Friday, 18 June 2021

Census 2020: Singapore population growth at slowest pace since 1965

More staying single while those who marry are having fewer babies, latest census shows
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2021

Singapore's population grew at its slowest pace since independence, with more residents staying single and even those who marry having fewer babies.

The nation's sixth census since independence in 1965 also found other key trends set in motion decades ago to have solidified further. Singapore residents of all ages and races are now better educated and more do not consider themselves as having a religion.

Conducted once every 10 years, the census is the largest national survey undertaken here on key characteristics of the population such as demographic, social, economic and employment trends.

More findings from the Census of Population 2020 will be released tomorrow.

Over the past 10 years, Singapore's total population grew by 1.1 per cent each year - the lowest decade of growth since independence.

The number of citizens grew from 3.23 million to 3.52 million, while the number of permanent residents held steady at around half a million.

The population is ageing. Those aged 65 years and older formed 15.2 per cent of the resident population last year, a marked rise from 9 per cent in 2010.

In a trend that has implications for continued population growth, the proportion of singles rose across all age groups over the past 10 years, with the sharpest increase among younger Singaporeans aged 25 to 34 years.

Less-educated men were more likely to stay single, whereas the opposite was true of women.

Women, especially if they were more educated, had fewer children. The average number of children born per resident woman aged 40 to 49 years who had ever been married fell from 2.02 in 2010 to 1.76 last year.

Within this age group, women who were university graduates had an average of 1.66 children last year - marking a steady decline from 1.74 children 10 years ago and 1.95 in 2000.

Singaporeans are also better educated. Among residents aged 25 years and over, almost six in 10 (58.3 per cent) attained post-secondary or higher qualifications, up from less than half (46.5 per cent) in 2010. The Chinese, Malay and Indian communities all saw improvements.

Women closed the educational gap with men in each successive cohort. When it came to those aged 25 to 34 years, the proportion of women (90.2 per cent) with post-secondary or higher qualifications exceeded men (90 per cent).

English was the language most frequently spoken at home for 48.3 per cent of residents aged five years and over last year, up from 32.3 per cent in 2010. Most of them also spoke a vernacular language at home.

There are growing numbers of Singaporeans who cite no religious affiliation.

The proportion was 20 per cent last year, up 3 percentage points from a decade ago. This number was 15 per cent in 2000.

The increase took place across all age groups and most types of educational qualifications.

At a media briefing on Monday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah said the census data showed Singaporeans had enjoyed significant progress over the past 10 years, and that the country remains multiracial, multi-religious and multilingual.

Observing that Singapore citizens account for a greater proportion of population growth in this decade, she said: "Singaporeans who wish to start and raise families remain a priority because we want to grow the Singapore population, the Singapore core. At the same time, we have to supplement our population with some immigration, because we also need to support our economy. But that has to be very carefully calibrated."

Saturday, 12 June 2021

The 3Cs of Racism in Singapore: CECA, COVID-19 and Culture clash

Fighting racism means calling it out, in public and online, rather than shrugging it off to keep up the pretence of getting along.
By Chua Mui Hoong, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2021

Racism has been much in the news after a video was widely circulated of a Chinese man scolding an Indian man, who was out with his girlfriend, for preying on Chinese girls. The Chinese man was heard on video calling their relationship a disgrace and saying they should date within their own race.

Mr Dave Parkash, 26, is of Indian-Filipino descent and his girlfriend Jacqueline Ho, 27, is half-Thai and half-Chinese Singaporean. The encounter was filmed by Ms Ho and made public by Mr Parkash, and rapidly went viral.

This came after an incident last month, when a Singaporean Indian woman out exercising with her face mask on that left her nose uncovered, was asked to wear her mask properly, and then reportedly kicked in her chest by a Chinese man uttering racial slurs.

Many have spoken up against these incidents, which are being investigated by the police.

