June 23, 2017

15
PSI
CONNECT WITH US
 
 
Tags Posts tagged with "economy"

economy

PUBLIC holidays – a time for rest… and a time for protest?

While Labour Day went by without too much fanfare in Singapore, the occasion was politically-charged in many other parts of the world. People took to the streets to call for better working conditions, while labour unions aired their grievances to politicians.

And with the rise of the far right in the US and across Europe, this year’s protests were also uncomfortably tinged with anti-immigrant sentiments. Have May Day protests become an even more potent political force? We look at significant ones from this year:

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.

 

1. Paris, France: Going too far against the far-right

Image by Wikimedia Commons user David Monniaux.

Divisive elections and large gatherings can be an explosive mix, as the French found out on May Day. A peaceful march near the Bastille monument escalated into violence rapidly, as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the police, who responded with tear gas.

Six officers were injured, with one suffering third-degree burns. The tensions came on the heels of the terrorist attack at Champs Elysees that killed an officer, stoking fears about national security in an increasingly volatile country.

The majority of protestors claimed to be marching against presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant rhetoric. There are suspicions that the crowd was hijacked by a group of about 150 agitators, who were upset that Ms Le Pen had made it to the final round of polls. But their outburst might have turned into political mileage for the far-right stalwart, who has long condemned violent riots in the country.

 

2. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Garment workers ‘sew’ dissent

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Thenetparadigm.

The Cambodian government had officially banned labour unions from marching on May 1, but for disillusioned citizens, disobedience was the only option. Thousands of garment workers took to the streets to demand an increase in their monthly wages and better working conditions. Police on site did not interfere with the march.

The apparel industry is one of Cambodia’s biggest sources of income, generating $6 billion for the country annually. It has long relied on suppressing wages to maintain a competitive edge globally, but this has come at the cost of entrenching some 600,000 workers in poverty.

Over the years, the Collective Union Movement of Workers, a Cambodian labour union, has achieved small victories for garment workers, such as a $13 raise in the minimum wage effective this year. But until they obtain their requested minimum wage of $171 per month, the workers will take their grievances far beyond May Day.

 

3. Jakarta, Indonesia: Flowers on fire

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Jonathan McIntosh.

Around 40,000 protestors flooded the streets to demand higher wages, and improved working conditions. Workers marched toward the presidential palace, while other activists carried signs advocating for the rights of female domestic workers.

But the peaceful labour demonstrations in Jakarta were marred by the burning of flower boards left for Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja. A group of trade unionists from Indonesian Electric Metal Workers Federation and the Confederation of All Indonesian Workers Union (KSPSI) destroyed the boards and set them on fire. Trade unions have opposed Ahok as they are unhappy with the minimum wage set by his administration for Jakarta. Some have interpreted their actions as politically motivated and an unwarranted distraction from the advocacy of labour rights. “Jakarta today – a handful of people trying to tarnish the labour struggle…this is shameful” said a netizen on twitter.

Defeated in the 2017 Jakarta elections, Ahok and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat got only 43 per cent of the votes. His rivals accused him of making blasphemous statements against Islam. Indonesian prosecutors had called for him to be jailed.

 

4. Istanbul, Turkey: Reminder of a gruesome history 

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Mstyslav Chernov.

May day protests in Turkey turned violent as the Turkish police fired tear-gas and rubber-bullets at demonstrators in Istanbul. Among those who attempted to reach Taksim Square Mosque, 200 were detained by authorities. Experts say that tensions were heightened especially after a crackdown and a failed coup on July 15 last year.

Clashes erupted in various parts of the city as demonstrators, led by members of left-wing parties and trade unions, took to the streets.

Taksim Square was the place that demonstrators gathered to celebrate Labour Day until 1977, when the protests turned ugly, with dozens killed on “Bloody May Day”.

Turkey’s Western allies say Ankara has sharply curtailed freedom of speech and other basic rights in the crackdown that followed a failed coup last year.

 

5. Oregon, United States: Pepsi takes centre stage

Screenshot from Twitter user Doug Brown.

And on the lighter side of things – Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi ad got disproven in real life. In a May Day protest in Portland, someone actually attempted to hand a can of Pepsi to law enforcement, in nearly the same fashion that Jenner did in the now widely-spoofed video.

