Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s landmark reassurance to retrenched workers in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday – that they would receive financial support to help them cover daily needs while upskilling for better jobs – promises to redefine Singapore’s approach to unemployment at a time of economic disruption and dislocation. Although there are existing programmes to help workers transit from one job to another through training, helping them to sustain their families financially while they make the transition would enable them to avoid turning to the first available job out of desperation. Key issues to be ironed out are how a new scheme would be organised, who would be eligible and how much would be paid out. A balance would need to be struck between providing reasonable financial support to individuals and keeping an eye on the total cost of the scheme, which would have to be borne by taxpayers ultimately.
While details on these issues are awaited, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng laid out the broad principles underpinning the scheme in an interview with The Straits Times on Wednesday. Crucially, much of the support will be tied to training and career counselling and guidance. This approach would avoid two extremes: one, in which the Government does nothing; and the other, in which it provides unemployment insurance, as has been demanded by various groups for years. The first approach is not tenable because it would ignore structural changes in the economy in which not only job disruptions but also industry disruptions are likely to become more common, thereby demanding a comprehensive policy response to unemployment. These changes are accompanied by the painful economic lessons of the coronavirus pandemic, supply chain disruptions, geopolitical tensions and the fact that Singapore is ageing very rapidly.
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