Watching the latest video, I wondered what was on the Chinese man's mind when he accosted Mr Parkash thus in public. If you listen to his words, he appears to be making an assumption that many other Chinese Singaporeans will agree with him - that it is a disgrace to date outside one's race.

What struck me was not his sentiment - many of us would have heard similar comments on social media, or from relatives and friends. What struck me was how such bigoted views, once privately expressed in closed groups, were being expressed in public. As Irish writer Oscar Wilde observed, hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, so keeping mum on one's private bigoted views at least acknowledges the virtue of social norms that frown on the expression of such unsavoury views.

That the lecturer felt able to confront Mr Parkash publicly with his own bigoted views made me wonder if he felt others in society would agree with him.

That was what made me uncomfortable - the realisation that in Singapore, we may be creating a social environment where people think it is acceptable to mouth racist words and to chide those from minority communities for failing to conform to certain expectations.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who has been quick to call out such racist incidents in the past, shared on his Facebook page: "I used to believe that Singapore was moving in the right direction on racial tolerance and harmony. Based on recent events, I am not so sure anymore."

Are things getting worse? If so, what has changed, and how did we get here?

The 3Cs: CECA and COVID-19 and culture clash

Several forces converge to expose existing fault lines on race.

First is the CECA factor. Short for the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, CECA is a free trade agreement between Singapore and India that eases the movement of goods, services and people between the two countries, allowing for easier business travel and for intra-company transfers. It has been blamed for facilitating the entry of Indian migrants to compete for jobs with Singaporeans.

Sociological theories on racism include a view that racism springs from resource competition. In this view, prejudice towards another race is due to competitive pressure for jobs, status or political power.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Singapore to ease COVID-19 curbs in two phases from 14 June 2021

Gradual Re-opening to Phase 3 (Heightened Alert)
Group sizes upped to 5 from June 14, dining in to resume from June 21
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2021

Tighter measures currently in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19 will be eased progressively from next Monday (June 14).

In a statement on Thursday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said Singapore will gradually reopen and move to phase three (heightened alert) in two steps.

Here are the key announcements.

1. Cap on social gatherings to be raised from two people to five from June 14

The current two-person limit on group social gatherings will be raised to five from next Monday.

The same two-person cap on the number of unique daily visitors to a household will also be raised to five.

MOH said such gatherings should still be limited to small groups of regular contacts, to reduce the likelihood of transmission. Groups of up to five per room will be allowed for hotel stays, up from two currently.

It advised the public to limit the number of social gatherings to no more than two a day.

2. Event size and capacity limits to be raised from June 14

Attractions, cruises, museums and public libraries will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent of their normal capacity from June 14, up from the current 25 per cent.

Event sizes will also be increased, and live performances and spectator sports events will be allowed to resume.

Events such as movie screenings at cinemas, events in the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) industry, worship services and marriage solemnisation outside the home will be able to resume with up to 250 attendees, if pre-event testing (PET) is conducted.

For marriages, the cap includes the wedding couple but not solemnisers or vendors.

Solemnisations held at home will be allowed for groups of up to five visitors, excluding members of the hosting household, or up to 10 attendees in total, whichever is higher.

PET will not be required for events with 50 or fewer attendees.

From Monday, personal care services which require masks to be removed, such as facials, will be allowed to resume.

But unmasking and singing or playing wind instruments, as well as wedding receptions with dining in, can resume only from June 21.

3. Dining in only from June 21

These are considered high-risk settings, MOH said.

It reminded F&B establishments to strictly observe 1m safe distancing between groups of diners.

Groups must also be limited to five people, and patrons must wear their masks at all times except while eating and drinking.

Wedding receptions will be allowed for up to 100 attendees - a number which includes the couple but not the solemnisers or vendors - with PET in place for all attendees.

PET will be required for only the wedding party of up to 20 attendees if the reception has 50 or fewer total attendees.

4. Gyms, sports and tuition classes to resume from June 21

From June 21, fitness studios and gyms may resume activities which involve removing one's mask, with safe distancing of at least 2m between individuals (even within a group) and 3m between groups of individuals.

