Reskilling workers critical in next few months as Jobs Support Scheme tapers off: Labour MP

SINGAPORE – As the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) tapers off, the next few months will be critical for the labour movement, which will be working closely with workers in affected sectors so that they can transition to new jobs in growth sectors, said labour MP Desmond Choo on Wednesday (Feb 17).

But if the sectors that have been hard-hit by the pandemic do not rebound, the National Trades Union Congress can make another push for more wage support to be given to workers, he said in a roundtable discussion organised by The Straits Times and UOB.

Mr Choo, an NTUC assistant secretary-general, also pointed out that many of these industries are in a better position than they were last year at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, as they have been restructuring and redeployed workers to new roles, which has helped to reduce costs for firms.

He made these points after ST associate editor Vikram Khanna asked whether the smaller sum that has been allocated for broad-based wage subsidies under the JSS in this year’s Budget, compared with the previous year’s, will be enough for workers in hard-hit sectors such as aviation and tourism.

Firms in these sectors will be benefiting from an extension of the JSS, though support has been reduced from last year. They will get 30 per cent subsidies for wages paid from April through June, and 10 per cent from July through September.

At the roundtable on Wednesday, panellists also discussed how effective the new Budget initiatives would be in speeding up economic recovery after Singapore’s worst recession.

UOB economist Barnabas Gan said the reduced size of fiscal stimulus that will be injected into the economy this time round, combined with the forecasted gross domestic product growth rates of 4 to 6 per cent for this year, signals that Singapore is now in a better position to propel its economy towards growth.

He noted that the fiscal stimulus package that has been set aside in Budget 2021 is significantly smaller, with an $11 billion Covid-19 Resilience Package to safeguard public health and support the workers and businesses that need help, compared to the close to $100 billion committed to measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 last year.

Professor Hoon Hian Teck, dean of Singapore Management University’s School of Economics and a Nominated MP, said the Budget quickly switched from focusing on cyclical growth factors last year to structural transformation this year.

This sets a good foundation for the economy’s growth, he said, citing how the focus on structural growth had helped to power the United States economy after the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This view was also echoed by financial experts on the Money FM 89.3’s Budget 2021 Review broadcast on Wednesday, who said the new Budget provides ample support to efforts by local companies and workers to emerge prepared for the post-Covid-19 era, despite the emphasis on fiscal prudence.

For instance, the Budget’s focus on transformation, innovation, recovery and growth can help companies to seize opportunities and grow, said Mr Lam Yi Young, chief executive officer of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

Even so, there are risks that Singapore has to contend with, said panellists at the ST-UOB roundtable, which also included Mr Douglas Foo, president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and vice-chairman of the SBF.

UOB’s Mr Gan cited geopolitical tensions as a potential game-changer, while Mr Choo said the question of how fast Singapore can safely adapt and thrive amid the ongoing coronavirus situation is also key.

At another post-Budget forum organised by the Economic Society of Singapore, panellists zoomed in on topics such as retraining workers and growing sectors that show potential.

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In a way, the Covid-19 crisis has shone the spotlight on the importance of retraining and accelerated the pace of change by shaking up industries – such as aviation – which were thought to be safe, said OCBC chief economist Selena Ling.

Nanyang Technological University assistant professor of economics Bao Te said Singapore’s push for the wider adoption of electric vehicles is a step in the right direction as it looks ahead.

But it will find it difficult to compete with global powerhouses such as China, he added.

“Singapore can always try to find some small and beautiful part of the industry… to try to specialise in, and try to get a unique position in the world’s value chain,” he said.

Additional reporting by Linette Lai

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