47 employers who were placed on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

MOM had said then that these employers will have their employment pass applications for foreign hires closely scrutinised, and those which are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.

During yesterday's event, which focused on support for workers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Heng said that more funds are being pumped into training Singaporeans.

Friday 21 August 2020

Singapore, A City In Nature: New 400ha Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network to be completed by 2022

Mangroves and wetlands in the north makes up Singapore’s second nature park network
400ha zone to include Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat Nature Park, and Sungei Buloh
By Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2020

More than 400ha of wetlands, marshes, nature parks and eco-corridors along the northern coast, which include Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the Kranji Marshes and the upcoming Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat Nature Park, have collectively become Singapore's second nature park network.

More than thrice the size of the wetland reserve, the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network safeguards wetland habitats and strengthens the conservation of wetland biodiversity in the northern region.

It will be complemented by the Round Island Route (RIR), an upcoming 150km recreational route around Singapore that will connect various green spaces through trails and park connectors. The RIR will be completed progressively by 2035.

The network is part of the country's aim to transition from a "city in a garden" to "a city in nature". The National Parks Board (NParks) aims to have at least an additional 200ha of nature parks by 2030.

The Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network includes an 18ha coastal nature park formerly referred to as the Western Extension. Now named Lim Chu Kang Nature Park, it links the wetland reserve to the Lim Chu Kang mangroves.

"The wetlands have food sources and are important nursery grounds for fish and refuelling sites for migratory birds. Mangroves are also very important in carbon sequestration and in mitigating coastal erosion," Dr Adrian Loo, group director of conservation at NParks, said yesterday.

Surrounding nature parks act as buffers against urbanisation, helping to conserve and protect core biodiversity areas such as wetlands and marshes that are filled with indigenous flora and fauna.

For instance, 279 species of birds have been recorded in the 130ha wetland reserve and the surrounding habitats. Preserving these ecologically interdependent areas in the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network will enhance the conservation of these birds.

Providing green cover, nature parks can also serve as habitats for wildlife and migratory birds.

The country's first nature park network is the 2,500ha Central Nature Park Network that protects the rainforest habitats around and within the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves.

There will be more than 15km of nature trails within the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network by 2022, when about 5km of new trails are added to Lim Chu Kang Nature Park and Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat Nature Park.

The Lim Chu Kang Nature Park will feature nature-inspired play spaces for children, while heritage buffs can look forward to a new exhibition gallery in the colonial-era Cashin House along the trail.

Built in 1920 for the Cashin family, who came from Ireland, the 100-year-old bungalow currently stands vacant at the end of a jetty in Lim Chu Kang which was used to transport rubber before Lim Chu Kang Road was built.

Cashin House has deteriorated beyond repair and suffers from dampness due its location on the edge of the shore.

The building will be reconstructed later this year, and is expected to be ready by 2022 to house a visitor gallery, seminar rooms for workshops and a sea-view terrace.

More HDB flat owners get help with mortgages as Singaporeans grapple with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Nearly 3 times more households received help with mortgage payments from the Housing Board from April to June 2020 than in same period last year
By Michelle Ng, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2020

A total of 1,356 households who could not meet their monthly mortgage payments received help from the Housing Board (HDB) from April to June this year, as Singaporeans grappled with the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The figure is nearly a threefold increase from the 517 households who found themselves in similar circumstances during the same period last year.

Of the 1,356 households assisted, two-thirds requested to defer their loan instalments or pay their loan arrears by instalment, HDB said yesterday, in response to e-mail queries from The Straits Times.

The remaining one-third of households received other forms of assistance, including the extension of their mortgage loan tenure to help reduce monthly instalments.

Taxi driver Edwin Leong was among those who received assistance. He had defaulted on two months of his housing loan by the time he called HDB for financial assistance in April.

The 41-year-old said his income plunged by more than half when Singapore went into a standstill during the two-month circuit breaker period.

"I was quite worried about the late fees and future payments, so I just decided to call HDB to try my luck and see if they can help me," said Mr Leong, the sole breadwinner and father to two children aged 10 and 13. His family lives in a five-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang.

Mr Leong opted to reduce his $670 monthly HDB loan instalment for six months till December and is now paying 40 per cent less than what he used to pay.

