On Wednesday afternoon (2 Sept), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke in Parliament about Singapore’s response to Covid-19.
Low-wage workers are the most vulnerable in the workforce, and Singapore needs to support them to improve their lives so they can catch up and narrow the gap with the rest of society, said PM Lee.
Historically, older workers are valuable and possess experience, and tend to draw higher salaries than younger workers.
However, their skills may be less current and if they lose their jobs, it will be more difficult for them to find a similar job — making them more vulnerable to long-term unemployment.
Helping Older Workers Upskill
Support such as unemployment insurance can offer older workers transient relief at best, he said. But retraining and upskilling older workers will enable employers to continue finding value in them.
As a result, the older worker can also find a new job more easily if he or she were to get retrenched.
This is a structural solution that helps older workers get their careers back on track, said PM Lee, noting that the best unemployment insurance is the assurance of another job.
He mentioned that the Workfare Income Supplement has made a material difference to them. The Progressive Wage Model has benefitted them as well, and will subsequently be extended to more sectors over time.
He also mentioned that the government’s efforts, supported by unions and employers, have helped older workers stay employed longer.
Positive Results Seen But We Need To Do More
Over the last five years, real wages of the bottom quintile have also consistently grown faster than median wages, which shows that the approach is working, he added.
While we have seen positive results, greater challenges lie ahead and PM Lee said that the country needs to do more and is ready to do more.
Singapore should take some time to assess the landscape after Covid-19 to see how things unfold and what specific problems develop, he said.
Singaporeans must also keep an open mind as the country builds and improves on the system it has and considers solutions that can work in its context.
This goes beyond just floating ideas like minimum wage and unemployment insurance, but assessing their impact carefully, he added.
Singapore must identify pragmatic solutions that will make a real difference and not create new problems in the process, said PM Lee.
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