But no, the crowd did not erupt into cheers. Rather, the officer simply did not react to the gesture. And other protesters pelted the police with Pepsi cans instead. Not so refreshing, after all.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Johan Fantenberg. CC BY-SA 2.0.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

SO SOME people are kicking up a fuss over what Minister Chan Chun Sing said about the above question while referring to jobs. It seems that he was trying to tell his audience of polytechnic students not to keep thinking about landing their dream jobs immediately but to find meaning in whatever job they’re in. Is this a good analogy? Many people are trying to stretch the analogy, which I was told was made in a spontaneous speech. You have people castigating the minister for suggesting to young people that they can pick anyone to marry, or that he was telling them to be content with whatever job they have. Worse, some are making it “personal’’.

I have been wondering about my own career after graduation and whether I married the one I love or love the one I married. I can say that in my undergraduate days, I was actually infatuated with banking and flirted with the idea of working in a bank and counting money. I had a couple of bank suitors after graduation but eventually plumped for journalism. Not because I love journalism. I didn’t know a thing about it and wasn’t even sure I’d like him/it. I decided on him/it because he/it would make a better provider. Serious. It paid better.

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

Maybe it’s because I belong to a generation where being able to provide for the family – I mean the first family with Mom and Dad – was a deeply ingrained duty of children. Even if there was no romance in the job, I told myself I would stick it out – and succeed. A decade later, I was asked to list a hobby for a company book. I wrote that “work is my hobby’’, to the astonishment of my colleagues then. Maybe they thought I was trying to curry favour with management. I don’t care. It was the truth.

More than two decades later, I am still wedded to journalism although I’ve divorced the company. I sometimes ask myself if I should have worked in a bank, which was, after all, my first love even though not as good a provider. The thing is, you never know if you’ll be happy doing your dream job unless you’ve tried it out. It’s like a couple for whom the honeymoon is over and business of living together starts. You could get along comfortably with each other, or you could grate on each other’s nerves.

I have come across too many people who wish they’re doing something different from what they originally wanted to do. For them, I advise a trial separation or a long holiday, like no-pay leave or a sabbatical, to re-charge their life. But since marriage is a death-do-us-part affair, it does mean that people have to make the effort to work at it. Effort which must start from the day you made your marriage vows. It’s no point starting a new job with a long face and making yourself feel worse by focusing on the things you don’t like.

I don’t think this is said often enough because we’re now so concerned about living the dream rather than making a living: people are being PAID to do a job and that job, however dis-likeable, should be done well.

If the unhappiness is overwhelming and affects your ability to justify your salary, then get a divorce. Play the field or maybe there is already a suitor waiting in the wings. Okay, I too am guilty of extending the analogy and no doubt, have succeeded in riling up some people. Just allow me this: Get an internship in your dream job, then you’ll find out whether you can live with the person you love. If you can, the question posed above is moot.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

Hawker centre, food, eat

by Daniel Yap

We must steal other people’s lunches to be competitive, says PM Lee. The world is a dark, hungry place with no scruples. But the phrase started me thinking: where does lunch come from? Is there a lunch shortage? Are some people having five lunches while others have none?

ON LABOUR Day, I went down to my local market and ordered myself a nice bowl of bak chor mee, found myself a table and sat down. I thought: well, a nice cold drink would hit the spot, so off I went to the drink stall. When I got back, someone had stolen my lunch.

It was the guy from the nearby rental block who was a familiar sight around the neighbourhood. He always seemed hungry, hanging around the food centre asking for a free kopi or a bite to eat. Often, the hawkers would be generous and feed him for free. Today, it seemed, he had decided it was my turn to bless his soul.

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.

Stunned and somewhat offended, I looked over to the next table, where the obese neighbour from Block 5 was stuffing his face with his third helping of Nasi Lemak Set G (tambah everything). Our eyes met, as he drooled a few fragrant grains from his overfull mouth, but he quickly turned away to stare at his food, as if to say “not my problem”. Clearly the problem was mine.

“Eh hello, that’s my lunch.”

“Yes, and now it’s mine! Good, right?” the hungry man mumbled as he fumbled with my chopsticks (ok, not my chopsticks: the stall’s, but he TOUCHED them – desecration).

“Hey, you cannot just anyhow steal people’s lunch, you know?”

“You left it here, mah! Anyway, you see that guy there, he went to buy drinks – go eat his Hokkien mee.”

“But I wanted bak chor mee for lunch!”

“Lunch is scarce, bro, going to be come more scarce. Unemployment going up. You got to learn to compromise.”

“You stole my lunch! I paid for it!”

“Okay lah, I play fair. If I stand up, you can steal it back.”

