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Disappointed with NTUC chief’s top 3 priorities

Gilbert Goh / Writer

I refer to the article, "Labour movement's top 3 priorities" (ST, 3 Jan). 

I must say that I am disappointed when I read Labour chief Mr Lim Swee Say's top 3 priorities for Singaporeans in this down time. Frankly, they are no different from those policies that were adopted in the past few crises that we had.

The first priority of saving costs to save jobs is almost perfunctory as companies will continue to prim and trim its workforce to cope with the recession. Many I fear will be retrenched as this is the fastest and most cost effective way of reducing cost in any organisation.

The constant call for retraining since last year is also an old tactic that was developed during the Sars crisis as back then many manufacturing companies were moving off to other third world contries due to lower production cost. Workers that were laid off were retrained so that they could join other sectors. I agree that such retraining back then was successful in plugging the unemployment hole. 

However, the current crisis seems to have hit many PMEs (professional, mangerial and executive) right now. This group of people is highly qualified and may not benefit from such retraining. Retraining I feel is best suited to lower-end workers who can be easily upgraded to take on certain jobs in the healthcare or hospitality sectors. Professionals like accountants and engineers are harder to be retrained and  redeployment to other industries can also be unsuitable due to the much lower salary range and different skills set. For example, an accountant will have difficulty taking on a healthcare job due to the much lower salary and status.

More can be done to help this growing group of unemployed who continues to be left out of government initiatives. For  a start, they should have access to some useful programmes such as support group activities and job counselling. They can also hopefully be able to tap on some funds for courses that are best suited to their professional needs. Many will benefit from master or another degree programme that will enhance their employability when the market turns around.  More truly can be done to help this PMEs group who continue to be marginalised from any government initiaitves in any downturn so far.

As our government, so far, is against providing unemployment benefit for the jobless, a collective  programme of providing at least one  percentage of our income, subject to a miniumum sum, can be introduced to a pool fund. This fund can then be used to provide unemployment welfare  to those deserving breadwinners who right now have no support whatsoever once they have lost their job. How many of us can truthfully say that we have set aside six months of our income to provide for such contingency, for example? Many of us barely scrap by even when we are working.

The unemployed currently face the constant challenge of having to find employment in a very difficult labour situation and yet still have to  continue to tap on resources to pay bills on a regular basis. Many succumb to their situation and face psychological problems of various sorts  as  unemployment drags for many months. More programmes need to be introduced by the various family service centers (FSC) so that the unemployed can tap on such resources to find support and relief.

I hope that the labour movement will continue to explore unorthodox ways to solve the current deepending crisis. It is when we are creative in providing new solutions and not keep on relying on old tricks to solve new problem that we can see a progressive Singapore emerging victorious from a  very difficult year ahead.

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