Sports classes, both indoors and outdoors, will be limited to 30 people, including the instructor, and groups must consist of no more than five people.

In-person tuition and enrichment classes for those aged 18 and below may also be allowed to resume from June 21. These include classes involving singing or the playing of wind instruments.

5. Working from home remains the default; targeted support measures to continue

Employers must ensure that employees who can work from home continue to do so even as Singapore reopens gradually, MOH said.

This is so overall footfall and interactions in public are kept low, thereby reducing the risk of infections.

For those who need to return to the workplace, their start times should be staggered and they should be allowed flexible working hours.

Employers will still not be allowed to cross-deploy workers to multiple work sites.

From June 21 to 30, the affected sectors will receive 10 per cent JSS support.

The Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund for taxi and private-hire drivers will also be extended for three more months.

This will be set at $300 per vehicle each month for the first two months, and $150 per vehicle for the third month.

6. Regular testing for staff in higher-risk activities and sale of self-test kits

Regular testing will be implemented for staff working in F&B establishments with dining in, personal-care services requiring the removal of masks, and gyms or fitness studios where customers are unmasked.

The "fast and easy" testing regime will, for example, use antigen rapid tests (ART) for all staff regardless of vaccination status.

ART self-test kits will also be sold at retail pharmacies such as Guardian, Unity and Watsons from June 16.

More details on these kits will be available from June 16, the MOH said.

Sales will initially be limited to 10 kits per person.

7. Vaccination bookings for those aged 12 to 39 to begin on June 11

Singaporeans aged 12 to 39 will be able to register online for vaccination and book an appointment from Friday.

MOH said the booking link may take up to two weeks to be sent to those who register, as more appointment slots for vaccination open up when more supplies arrive.

The rest of the resident population will be invited to register in the coming months.

Those who had earlier recovered from Covid-19 infection are recommended to receive just a single dose of the vaccine, MOH said.

This is because those who have recovered in the last six months are likely to still have strong immunity.

Children under the age of 18 will require parental consent to book an appointment.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Cleaners in Singapore to see wages increase over 6 years from 2023 under progressive wage model

Move set to benefit 40,000 workers across 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2021

Cleaners will see their wages continue to go up each year from 2023, over six years, after proposals by a tripartite committee on the cleaning wage ladder were accepted by the Government yesterday.

From 2023 to 2028, the base wages of Singaporean and permanent resident cleaners across all job levels will increase each year. This will benefit about 40,000 cleaners across about 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore.

The first adjustment in 2023 will see base wages of general and indoor cleaners increase by, for example, almost 20 per cent from $1,312 next year to $1,570.

The move is meant to narrow the income disparity between cleaners and other workers. Under previous updates to the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) in 2016 and 2018, cleaners were slated to get 3 per cent annual wage increases from last year to next year.

The latest wage increases were among new recommendations made by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC), after it conducted another round of reviews of the model.

The PWM, a ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels, was launched in the cleaning sector by the TCC in 2012. It has been a compulsory condition since 2014 for the licensing of cleaning companies.

The TCC - which comprises representatives from the labour movement, industry, service buyers and the Government - also recommended having cleaners trained in workplace safety and health protocols by the end of next year.

This is to ensure their personal safety when carrying out cleaning tasks, especially in the light of increased cleaning demands due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Employers should also send cleaners for one of the core Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) modules identified by the TCC for their relevant job levels.

The PWM training guidelines had earlier required that all resident cleaners attain the minimum two WSQ certificates next year.

With the latest recommendations, cleaners will have until December next year to complete the two modules.

Ms Phyllis Lim, deputy director of the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) U Care Centre, which supports low-wage workers, said in a press statement yesterday that training class sizes have been reduced to adhere to Covid-19 safe management measures.

"The new timeline is to allow sufficient time for cleaning businesses to comply with the training requirements... By the end of 2022, they should be able to send their cleaners (for the modules)."