I was on the verge of attacking him with a Chinese soup spoon when the bak chor mee uncle piped up. “Eh, young man, you give him eat, ok? Uncle make another one for you. Up-sai to big bowl some more.”

“But uncle, how can he like that?”

“Every day he come here, every day somebody give him food. You see everybody eating here, they think there is only one lunch for them. But when you are the one making the food, you know behind still got a lot of lunch left. Is not jiro-sum game one.”

I paused, stunned.

“You see, I am entrepreneur one. As long as end of the day I make money, it’s okay. I can come out how many bowls of bak chor mee, never mind. But if you start fighting in front of my stall then I got no business to do. Maybe you fight for your lunch and you win, you eat, but in the end nobody else get to eat my bak chor mee; next door the roast duck also cannot sell.”

He pushed a massive bowl of noodles into my hands. “Eat, eat! Not everyday I give you eat, but I tell you, lunch is got a lot one.”

I think it must be nice to be him. He can eat his own lunch. As many bowls as he wants. But can man live by bak chor mee alone?

 

Featured image by Flickr user Tiberiu Ana. CC BY 2.0.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

skillsfuture_300x250

by Lee Chin Wee

THE Labour Market Report 2016 released today (Mar 15) revealed that the annual average resident unemployment rate rose to 3.0% in 2016, after holding steady at 2.8% for the last four years. This is the highest figure since 2010, where the resident unemployment rate was 3.1%.

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.

Compared to data from 2015, residents aged 30 – 39 (2.3% unemployed, up from 1.9%), and 50 & over (2.7% unemployed, up from 2.4%) were particularly affected, while those aged 29 & below saw the unemployment rate decrease from 5.1% to 5.0%.

 

Taken from Labour Market Report 2016, Ministry of Manpower

 

Part of the high unemployment rate can be explained by seasonal and frictional unemployment due to the cyclical nature of the global economy. Singapore tends to be buffeted by forces outside our control. The manufacturing sector, for instance, shed 15,500 jobs in 2016 because of flagging global demand for products. This figure would have been far worse, had it not been for the manufacturing sector unexpectedly expanding by 6.4% in Q4 2016. Plunging oil prices have also badly affected the offshore marine industry, with retrenchments picking up in 2015-16. One would expect unemployment figures to improve as the global economy recovers.

However, the unemployment rate can also be attributed to structural unemployment: As Singapore adjusts to the disruptive impacts of new technology on traditional businesses, people’s skills no longer match up to market demand. Singapore’s continued economic transformation, therefore, may lead to underskilled or wrongly-skilled workers left by the wayside. As firms reorganise and restructure to become manpower-lean, longstanding jobs like accounting and secretarial work may be cut, while new business interests – financial technologies, for instance – are developed.

There are now 17,000 long-term resident unemployed (refers to those unemployed for more than 25 weeks), compared to 12,700 in 2015. This figure is the highest since 2009, when the 2008 Financial Crisis led to thousands of Singaporeans losing their jobs.

 

Taken from Labour Market Report 2016, Ministry of Manpower

 

Most worryingly, the long-term unemployment rate for degree holders rose to 1.0% in 2016, the highest since 2004. Does this mean that more university graduates now hold paper qualifications that are ill-suited for the modern economy? Possibly. A bachelor’s degree in programming or software engineering received 10 years ago, for instance, may bear little relevance to the sought-after skills of today. Without a constant push for skills upgrading and on-the-job training, many graduates will find themselves either underemployed, or out of work.

As the economy becomes more complex, the need for specialised skills has soared. This has challenged the traditional view that higher education guarantees a stable career, as demand for specialised skills can change overnight with the introduction of new technology or sudden industry transformation. Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) formed 75% of all residents made redundant in 4Q 2016 – a disproportionate figure.

Statistics seem to suggest that there is a growing mismatch between employee skills and job requirements; especially at white-collar managerial and technical levels. And even when tertiary-level education does meet market demand, the rapidly-evolving jobs landscape means that employees must be willing to continually upgrade themselves. Given this context, policies to help workers gain new skills or encourage businesses to leverage new technology are extremely important.

Whether Singapore will be able to bounce back stronger from this period of slowing growth and higher unemployment depends on how well we can react to technological disruption. If our workers and businesses do not stay ahead of the curve, one should be prepared for more grim news ahead.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user niekverlaan. (CC0 1.0)

If you like this article, like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

by Ryan Ong

BUDGET 2017 doesn’t have much of a theme, beyond upgrade yourself really quick. There’s a huge sense of urgency in this budget, and it’s not hard to see why. The events of 2016, which range from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump to China’s growing assertiveness, won’t be good for us. And the only way forward is, ironically, to look backward:

 

New budget, old strategy

Budget 2017 is out, and it’s all about forward progress in the industry. But in another sense, it’s also about looking backward, and returning to the root of what made Singapore successful in the first place.

