During his speech at the Budget 2023 debate, Mr Gerald Giam, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, highlighted the need to moderate rental costs for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), make less glamorous jobs more attractive to Singaporeans, and provide solutions to moderate resale flat prices.
Citing the Singapore Business Federation’s latest National Business Survey, which highlighted the key challenges faced by businesses in Singapore, including the availability and retention of manpower, raw material costs, energy costs, manpower costs, and rental costs, Mr Giam suggested that while higher manpower costs can improve the welfare of workers, high rental costs benefit a narrow segment of society, namely landlords and property owners, at the expense of tenants, especially SMEs.
He proposed that to moderate industrial and commercial rental costs for SMEs, the government could expand JTC’s market share for industrial space that offers more low-rent options to SMEs, and HDB could offer lower rent commercial spaces allocated by ballot, to stimulate micro-businesses and entrepreneurship in the heartlands.
Mr Giam stated, “We should not allow a small group of people to prosper while the majority of Singaporeans struggle to make ends meet.”
He then discussed the challenges faced by workers in Singapore, particularly those in industries that heavily rely on foreign workers and highlighted the need to attract more Singaporeans to work in these industries and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign workers,
Mr Giam noted that despite the Government having introduced several programmes, such as career conversion and professional conversion initiatives, to equip those who have decided to switch to these industries, there has been less success in urging local workers to switch to these industries in the first place.
“We need to do more to address the perception that these industries are less attractive or prestigious than other sectors like finance, technology, and law. While there are certainly differences between jobs in these sectors, we should not perpetuate the perception that some jobs are simply more respectable or lucrative than others.”
He added that if the industries that are currently lacking in local workers can provide better pay, training and career pathways, and better work-life balance, they will be able to attract more locals to join them.
Mr Giam also suggested that schools can work with industry representatives to introduce these career opportunities to students as early as lower secondary school, increasing awareness of these industries among young people.
He stated, “If we can start early and raise awareness of the opportunities available in these industries, students and their parents will be more aware of the career prospects in these industries and be better equipped to make informed career choices when they are graduating from school.”
While the increase in the CPF Housing Grant will be welcomed by many first-time homebuyers, Mr Giam cautioned that the increased grant amount may also raise demand and prices of resale flats.
He suggested that the Government should provide more information on its projections to help Members assess the net effect of the CPF Housing Grant increase.
Mr Giam also proposed alternative solutions to moderate resale flat prices, such as providing more help to “empty nesters” who are prepared to sell their larger flats to obtain 2-room flexi flats and Community Care Apartments, requiring future buyers of private property to sell their HDB flats, and incentivising those who currently own both a private property and an HDB flat to sell their flat by rebating the Additional Buyer Stamp Duty they paid on their private property.