Yesterday, while you and I were sipping bubble tea dreaming of going back to 2019, our Members of Parliament (MPs) and Nominated MPs (NMPs) got together in parliament for the first day of the Budget Debate.
The 8-day “marathon” debate will touch on the death of the ACS(I) student and the case of a Covid-19 vaccine overdose, in addition to the initiatives presented by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat last week.
So, what was discussed on the first day?
Here are 5 key issues raised by our parliamentarians yesterday (24 Feb).
1. Helping Lower-Wage Workers
Tampines MP Koh Poh Koon noted that while the Budget initiatives would ensure that workers have good jobs and job opportunities, some sections of the workforce might need more assistance.
Vulnerable workers affected by the pandemic, for instance, may face additional pressures in this new, restructured economy.
An inclusive society is one that helps those in the lower wage rungs get a fair wage, he said.
“There will always be a group at the lower end of the wage ladder that we need to continually support.”
He added that this is something the authorities have to keep working on.
Dr Koh also proposed a way to ensure wage progression.
For one, the wage difference between the 20th percentile (lower-wage) and the 50th percentile (median income) can be narrowed.
A “vocational” progressive wage model (PWM) can also be introduced to cover other lower-wage workers in job roles that are distributed across multiple sectors.
Henry Kwek, MP for Kebun Bahru, brought up the issue of ageism in the workplace and senior employability, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Many companies, especially in the midst of (the) COVID (pandemic), are unwilling to take on the risk of hiring, or even retaining senior workers. These issues will get more serious as we continue to restructure, and as our workforce continues to age,” he said.
Instead of helping seniors improve their resumes, there are three things the government can do to improve their employability:
- Identifying their “portfolio of skills”, as they could be applied to part-time or micro-jobs
- Create micro-jobs for seniors starting with those in the social services
- Create a national digital platform and app
- Equip seniors to do these micro-jobs through SkillsFuture
2. Enhancing Career Prospects of Healthcare Workers
In Mr Heng’s Budget speech, he announced that the wages of healthcare workers will be increased.
However, as some MPs pointed out, there are other ways to help those in the healthcare sector.
Ang Mo Kio MP Darryl David hopes the government will help to enhance the career prospects for nurses and healthcare professionals.
For example, for Enrolled Nurses, who work under the professional supervision of a Registered Nurse, a progression ladder that takes into account their job experience could be introduced.
Mr David also pointed out that most of our nurses are from abroad, and that the reasons Singaporeans are unwilling to enter the profession go beyond wages alone.
“Perhaps they are deterred by the long working hours, the stress from having to deal and manage different patients, their family members and expectations, as well as potential disruptions to family life arising from irregular work shifts,” he said.
To make such roles more attractive, mandatory leave and paid holidays could be implemented as additional benefits for local nurses, he said.
Aljuined MP Faisal Manap, from the Worker’s Party (WP), also emphasised the need for adequate remuneration, as we might risk losing our nurses to other countries.
“This will make it even harder for us to handle the ageing population.”
He proposed two ways to determine the appropriate salary for healthcare workers:
- Pegging the salaries of Singapore’s nurses against that of countries’ of a similar economic status
- Using the salary scales of Singapore’s uniformed services as a benchmark
3. A Wealth Tax?
One announcement in the Budget speech that must have pleased Singaporeans was that the proposed GST hike would only happen between 2022 and 2025.
However, given that foreigners residing in Singapore, tourists, and the top 20% of resident households account for more than 60% of the net GST borne by all households, MP Jessica Tan questioned if the increase would be enough, due to the substantial decrease in tourists.
“Will (the GST increase) be sufficient to fund the increase in healthcare spending? And if not, then is the Government considering other forms of tax to fund increasing healthcare spending?” she asked.
“If so, I do hope that it would be calibrated and that we would not be implementing a similar cap as we saw in Budget 2016 on total tax relief.”
West Coast MP Foo Mee Har suggested the idea of a wealth tax.
Like the name suggests, a wealth tax would get the wealthy to contribute more in taxes, something many countries are implementing.
“When you consider that selected entities or individuals may have enjoyed outsized windfalls because of COVID-19, it may not be unreasonable to expect them to do more for the common good”, he said.
This could be a one-off tax, as an exceptional response to the pandemic.
4. Transport & Sustainability
As you know, Mr Heng announced on 16 Feb that petrol duty rates would be raised with immediate effect.
Mr Faisal understood the urgent need to address climate change, but questioned if the hike had to take place immediately.
“Such an approach creates a shock amongst vehicle users, especially for those whose livelihood depends on internal combustion engine vehicles,” he said.
He noted that while it’s important to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, the move may “inflict unnecessary trauma on an already besieged group”.
“By the time the rebates reach the pockets of the drivers, some of them may have resorted to drastic measures already to keep themselves and their families economically afloat”, he said.
MP for Sembawang Lim Wee Kiak echoed this point, pointing out that measures to encourage transitioning to electric vehicles would only come into effect in the future.
“Why are motorists penalised or coerced to move into EVs when we haven’t even got enough infrastructures in place?” he asked.
To help motorists with the transition, road tax rebates and additional petrol duty rebates could be brought forward, he suggested.
5. Increased Competition in Job Market
Pioneer MP Patrick Tay said regarding professional, manager, executive (PME) jobs, that the reliance on foreign workers has led to an “unnecessary increase” in competition in the job market.
The qualifying salaries of both the Employment Pass and S Pass holders were raised last year, but they still need to be regularly reviewed and raised in line with rising median wages of PMETs, he said.
This could be done by enhancing the S Pass criteria and slapping “errant companies with a weakening Singaporean core”, with harsher penalties.
This, he said, would safeguard the Singaporean core and curb discriminatory hiring.
Indeed, a lot went down went down yesterday (24 Feb), and it was only the first day of the Budget Debate. It looks like we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for new updates for the next seven days.
Feature Image: Google Maps
How much cash are you getting in December 2023 from the Government? Here are the facts simplified for you:
- Study Shows S’pore Residents Are Eating More Calories, From 2,360Kcal to 2,410Kcal
- Everything About the Additional S$1.1 Billion Support Package & What You’d Receive
- Bukit Panjang Has Just Joined the Million-Dollar HDB Resale Club
- 4 Foreigners Charged for Working as Food Delivery Riders Illegally
- Everything About the Harvest Moon in Singapore on 29 Sept, The Last Supermoon in 2023