When Singapore (unwillingly) gained its independence in 1965, the situation it faced was quite similiar to today. There was tension in South East Asia, and a sense that the future was a total unknown. In order to run our economy, we focused on producing a highly skilled and educated workforce. Singapore powered through its first decades on the back of that principle: That the Singaporean worker was more productive, more driven, and worth a higher salary than neighbouring counterparts.

But over the last decade, we’ve begun to lose steam. Not too long ago in 2015, for example, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang pointed out that some industries had to restructure quickly, as productivity goals were not being hit.

Budget 2017 seems to be going back to an old formula. In the face of growing uncertainty, all we can do is rely on the Singaporean worker being better. Better skilled, better adapted, and hopefully better paid for it. That’s not an easy thing to ask, because our success in the mid-60s can be attributed to us being South East Asia’s (arguably) best workforce at the time. But our neighbours have had a lot of time to catch up since then.

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.

Here are the three harsh things that the budget implies:

 

1. Get with the programme or get left behind

Over $80 million will be spent on helping on Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) go digital, under the Go Digital Programme.

About $100 million is for the Global Innovation Alliance and Leadership Development Initiative, which basically encourages Singaporeans to go abroad and work.

Some $26 million will go to the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund and Skills Development Fund, to train workers in skills relevant to fast growing industries.

A recent comment I read on Facebook asked: Does this mean we want a painter to become a programmer? The answer is yes. Budget 2017 is part of a life raft the government is building for workers.

Remember that retrenchments were at a seven year high, within the first nine months of 2016. Many workers, whom we assumed to be highly trained, were precisely the ones who found themselves out of a job. When you have large layoffs despite a (in terms of paper qualifications) highly skilled workforce, that means workers lack relevant skills.

That’s due to the rising number of disruptive business models (e.g. Uber and its effects on the transport industry), which have forced companies to value different skill sets. It’s bad news for Singaporean workers in their 30s and 40s, who may find their qualifications – which they paid good money to learn – become useless.

Now consider the urgency with which the G is driving at this:

Budget 2017 allocates $1.4 billion to upgrading jobs and the economy. Prior to that, Budget 2016 and Budget 2015 saw the development of the SkillsFuture programme, and emphasised support for robotics and digital technologies. It’s pretty clear what the G’s rescue plan is:

They want Singaporeans to be the innovative ones who are doing the disrupting, not the ones losing jobs from the industries that are disrupted.  Singaporeans who refuse to take big risks, and won’t step out of their comfort zone to learn new skills, are shark bait. The G isn’t taking steps to protect dying industries, or playing at protectionist moves.

 

2. Businesses might pass on the water costs

Pass it on to you, the buyer, that is. The price of water is increasing by 30 per cent, starting in July 2017. It’s estimated that this will come to less less than $25 a month, for 75 per cent of businesses; although I’d contend we don’t know how many businesses there are, and 25 per cent of all businesses in the country is still a huge number of businesses.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess that certain businesses – such as laundromats or restaurants – will be hit much harder by rising water costs than others. Now the purpose of the hike is to “raise awareness” of the importance of water, because without the government doing that none of us would know we’d die without it. But businesses tend to react to price hikes in two ways:

One, the G could have “raised awareness” of the importance of water, and businesses take steps to cut back. Or two, businesses could just factor the costs into their pricing. So we may see more places charging for water, higher prices at laundromats and car washes, higher costs on canned drinks, and so forth.

Now I’m not totally against the government’s intentions, by the way. I’m sure they just want us to waste less water, because over-consumption is the result of cheap supply. But it would be just as easy to set a water cap, and then impose a fine on over-consumption. And have some way to notify the household via text message when they’re nearing the water use limit.

Why punish those who have been conscientious about water use?

 

3. Carbon taxes can mean higher costs to consumers

I like to think most of you aren’t reading this from your ivory-backed chairs, while eating fried Pangolin and resting your rhinoceros-horn water on a coaster made from an endangered tortoise. Like most of you, I’m entirely for carbon taxes.

I’ll even say it’s an admirable and gutsy move: after the Trump election, I expected our pragmatic government to pivot in the other direction, and abandon environmentalism. We have financial inclination to do so, since Singapore has deep penetration into the oil and gas sector.