"The few hundred dollars has helped to lighten my load, so I'm not so stressed. Hopefully the COVID-19 situation is better by December, if not, I'm also not sure what to do," he said.

One of the relief measures to help Singaporeans through COVID-19 was the suspension of late payment charges on HDB mortgage arrears for three months from April to June. It was further extended for another three months to the end of September.

The current late payment charges is 7.5 per cent per annum based on the outstanding instalment amount at the end of the month.

Banks and finance companies have also been providing relief to those struggling to meet their loan repayments.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Government to pump in $8 billion more for COVID-19 support measures: DPM Heng Swee Keat in Ministerial Statement on 17 August 2020

Jobs Support Scheme to be extended by 7 months till March 2021
$1 billion Jobs Growth Incentive to boost hiring of local and older workers
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on and the impact on businesses and jobs mounts, support for employers to pay the wages of their workers will be extended and become more targeted.

In total, $8 billion more will be spent to save jobs, create new ones, and seize new growth opportunities, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

In a ministerial statement broadcast yesterday, Mr Heng said that the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), which comprises wage subsidies to help firms retain local workers, is ending soon and cannot be sustained at the current level.

"It draws heavily on our reserves and risks trapping our workers in unviable businesses. Some sectors are also recovering faster than others," explained Mr Heng.

While the JSS, which covers wages up to this month, will now be extended to cover wages paid up to March next year, the support is tiered based on how quickly each sector is expected to recover.

Firms in the hardest-hit aerospace, aviation and tourism sectors, which are currently getting 75 per cent wage support, will get 50 per cent wage support for seven more months.

The built environment sector will get 50 per cent support for two more months, before it is lowered to 30 per cent of wages paid up to March next year, in line with the phased resumption of construction activities. Most other sectors will get 10 per cent support for seven more months.

Those that are doing well, such as biomedical sciences, financial services, and infocommunications and technology, will get this amount of support up to December.

"Even at 10 per cent support, the payouts cover more than half of employers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions. This ensures that we continue to build up the CPF savings of our workers during the crisis," said Mr Heng.

The COVID-19 Support Grant, which was introduced in May to help Singaporeans who have been laid off or have suffered significant income loss, will be extended to December 2020. To qualify, unemployed applicants must demonstrate job search or training efforts. The application window, which was slated to end next month, will now reopen on Oct 1.

More lower-income workers - including those who have received or will be receiving Workfare for work done this year - stand to receive the $3,000 cash payout under the Workfare Special Payment.

The measures announced yesterday come on top of the nearly $100 billion committed under the four Budgets this year.

They will be funded by the reallocation of monies from other areas, such as development expenditures that were delayed due to COVID-19.

There are no plans to draw on past reserves beyond the $52 billion for which President Halimah Yacob's approval was obtained earlier.

The support has been extended amid a deepening recession, with gross domestic product shrinking by 6.7 per cent in the first half of the year. In the second quarter, the economy contracted by 13.2 per cent year on year, the worst on record.

Retrenchments more than doubled in the second quarter, with 6,700 workers laid off, up from 3,220 in the first quarter.

While no one knows what the post-COVID-19 world will look like, it will not be business as usual, given the intensification of the competition between the United States and China, the reconfiguration of global supply chains and the acceleration of digital shifts, Mr Heng said.

He acknowledged that it will be a difficult journey ahead, but assured Singaporeans, whom he called "one people with extraordinary courage, commitment and can-do spirit", that they will not walk alone.

"We have the fortitude - to improvise, adapt and overcome the uncertainties. We have the resilience - to weather the difficulties, turn challenges into opportunities and prepare for the future," he said.

"And we will stand in solidarity as one united Singapore - to beat this crisis and emerge stronger as a nation."

Sunday 16 August 2020

COVID-19 fatigue: 44% of people in Singapore tired of rules to limit coronavirus spread, says survey

Important to keep communicating need and rationale for measures, say experts
By Timothy Goh, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2020

With seven in 10 Singaporeans saying the COVID-19 outbreak has lasted longer than they anticipated, people are becoming weary of the rules to limit the spread of the virus, according to a Sunday Times survey of 1,000 people.