Another recommendation was that beyond 2025, cleaners in lower job rungs must complete one additional module, while those in higher job rungs must complete two extra modules.

The list of WSQ training modules has been updated, and will periodically be updated to ensure its relevance, the TCC said.

The Ministry of Manpower, National Environment Agency, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore said in a joint statement yesterday that the recommendations will "ensure significant wage growth and skills upgrading for cleaners, and develop a more competent and productive cleaning workforce".

They said: "Together, our collective whole-of-society efforts will uplift our lower-wage workers."

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said in a Facebook post: "I am glad that many of us are more aware of the value of work our cleaners do... Pandemic or not, uplifting the lives of our lower-wage workers matters to us."

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Singapore planning for a new normal of living with endemic COVID-19: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Test, Trace and Vaccinate.

Plans for new normal with people living with virus in their midst
PM Lee sketches scenario where Singaporeans can go about their daily lives with an endemic disease
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Singapore is planning for a new normal, where its people can carry on with their lives while the virus is in their midst, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Addressing the nation in a live broadcast, PM Lee sketched out a scenario where people will be able to go to work and meet their friends, take part in large-scale events such as concerts, and eventually even go around without masks outdoors.

Singapore is still "some ways off from this happy state, but we are heading in the right direction", said PM Lee.

The country will get there if people continue to work together, such as by keeping up vaccination rates, taking annual booster shots and getting tested for Covid-19 often.

Before that, Singapore must raise its game and adjust its strategies in the next chapter of the fight to deal with the more infectious variants of the coronavirus that have emerged, PM Lee said as he outlined the nation's adjusted three-pronged strategy.

This means people have to get used to routinely being tested for the virus at different settings such as offices and shopping malls, with such tests set to get used more proactively and extensively.

The other two parts of the strategy are casting a wider net during contact tracing to isolate close contacts more quickly, and an accelerated national vaccination programme that prioritises first-dose vaccinations.

"If we stay united and continue to work together, we will be able to progressively open up and achieve our aim," he said.

While the global pandemic will eventually subside, Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic disease that is not fully eradicated among humans, said PM Lee.

This means that Singapore must expect to see small outbreaks of the disease here from time to time, he added.

"Our aim must be to keep the community as a whole safe, while accepting that some people may get infected every now and then."

The way Covid-19 will be managed will then be closer to the way the common flu or dengue fever is tackled, through public health measures and personal precautions.

As in the case of the flu, regular vaccinations could be part of the strategy, he said.

In the new normal, testing for Covid-19 will also be more frequent, but it will be fast and easy, he added.

For instance, suitable tests can be rapidly deployed before a football game or a wedding reception, providing assurance to participants that the event is Covid-19-safe.

Those whose occupations involve close contact with many people that could result in superspreading events will also be tested more routinely, said PM Lee. These include cabbies, bus drivers, fitness instructors and teachers, alongside those who are already on rostered routine testing such as construction workers and those who work at shipyards, air and sea ports.

Different Covid-19 tests that are now available include antigen rapid tests, saliva tests, breathalysers and even DIY kits that can soon be bought over the counter, PM Lee noted.

Living with endemic Covid-19 also means the country does not completely close its borders, he added.

"We need food, essential supplies, workers, business and other travellers to keep on flowing. We must stay connected to the world, with effective safeguards and border restrictions to keep Singaporeans safe," he said.

"We will not be able to prevent some infected persons from slipping through from time to time. But as long as our population is mostly vaccinated, we should be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak."

Singapore's priority now is to get through the pandemic and position itself strongly for the future even as the virus continues to rage around it, said PM Lee.

He pledged that the country will emerge tougher and more confident than before, having experienced and overcome Covid-19 together as one nation.

"In this new normal, the countries which are united, disciplined and put in place sensible safeguards will be able to reopen their economies, reconnect to the rest of the world (to) grow and prosper," said PM Lee.

"Singapore will be among these countries."