Nonetheless, from 2019 carbon emitters will be charged $10 to $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas. As with the water situation, businesses can go either way. Some might try to cut down on emissions, but some will try to pass on the costs to consumers. Knowing what big corporations are like, we’d better get realistic and plan to spend more.

On a related note, diesel will be taxed at 10 cents per litre. Cars pay $100 less annual diesel tax, and taxis pay $850 less. Diesel is more environmentally friendly than gasoline, so hopefully transport businesses will consider moving in this direction, rather than raising prices.

 

Budget 2017, along with the last two budgets, seem to be a polite way to remind us the clock is ticking.

Last year may have been the tipping point, in the way the global economy has changed. Stragglers who can’t adapt to the new economy are trying to fight back, by electing governments that impose protectionist measures.

But Singapore hasn’t got the luxury of doing that – we’re too small, and too vulnerable, to play the isolationist game. It’s clear we’re not catering to those who can’t adapt; that’s what all these expensive incentives are about. The clock is ticking, especially for those who refuse to re-skill and upgrade.

 

Read the first part, Economic Realities: 3 harsh takeaways from the Committee on the Future Economy, here.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user jarmoluk. (CC0 1.0)

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

Photo of clock face with hands pointed to half past eight.

MEDIAN household income grew by 2.6 per cent to $8,846 in 2016, lower than 2015’s 4.9 per cent. The slower growth most affected the ends of the spectrum, with the bottom 10 per cent of earners seeing growth of only 1.4 per cent, compared to 10.7 per cent in 2015, and the top 10 per cent of earners saw their growth slow to 0.2 per cent from 7.2 per cent in 2015.

At the same time, the Gini Coefficient, which measures income inequality, also fell to 0.458 in 2016, lower than 0.463 in 2015. After transfers from the G in the form of subsidies and taxes are taken into account, the Gini stands at 0.402.

It’s a sign of the times, as an embattled economy drags down overall growth in spite of bright spots in tourism and manufacturing. Oil and gas remain in a critical state, which has had a knock-on effect on banking, finance and insurance companies, from which a larger proportion of high earners derive their income.

DBS reported a 9 per cent drop in Q4 profits, and on Tuesday (Feb 14) OCBC said its fourth quarter earnings had fallen by 18 per cent.

You, our readers, are the reason we exist. Your contributions allow us to bring fair and balanced news to everyone, regardless of the ability to donate. Support us by being our patron.

A second woman and a man, said to be her boyfriend, have been arrested in connection with the killing of Mr Kim Jong-Nam in Malaysia. Malaysian police confirmed that the first woman arrested, a 28-year-old with a Vietnamese passport, was the suspect pictured wearing a white shirt with “LOL” printed on it.

The second woman, identified as Siti Aishah in her Indonesian passport, worked with her partner. Siti Aishah distracted Mr Kim by standing in front of him while the other woman grabbed Mr Kim from behind in a chokehold and administered the fatal poison.

Their escape was short-lived thanks to the many cameras deployed at the airport. Authorities are still seeking other suspects as “there are definitely other individuals involved” according to Malaysian Police Special Branch director Mohamad Fuzi Harun.

Word is emerging from sources close to China that North Korea had nothing to do with the assassination, even as Malaysian authorities continue to track the work of “foreign agents”. Malaysia has now said that they could release Mr Kim’s body to North Korea once all due process had been followed in Malaysia.

 

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

skillsfuture_300x250

by Wan Ting Koh

FINANCE Minister Heng Swee Keat was asked earlier at a press conference to identify a key big idea in the economic report produced by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE). He didn’t name any but chose to re-frame the question – how Singapore can remain relevant to the world – a question which he pointed out, was not new.

Said Mr Heng: “We just have to keep ourselves very focused on how we are relevant to the world… Significant changes are going around in the world that we have to stay open and stay connected to the region and the global economy. And the way that we navigate this change is to build very deep capabilities.”

His co-chair, Trade and Industry Minister S Iswaran, named the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) initiative, which offers tertiary institutions and companies more opportunities to link up with overseas partners, as one idea. He also said, however, that he didn’t think “novelty in itself defines the value of a report like this or any other government measure”.

So there you have it.

The much-awaited report, which numbered 109 pages, doesn’t have any specifics that would enthuse anyone. It seems to be a reiteration on the need to keep the economy open in the face of anti-globalisation sentiment, keeping enterprises and workers in pace with the changes through acquiring deeper skills, and collaboration among stakeholders, including trade associations and business chambers.

