There is no amount of unemployment benefits can compensate for not having a job, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Facebook post on Wednesday (3 June).
Wary of Singapore’s unemployment issue, Mr Shanmugaratnam cautioned, “We must absolutely avoid what we have seen in many other places, where unemployment keeps rising – first to 10%, then higher, and governments and people begin treating that as normal after a while.
“We also cannot wait for the employment market to recover and to solve these problems on its own. The longer that those in mid-career are left out of work, the more their skills fade, and the less likely it is that they get a good job again. And when young people graduate from their education and find themselves waiting for years to get a serious job – like in many European countries – their hopes and ambitions fall apart.”
He continued, “No amount of unemployment benefits can compensate for not having a job, and for the social stagnation and loss of optimism about the future that comes when a large segment of the population feels redundant and out of sorts. We must never get there.”
Mr Shanmugaratnam, who is also the chairman of National Jobs Council, said that the Council will create more jobs and training opportunities on a scale well beyond any past experience, while “special attention” will be given to the middle-aged and mature Singaporean workers.
“No employer should think that someone is ‘too old to hire’. Or think that those with higher skills are simply ‘over-qualified’ or ‘not adaptable enough’,” he noted.
Mr Shanmugaratnam asserted that the Government is providing “very strong support for employers”, adding that every employer must be part of the national team to tackle the jobs challenge.
“Those who prefer to stay on the sidelines will find themselves being asked tough questions by MOM about how they are abiding by the Fair Consideration Framework,” he added.
In his post, Mr Shanmugaratnam also highlighted that Singapore is facing a “major and urgent challenge” in the coming months, as many more people will be exposed to the risk of losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the gradual lifting of the circuit breaker.
“The sheer uncertainty facing the world – no one can tell how long COVID-19 will last – will mean that we will have far fewer new job openings than jobs being lost – over the next year, and beyond that if we are unlucky,” he remarked.
Hinting that everyone must work together to overcome this challenge, Mr Shanmugaratnam pointed out that the basic aim of the Government is “to defend jobs wherever we can, and help people bounce back into work when they lose their jobs”.
Considering that many people are struggling to find a job, he asserted that the Government will have to create “other opportunities to be at work”, which include temporary jobs, short and long internships, and other forms of training at workplaces.
Mr Shanmugaratnam explained that these opportunities will give skills, exposure, and experience for the people to carry with them into their longer-term career opportunities.
“We need to face the near future with that combination of realism about the global economy and local hiring plans, and bold ambition to create large numbers of new opportunities to be at work and learn at work.
“We have to do this on a scale well beyond any past experience – certainly beyond what we faced during the Global Financial Crisis or SARS. We aim to create 100,000 such opportunities in the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package that DPM Heng announced in the Fortitude Budget,” he remarked.
Acknowledging that this aim will be of a challenge, Mr Shanmugaratnam affirmed that the Government could succeed with “tight coordination among tripartite partners, and by going beyond established ways”.
“We will use every way possible to create these opportunities, in both the public and private sectors,” he added.
Chaired by Mr Shanmugaratnam, the National Jobs Council held its first meeting on Wednesday to discuss the priority areas for achieving the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package based on the consideration of the COVID-19 impact on the outlook for jobs.
The Council comprises 17 members, including Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, as well as other labour and business associations’ representatives.
Netizens express concern on the job opportunities given to migrant workers and foreigners instead of local citizens
While some netizens felt optimistic with the Government’s initiatives, many others expressed their concerns as more job opportunities were given to the migrant workers and foreigners than to the local citizens.
To encourage more Singaporeans take up the jobs which are currently occupied by migrant workers, such as construction and manufacturing sectors, they suggested that the Government should try to change the public perception towards some industries by having industry experts to offer deeper perspectives and knowledge in respective sectors.
Another netizen highlighted the imbalance working hours of the security service industry, calling for the Government to conduct a review on the terms in employment contract, such as working hours and salary, so as to attract more locals to consider the jobs.
Meanwhile, some netizens expressed their appreciation towards Mr Shanmugaratnam for focusing on the middle-aged workers, as they felt that the middle-aged workers have been receiving unfair treatment when looking for a job, particularly during this trying period.
Apart from creating more job opportunities, one netizen also hoped that the Government would make contingency withdrawal of CPF available to those who are facing long-term unemployment and difficulty coping with the changing economy.
“The current budget remedies may help for the short term but for this group they need sustained help otherwise we should be prepared to have the new poor in society.”