These rules include a ban on gatherings of more than five, and the need to mask up when outside.

It is natural for coronavirus fatigue to set in, according to experts such as Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"Wearing a mask every time we step out of the house is really not normal behaviour for us," he said, but the experts also agree that the authorities need to manage this to ensure Singapore's collective guard against the virus is not let down.

The online survey, which is representative of the Singapore resident population aged 16 and above, and was carried out by online market research firm Milieu Insight, showed that 44 per cent of people here are tired of following the necessary health measures. Of those surveyed, 27 per cent said that having to wear a mask was the most frustrating virus countermeasure.

One in five saw checking in with SafeEntry as a nuisance, while 14 per cent were unhappy about having to limit the size of physical gatherings with friends and family.

People were also unhappy about not being able to travel overseas, events being cancelled or postponed, and entry to public facilities being limited. Stadiums, swimming complexes and gyms, for instance, have a restricted operating capacity of 10 sq m per person.

Nearly four in 10 believed the rules were "a bit strict, but reasonable", while 5 per cent thought they were "overly restrictive".

Despite the fatigue, most respondents said they largely understood the rationale behind the rules and followed them.

When it came to masks, 76 per cent said they wore them properly all the time, while 20 per cent said they did so most of the time, even when no authorities were present.

Compliance was lower for social distancing, with 43 per cent saying they always kept their distance from others even when no authorities were around. Another 43 per cent mostly complied, with occasional lapses, while 10 per cent did so only from time to time.

The survey also found that younger people had been socialising with more groups outside their household each week since phase two of Singapore's reopening started on June 19, compared with those 35 and older.

Through strict safe distancing measures, Singapore recently managed to get the number of daily new infections down to below 90, with community cases remaining in the single digits. While these measures have to remain in place for the foreseeable future, experts said virus fatigue is a serious matter that the authorities should address.

"Society as a whole needs to acknowledge and address the presence of fatigue," said Prof Teo, believing that it was key for the authorities to continue communicating clearly with the public on the need and rationale for the measures.

He said Singapore's mandatory mask-wearing policy may seem "overbearing", but also highlighted why it was useful. Countries that only recommend their use tend to see a fall in the wearing of masks over time; in Singapore, there is a fine of $300 for a first offence.

Temasek calls out racist Facebook posts targeting its Indian employees; observers say posts show real tensions that need to be fixed

By Clement Yong and Ng Keng Gene, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2020

Temasek described as "racist", "false" and "divisive" Facebook posts targeting its Indian employees, standing by its hiring policies while calling for more civility on social media.

Posts have been circulating over the past week highlighting the LinkedIn accounts of Temasek's Indian employees, questioning why the investment firm is hiring foreigners instead of locals.

DBS Bank and Standard Chartered Bank have also come under similar criticism on social media, in what observers said are "real inter-group tensions" that need to be resolved.

Temasek said last Friday in its strongly worded statement: "Some of our colleagues from India have been targeted recently on social media by a divisive, racist campaign. This makes us very angry at the false claims perpetuated. The Singaporeans among us are also ashamed at such hateful behaviour on the Singapore social media."

The issue arose after the Ministry of Manpower earlier this month placed 47 employers - 30 of which were in the financial service and professional service sectors - on a watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

With the number of people working here, excluding maids, suffering the biggest quarterly contraction on record in the first three months of the year, competition for jobs among locals and foreigners has become a hot-button issue.

While much of the decline was due to significant cutbacks in the number of foreign workers, local employment also dropped slightly, the ministry's labour market report released in June showed.

Temasek said 90 per cent of its 600-strong staff at its headquarters in Singapore are Singaporeans or permanent residents, a ratio similar to that of its senior leadership.

Globally, the nationality mix of its employees is about 60 per cent Singaporean and 40 per cent other nationals, of whom around 10 per cent are Singapore PRs.

The top five groups of foreigners it hires are those from China, the United States, India, Britain and Malaysia.

While it will continue to provide opportunities for its Singaporean workers, Temasek emphasised that it "will be foolish of us not to tap the global pool of talent".

"There is not only value in diversity, but the cross-fertilisation of experiences and ideas across geographies, and the ability to connect the diverse dots, has become one of our key strengths," it added.