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.

If there was one point which stood out, it was about the tax system. The report said that rising domestic expenditures due to ageing and global change in tax rules will necessitate a review of the tax system. When asked for more details, Mr Heng said that specific changes will only be made after consultation processes.

The CFE report was supposed to be a follow-up on the Economic Strategies Committee report in 2010, which emphasised productivity-based growth, setting a target of 2 to 3 per cent per year.

Productivity didn’t figure in this report. When asked about other metrics to measure success, Mr Heng said that one could look into sector-by-sector growth in greater detail.

Likewise, while the 2010 report emphasised the need to make Singapore a home for “talent”, including foreign talent, this report was quiet on the matter. Asked about the role of foreign manpower, Mr Iswaran said that emphasis was not on nationality, but the productivity of the worker, adding that the “cumulative stock of foreign workers” in Singapore continues to grow even though there has been a “re-calibration” over the years.

“The policy on foreign workers has to complement the needs of economy and also balance that with the needs of our population. So it’s about investing in our people, and making sure that their skills and capabilities are up to mark so that they can participate in opportunities, but also recognising that there may be certain gaps in the market,” said Mr Iswaran.

Rather, more sobering is how the CFE had put 2 to 3 per cent as the annual expected GDP growth rate for this decade while the earlier committee said 3 to 5 per cent. It seems the CFE had taken into account the rising protectionistic tide since then, as well as the gloomier global outlook. Mr Iswaran said that the GDP growth was “not unlike what other economies achieve” and was an “appropriate and realistic indication” of GDP.

Why isn’t manufacturing taking up more than 20 per cent of the economy since it has been on the rebound? The sector had its strongest performance of the last year in the last three months before the year ended and manufacturing data from the Economic Development Board (EDB) showed that manufacturing output increased 21.3 per cent in December.

Said Mr Iswaran: “On manufacturing, I don’t think we are wedded to a number as a proportion of the GDP, that would be the wrong way to go about it… But we have good reasons to believe manufacturing continues to have [an] important role in [the] economy, we already have [a] strong base of companies and industries… to build on.”

What are we to take away from the report then?

Past reviews led to growth in areas such as investments overseas, and in Singapore’s links to other global financial centres and trading hubs. This time, the report is more concerned about getting people and businesses ready to capture opportunities as they arise.

Mr Tan Chong Meng, who is group chief executive officer of PSA International, said that the report addressed how Singapore would be ready for future changes. “Looking at how to do things, question is are we willing, are our people ready, and can we do it fast enough?
To this end, there was some focus on the impact of digitisation and proposals to capitalise on digital technologies, such as by providing Small Medium Enterprises with support to better understand these technologies and pushing for national initiatives like the National Trade Platform and National Payments Council. These were announced the Budget last year and in November last year respectively. To encourage Singaporeans to gain deeper skills, the report suggested setting up an online one-stop education, training and career guidance portal.

To support the development of promising industries, the report said that the G should consider “using lead demand”, adding that new enterprises with short track records would benefit from citing the G as its reference customer. This was the case for example, with water and defence technology industries.

One announcement made in the last Budget got extra attention from the CFE: Industry Transformation Maps (ITM) that will address issues within each industry and encourage collaboration between the G, firms and other stakeholders. Six ITMs have been rolled out so far, including those for hotels, retail, and logistics. “The CFE recommends that the early learning points from the first batch of ITMs be used to strengthen succeeding ITMs,” the report said, including how each ITM should continue to be customised for the particular industry and that related industries should have linkages to build “cluster-level” capabilities.
The report seems therefore, an endorsement of current strategies than containing any radical proposal. And no, it didn’t suggest that another casino be built.

 

The CFE was convened in January last year to map Singapore’s economic strategies for the future. The committee comprises of 30 members from different industries that operate in global and domestic markets. Here are the nine members of the panel in today’s conference:

The five ministers:

Mr Heng Swee Keat, Finance Minister

Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry

Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office

Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development

Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher education and skills)

The four speakers from private companies:

Mr Teo Siong Seng, Chairman for Singapore Business Federation

Mr Bill Chang, Chief executive of group enterprise of Singtel

Mr Tan Chong Meng, PSA International group chief executive officer

Ms Mariam Jaafar, Partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group

 

The CFE suggested that the user experience and functionality of national jobs bank be improved. Here’s what we found out about it: 70,000 jobs on offer – but which is the right one for you?

