Jan 30, 2009
Budget is pro-worker
THE $20.5 billion Resilience Package unveiled last week in the Budget is more pro-worker than employees may realise, said labour chief Lim Swee Say yesterday.
He gave two reasons to support his point.
One, the Jobs Credit scheme to subsidise part of the wage bill of employers, makes Singaporeans more cost-competitive than foreign workers.
But more importantly, it avoids the need to cut employers' contribution to the Central Provident Fund (CPF). This second point, in particular, makes the package 'even more pro-worker than pro-business', he said.
Mr Lim was disputing the view held by some that the measures announced in the new Budget did a lot for businesses, but not enough for workers.
'This is a gross misunderstanding of the Resilience Package,' he told about 500 union leaders and NTUC staff at the labour movement's annual Workplan Seminar to set out its priorities and goals.
In his 90-minute speech, Mr Lim stressed that while it is a steep uphill task to save jobs in this recession, the labour movement 'die die, must try'.
'Never forget, to the worker who is unemployed, the unemployment rate is 100 per cent,' he said as he set out three key targets for the National Trades Union Congress. These are: keep a lid on layoffs so that the number does not breach the 29,000 level of the 1998 Asian financial crisis; ensure unemployment stays below the 5.2 per cent high reached in the 2003 Sars crisis; and work for a recovery that is faster than the global economy's.
Mr Lim acknowledged that the odds are stacked against achieving the layoff targets. Retrenchment in unionised companies is picking up, he noted, from 1,600 in the fourth quarter of last year to possibly at least some 3,000 this quarter.
'If this trend were to continue, I'd say the 29,000 record in 1998 could easily be surpassed within this year,' he said.
But he noted that the Republic has one powerful weapon in the battle against its worst post-war recession. He calls it 'The Singapore Advantage', which is the unity among the tripartite partners: NTUC, employers and the Government.
It is rare elsewhere, he said, referring to the US car industry and Hong Kong: 'We did not point fingers like the case of the US...We did not go on strike like the Hong Kong airport workers.'
Armed with this weapon, Mr Lim urged the tripartite partners to commit themselves to making Singapore the most pro-business economy in the world, the most pro-worker nation, the most united tripartism model and a place with the most caring labour movement.
He explained to union leaders that they can be pro-business by agreeing to a wage cut should the company's situation warrant it and management take the lead with a deeper cut.
'We must be prepared to mobilise the ground as long as the management is prepared to take the lead,' he said.
The approach would lead multinational companies to favour Singapore, he indicated. Following the new Budget measures, Japanese companies are re-submitting their proposals to their headquarters who are looking at downsizing operations in Japan, China or Singapore, he said.
In praising the Jobs Credit scheme, Mr Lim said that until last week, the biggest fear among unionists was a reduction in employers' CPF contribution.
Such a cut would hurt workers who are paying housing loans and saving for retirement. So, the Government's move to use past reserves to finance the $4.5 billion scheme was a big relief, he added.
The temporary wage subsidy - 12 per cent of each month's wages but only for the first $2,500 - is equivalent to a 9 percentage point CPF cut.
'If not for Jobs Credit, many workers will not enjoy the full 14.5 per cent contribution from the employer,' he said.
The president of the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers' Union, Mr Abdul Subhan Shamsul Hussein, told The Straits Times that Mr Lim's explanation clarified for him how the scheme was advantageous to workers.
He confessed that he and some of his union members had felt the Resilience Package was too pro-business as there were not as many direct cash giveaways as they had hoped.
Singapore Inc under the PAP has never been pro-worker. So you believe this sia suay guy? Hahahaa