2021 Labour Day Message by Red Dot United
“Happy Labour Day” is meaningless if we don’t put “happiness” first for workers. This Labour Day RDU calls for:
- Normalising of mental wellness for workers
- Better protection of gig economy workers
- Creation of careers and not just job opportunities
- Enacting of law against ageism to give peace of mind to older workers
- Empathy and fairness to our migrant workers
THE WOES OF OUR WORKERS IN THE WORST RECESSION SINGAPORE HAS SEEN
It has been more than a year since the Circuit Breaker was first announced. Many Singaporeans and local businesses – especially small businesses – are suffering because of some of the tough requirements put in place because of the pandemic. Singaporeans have not only suffered but have also sacrificed much, since the coronavirus hit our shores from Wuhan, China on 20 January 2020.
Although the Singapore economy is tipped to roar back to life this year from the worst recession in its history, the story will not be the same for many, many, workers and their bosses. A survey by DBS in August last year suggested that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is much deeper and broader than the official numbers suggested and affected the lower-incomed disproportionately.
There is also anecdotal evidence that the ongoing crisis has hit older and more experienced workers the hardest as they are often perceived as inflexible and unable to quickly adapt to fast-moving work environments compared to younger workers. Data from 2019 showed that six months after being laid off, 76.3 percent of those in their 30s found another job, compared to 65.8 percent of workers in their 40s and 52.2 percent of those in their 50s. The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced older workers into involuntary retirement.
The coronavirus-induced recession has also had an impact on our young people who are entering the workforce. Instead of looking forward to more secure full-time jobs with meaningful salaries, they have had to settle for impermanent traineeships and allowances. Saddled with student loans, many from these vulnerable group of new workers would not have had the luxury of time to wait and choose a better job offer.
Another group most affected by the COVID-19 crisis is the gig economy workers. There is an upward trend of people relying on the gig economy as their primary source of income instead of formal work. Statistics show that the number of locals who regularly freelanced from mid-2019 to mid-2020 reached 228,200 – the highest level in at least five years. These workers lack the job protection and benefits that many formal workers have.
There are no easy answers to the challenges such groups of workers face in Singapore. But one thing is for certain: the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on the mental health of all local workers.
DO MORE TO SUPPORT THE MENTAL WELLBEING OF WORKERS
One recent survey said that seven in ten employees reported that they felt stressed on some level in the past six months. The findings from Singapore were the highest compared to those in four other countries.
With the blurring of work life boundaries with work-from-home arrangements and greater job uncertainty as a result of the pandemic, it is understandable why workers will feel stressed in a crisis.
The Government too understands the importance of mental wellbeing of workers. In November, it released an advisory for mental wellbeing at the workplace. In February, it also launched an online self-administered psychosocial health assessment tool, called iWorkHealth, to help companies and their employees identify common workplace stressors which affect mental wellbeing.
With its vast resources, the Government can do far more than pushing the responsibility for mental health to the human resource departments of companies. It can help to transform the culture of stigma associated to mental wellness to that of acceptance and inclusion.
On this Labour Day, Red Dot United (RDU) urges the Government to consider legislation to normalise mental wellness of our workers.
Ravi Philemon, secretary-general of RDU, said: “In Singapore, mental illnesses are covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act, but only if they are proven to be linked to work accidents. Is this enough?”
“Legislation in first world countries like Australia and Germany offer more to better protect mental wellbeing of their workers. Workers there can make claims for psychological injuries or mental disorders that are work-related and the laws also require employers to carry out workplace risk assessments, which includes psychosocial hazards.”
“At the heart of such legislation will be the happiness of the workers,” he added.
BETTER PROTECT GIG ECONOMY WORKERS
RDU also proposes that more protections be offered to workers working under the gig economy. There is a need to look at the classification of workers as employees or independent contractors. The Employment Act could be revised to clamp down on errant employers, preventing them from abusing the distinction between employees and independent contractors in order to avoid giving benefits and protections to employees by classifying them as independent contractors.
We are especially concerned that the recently announced hike in petrol prices will hurt the livelihoods of many Singaporeans who have turned to providing ride hailing services or delivery services in this economic downturn. The increased petrol tax will directly translate into a drop in their income. We urge the Government to delay the petrol tax increase until better infrastructure is developed to support electric car adoption.
BOTH YOUNG AND OLD DESERVE CAREERS, NOT JUST JOB OPPORTUNITIES
The Government can do more for our workers by focusing on creating good jobs – a career that can give our young jobseekers hope of a more comfortable life with their families. Creating just job opportunities – or worse, temporary jobs and internships – are poor substitutes.
RDU recognises that in this age of rapid technological disruptions, many jobs would become redundant and that when they do, workers will have to reskill to match the needs of the job market. But for many older workers landing a good job with designations and salaries matching their previous ones is an unachievable one – even after they reskill and upgrade. One main reason for this is ageism. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) said last year that one in 10 complaints it received was related to age discrimination.
For at least a decade, the Government has tried moral suasion to persuade employers to not unfairly discriminate against older workers, and failed. Today if you are in your 40s, you are considered to be ‘too old’ for the job by many employers.
RDU proposes that the Government study enacting laws to make discrimination on account of age illegal. We just have to look at countries like Australia and Canada to see how such a law has has helped older workers and given them a peace of mind that they would have a fair shake in the job market.
To help our older workers better, we can also explore reversing the current “train first, jobs later” approach and match workers to jobs before they go through an OJT or training programmes. Salary support for such a scheme can come from government to incentivise companies to hire such people and train them. The Professional Conversion Program, where the government pays up to $4,000 monthly salary to the company when they hire and re-train the employee in place, can be revamped and expanded to support such an initiative.
NEVER FORGET OUR MIGRANT WORKERS
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the contributions of migrant workers to our nation. Our migrant workers continued to serve as essential workers, keeping Singapore clean and safe against the coronavirus. Our migrant workers have been actively contributing to the development of Singapore’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, buildings and shipyards, for decades. The shiny metropolis we take so much pride in as Singaporeans would not have existed without their toil, sweat and tears.
Despite their contributions, they often remain a nameless cog in the state machinery and the mantra of eternal progress. We cannot continue to see migrant workers as economic digits to keep Singapore Inc. humming, but as human beings who need the protection of the State.
We implore the authorities to extend fairness and empathy to our migrant workers and recognise that ferrying them on the back carriages of lorries is wrong. The Government must review safety measures for workers being transported on cargo decks of lorries and make it mandatory for companies to transport workers safely in buses or vans.
With a lack of clarity on when the pandemic will ease and with the flaring-up of new COVID-19 cases in dormitories, our migrant workers are hit the hardest in Singapore.
We call on the Government to provide mental health assistance proactively for our migrant workers confined to dormitories, make sure they get good and culturally appropriate food and work towards flattening the curve of the infections.
REDUCE ANXIETY TO CREATE A HAPPY WORKFORCE
We cannot see the present clearly, much less the future, when we are constantly worrying about issues like our jobs and our retirement adequacy. We cannot take on the future when we are overly anxious about failing and how to bounce back if we do.
This is why we must purposefully work towards reducing the unnecessary anxiety levels for all workers in Singapore by providing them better protection and more opportunities.
Human capital is perhaps the only natural resource that Singapore has, and Singaporeans are among the most hardworking workers in the world. This is why we have to invest heavily in our workforce and make sure that they are happy.
This Labour Day, our wish is for all our workers to be happy. And with happiness comes higher morale and productivity.