 

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

Grey and red clock showing 8.30

AS WE gear up for the Lunar New Year break, the labour outlook is rather bleak. Employment growth figures released by the Ministry of Manpower show the slowest growth since 2003, when the figure dipped into the negative.

Total employment increased by 0.4 per cent in 2016 compared to 0.9 per cent in 2015. The bulk of the growth was down to residents. Foreign employment fell for the first time since 2009 (the last recession), another sign of the still-tightening tap for foreign labour.

Unemployment nonetheless rose for residents (3 per cent) and citizens (3.1 per cent). Redundancies also hit a since-last-recession high of 19,000.

You, our readers, are the reason we exist. Your contributions allow us to bring fair and balanced news to everyone, regardless of the ability to donate. Support us by being our patron.

Real income (after factoring in inflation) is still growing, but has slowed down from 7 per cent in 2015 to 1.3 per cent in 2016. The nominal median income is now $3,823.

One bright spot: manufacturing grew by a whopping 21.3 per cent in December, more than double the forecast 10.4 per cent. The sector accounts for about a fifth of Singapore’s economy, but economists expect it to take at least half a year before the positive impact spreads through the rest of the economy.

Part-time taxis are now available from SMRT’s fleet for drivers who want to drive less often. The new scheme offers an hourly rate with a minimum of three hours per booking. Rates range from $5.80 per hour during off-peak times to $12.80 per hour during high-demand timings.

The move is expected to help SMRT attract more part-time drivers out of the pool of some 100,000 taxi vocational license holders, and offers an alternative to drivers who were thinking of switching to driving private cars with Uber or Grab.

And now, the CNY weather:

That means please bring an umbrella.

 

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Suhaile Md

EMPLOYEES who turn 60 can no longer have their wages cut because of their age. The re-employment age will also be up from 65 to 67, with effect from July 1 this year. These amendments to the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA) were passed in Parliament yesterday (Jan 9). The retirement age still stands at 62.

Prior to the amendments yesterday, employers were allowed, by law, to reduce up to 10 per cent of their employees’ wages when they turned 60. So now, workers will continue earning the same after their 60th birthday. However CPF contributions, which drop from 13 per cent to 9 per cent for employers, and 13 per cent to 7.5 per cent for employees, upon hitting 60, will continue. No changes have been announced on that front.

When workers turn 62, they can either choose to retire, or take up an offer of re-employment. The RRA obliges employers to offer re-employment to citizens and permanent residents. Yet, it may not be in the same role with the same wage. Also, workers have to be medically fit, serve the company for at least three years before turning 62, and have performed well enough, as judged by their employer.

You, our readers, are the reason we exist. Your contributions allow us to bring fair and balanced news to everyone, regardless of the ability to donate. Support us by being our patron.

Why not just increase the retirement age then?

“When you raise the retirement age, the expectation is same job, same pay.” For re-employment though, “the concept is not necessarily the same job, not necessarily the same pay,” said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament yesterday.

“When you raise the retirement age, the expectation is same job, same pay.”

So, it seems the removal of wage cuts when a worker reaches 60 is about “same job, same pay” being secured for at least two more years, with changes in a worker’s income only expected after 62. About 12 per cent of Singapore’s labour force was 60 or older in 2015, which is more than twice the 5.5 per cent proportion in 2006, reported The Business Times today (Jan 10).

About 12 per cent of the labour force was 60 or older in 2015, more than twice the 5.5 per cent proportion in 2006.

Also, CPF monthly payouts only kick in when Singaporeans turn 65. Increasing re-employment age to 67 provides older workers two more years of employment, hence reducing or even delaying their reliance on CPF payouts accordingly. On that note, current CPF contributions drop again at 65. Employers’ contribution decreases from 9 per cent to 7.5 per cent, while employee contribution drops from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent.

 

Finding re-employment elsewhere

Another change: A company can find re-employment opportunities for its worker in another company, which is agreeable, and handover the obligation to that company. That is, the new company will be responsible for the re-employment of the worker until he’s 67 years old. This was not allowed prior to the amendments yesterday.

However, if the worker in question does not want to take up the offer to work in another company, his current employer must still find a role for him in-house. If there’s no opening available, the employee must be offered an Employment Assistance Payment (EAP). The one-off payment is to help with the loss of income, as former employees look for jobs on their own.

In response to the amendment in Parliament, the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation updated the joint guideline that recommends a payment range for the EAP. It’s recommended that the EAP be equal to three and a half months’ pay, with a minimum sum set at $5,500, and limited to $13,000. This comes into effect on July 1 this year. Presently, it’s set at three months’ pay, with the range between $4,500 and $10,000.

