Monday, November 13, 2006

Providing a Safety Net

I can’t help but feel I have been misunderstood to a certain extent about my article, “Future of Singapore”. I would thus like to set the record straight.

I mentioned how far our neighbours have come over the past decade. And the competency level of their skilled labour forces are by no means less than ours. They are less expensive too. This resulted in much heated debate on the influx of foreign talents. Honestly, in a cosmopolitan city like Singapore, it is inevitable foreign talents exist. It is NO fault of the government, rather, market forces dictate. What I was trying to imply was whatever Singapore can offer in terms of human resource capability, our neighbours can too. On top of that, they have cost & land advantages. In view of these pulling factors, multinational firms are very much tempted to relocate to reduce operational costs; if Singapore continues to be “too expensive”. Where we used to think the problem of unemployment was on the unskilled. Now the threat of unemployment applies also to our skilled labour force. Jobs lost may never be replaced again.

Those who bear the brunt of the threat are sadly in their 40s & above. I must hasten to add that education, skills upgrading & experience are key to competition in this knowledge economy. Supposedly, these are the people who have the education, the right training & carry with them loads of experience. However, a cloud of PREJUDICE hovers over them because of their AGE. While some may get re-employed in no time due to certain circumstances, the majority may take ages. Not only do they have to deal with the emotional trauma of being unemployed, they also have to cope with the burden & stress of living costs. What can be done then to help these people? Again, I am NOT advocating a welfare state.

While I jolly well understand the virtue of teaching a man how to fish, the issue is not about giving handouts. It is about coming up with measures to cushion the impact of income loss of this group while they are actively seeking employment during their unemployment period. I thought deep & hard. I would like to share my suggestion.

The government may consider allowing them to tap into their CPF with “terms & conditions apply” of course. Firstly, when one has lost his job, he must register himself with the WDA. This will allow the WDA to do a job match while he is also actively seeking employment at the same time. In the first 6 months of his unemployment, he cannot withdraw from his CPF. After 6 months & still unsuccessful in the job market, he may draw up to 50% of his last drawn pay from his CPF or a stipulated cap amount. Firstly, this is not a freebie as CPF money belongs to each individual & more importantly, the money will certainly come in handy to meet monthly living expenses. Imagine how relieved these people & their families will be after draining six months of their savings to meet costs of living. Once WDA has successfully done a job match or when one has finally found a job, he will not be allowed to withdraw from the CPF anymore. Individuals who reject match by WDA will also not be allowed to continue withdrawing from his CPF. In fact, the government may stipulate a re-payment scheme for those who have withdrawn from their CPF during their unemployment. Re-payment commences once an individual starts to contribute to his CPF again.

Some may argue about abuse of the system. There will be those who choose not to work & living comfortably off their withdrawal. However, this will not be possible. They have to register with the WDA & withdrawal will cease to be allowed once WDA has done a job match.

On the issue of job matching, WDA should take into consideration one’s experience, education & expertise. There have been cases of skilled professionals rejecting job offers as cleaners. They were labelled as choosy. But to expect one who had invested in education & filled with experience to perform such jobs is not job matching. It’s simply filling in vacancies for the sake of filling in vacancies. Job motivation is important.

I would like to reiterate the root of the problem is really age discrimination. While I really wish age discrimination may be a thing of the past, until then it can only be wishful thinking. We can’t pass legislation. It’s not something the Government would consider wise to do. I don’t second that either. On the flip side of the coin, a Safety Net in place would mean a lot to these unfortunate ones to keep up with living whilst genuinely looking for work to bring the bread home.