 

Incentives and help for employers

Businesses get some help too. Currently, employers who hire Singaporeans older than 55, and who earn less than $4,000 a month, will have up to 8 per cent of the monthly wage covered by the G under the Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme. This scheme will end in 2019.

If a company voluntarily employs workers above 65, a total of 11 per cent of the monthly wage is offset.

If a company voluntarily employs workers aged above 65, an additional 3 per cent is offset. That is, a total of 11 per cent of the monthly wage is offset under the SEC scheme. The additional 3 per cent offset expires on June 30 this year, but the G is considering an extension, said Mr Lim. Details will be out later.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

skillsfuture_300x250

by -
0 0

by Suhaile Md

MOST of the 6 per cent of Singaporeans who used their SkillsFuture Credits for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were below 40, reported SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) on Sunday (Jan 8). Busy with work and with little time to spare, it’s no wonder that MOOCs, which allow users to learn at a time and place of their choosing, appeal to the busy working Singaporean. Given its flexibility and eligibility for credit use, you might want to consider it too.

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

SkillsFuture Credits cannot be used for just any MOOC though. It has to be one that has been approved by SSG. Still, there is a wide variety of over 2,000 courses that SSG has identified on its website. The three most popular courses were on business administration, Python programming language, and web development.

Currently (Jan 09), there are 2,212 MOOCs on the list. The courses range from general topics in problem solving to specialised ones like how to code and develop apps.

Here’s a breakdown according to course categories, costs, and duration:

.

All 2,212 courses are categorised into 36 areas. The top 10 subject areas, shown in the graph above, make up nearly 92 per cent (2032) of all courses. Most courses are provided by either Coursera or Udemy.

Information and Communications by far has the most number of courses at 829 offerings (37 per cent). It includes courses on web development, programming languages like Python, Javascript, and C++, among others.

Business Management stands at second place with 325 courses (14.7 per cent). These include project management, foundations of business strategies, and conflict resolution, among others. There are some topics, like learning how to use Excel spreadsheets, or making a PowerPoint presentation, that some would consider under Business Management. But on the SSG site, these fall under “Administration”, which is a separate category on its own.

Likewise, subjects that can fall under advertising, sales and marketing, or accounting and finance, have separate categories of their own. They do not fall under the generic Business Management grouping. If these areas are considered business-related topics on the whole, then a total of 586 (26.5 per cent) of courses are available.

Beyond the top 10 categories, the remaining 26 make up only 8 per cent (180) of all courses. Some areas like fashion, sports, real estate, and marine and port services, have only one course each.

 

 

The most expensive course ($795, before GST) on the site is a 100-hour business and financial modelling course. It’s a five-module course, created by the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, offered on the Coursera platform.

The cheapest costs $20 for about four to 12 hours of courses, on varied topics from learning how to use Excel, to launching social media marketing campaigns.

You can search for courses according to price range, but the values are preset on the site. The ranges are: Between $0 and $10, $10 and $50, $50 and $100, $100 and $500, $500 and $1,000. It goes higher, to $5,000, but there are no courses that reach that price range.

Note though, that the G gave $500 worth of credits to those 25 years old and above. Exceed the credit in your account, and you pay for the balance out of your own pocket. Also, there are plenty of free courses on Coursera and Udemy that are not reflected on the SSG site.

 

 

How much time do I need?

You can also search for courses according to the time commitment required to complete it. Like the price range search function, the time values are preset to specific ranges: Less than a day to one day, one day to one week, one week to a month, a month to six months, six months to a year, and over a year.

However, there is no clear definition of what “a day” actually means. Courses listed “a day” long range from 8.70 hours to 11.70 hours, the last of which is in effect longer than a full work day. However, you don’t have to complete the required hours in one shot, so you can spread it over a week, for instance. The shortest courses are three and a half hours long, and are considered “less than a day”.

The longest courses take 280 hours – there are only two of those. These fall under the one month to six month range. Search for courses longer than six months, and nothing turns up. So, assuming 280 hours over six months amounts to about 11.5 hours a week, or about one and a half hour per day, every day.

Yet there are also 90-hour courses that are categorised between the one week to one month range. Even if a full month is taken, it amounts to 22.5 hours a week – no small commitment if you’re working!

Basically, course duration is a very rough guide. Read the details of each course to find out more.

 

Featured image Julia Roy – Gmail Mastery Photoshoot by Flickr user Julia Roy(CC BY 2.0)

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

skillsfuture_300x250