Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Thank you, Mdm Deputy Speaker. Let me just deal with some of the points raised by the Minister for Manpower. I take his point with regard to the number of workers who could be affected by the changes to the Workfare Income Supplement that a more accurate number would be 20,000, as he suggested.
Let me just come back to what the Minister for Finance said in his speech. He said, “I will introduce a minimum income criteria for Workfare at $500 a month to encourage part-timers and casual workers to take up regular full-time work”. So, that seems to be the policy intent to move them into regular full-time work. Can I clarify from the Minister, even for these individuals who may continue to earn less than $500, going forward, can the Minister confirm that they still will not qualify for the Workfare Income Supplement?
And Minister spoke about concessionary Workfare. What does that entail? Is that a lesser amount of Workfare for these individuals who cannot do full-time work, which is the policy intent as it would appear from the Minister for Finance’s speech, that he wants to transit these people into full-time work. Does the Minister not agree that there are individuals who just cannot do full-time work for a variety of reasons?
Minister then moved on to some other subjects and in the course of moving on to those subjects, he was drinking some water and he wet his shirt. I do not know whether that was in anticipation of some of the points he was going to make. There were some words that were used: like the Workers’ Party wants to put a heavier load on Singaporeans, a fairer, a more punitive load. I think the point of our suggestions really is a more equitable load. How do you balance things in a manner which is more equitable for society, going forward, for a more fairer, more sustainable and more inclusive society? That is the thrust of what the Workers’ Party had put forward.
And to just make the point Minister spoke about a number of taxes, for example, property taxes, alluding to residents in various parts of Singapore who would suffer with raised property taxes. But does the Minister not agree that there were a number of proposals put forward by the Workers’ Party? And on a Monday, yesterday, a Business Times article made the point in a different way – that the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) is unlikely to hurt competitiveness and may net Singapore gains in tax revenue.
So, I think in the spirit of seeking a more equitable tax distribution, amongst various segments of society, I think the Workers’ Party is fully entitled to raise alternate forms of revenue, which we have. So, I disagree with the Minister’s characterisation. I also cannot understand why he is baffled because it would be in the course of this debate that the Workers’ Party would propose alternate revenue sources. And you have cherry-picked some and criticised them. I think you are entitled to. But if you look at the proposals holistically, you would understand that the Workers’ Party has put up alternatives for a rise in GST.
Mdm Deputy Speaker: Minister.
Dr Tan See Leng: I thank Mr Pritam Singh for the concern on spilling water on my shirt. It was actually because of the fact that it is a new flask, I did not figure out exactly how to press the right buttons yet.
He has put up a series of questions, some of them, we will cover, for example, Workfare, in the upcoming debate under the MOM COS so I do not want to give too much of a preamble.
In terms of the individual who works and gets less than $500, the current construct is that yes, in the absence of any other things, he or she would not qualify. But there is an entire plethora of help schemes available. There are also help groups available to try to understand where the bottlenecks are in terms of them being able to get a higher income or even get to that $500 mark.
Suffice to say, the whole policy construct is to encourage, to nudge our local able-bodied Singaporeans towards gainful employment and also a higher sense of achievement.
As far as the point about the taxes, the whole crux of this was for your team to consider that what you are proposing, consequentially, could result in very, very high disproportionate burden on the top 1% to 5%, that it is not sustainable and it is punitive. And, eventually, for us to sustain it, consequentially, this would end up percolating or pervading down to the upper middle-income and eventually affecting the middle-income as well.
I am pretty sure the Minister for Finance in his round-up speech will cover more aspects of it. For the moment, I want to assure that our policies take a very measured and a very calibrated approach, designed for most people to be able to adjust and also be able to absorb some of these measures.
Mdm Deputy Speaker: Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Pritam Singh: Mdm Deputy Speaker, just to follow up on the point on the WIS. Indeed, Minister has accurately stated the policy purpose. I am sorry he did not accurately say it; you added something more to it. You said the policy construct is to nudge able-bodied Singaporeans towards gainful employment. I understand that.
What I am suggesting is that part-timers may well be able-bodied, casual workers may also be able-bodied, but for various reasons, they cannot take up full-time work. And it is in that spirit that I would forward and advance that they should not be denied the WIS. I hope the Minister can reconsider this because if the number is already smaller, less than half the number that I quoted, I think it is figure 28 of the Labour Force statistics, then all the more, the impact, the fiscal impact is even less. And if we can help this small number of workers and why should we not?
Dr Tan See Leng: Mdm Deputy Speaker, I will give a bit of the preamble and then, perhaps, can I request, I think Senior Minister of State Mr Zaqy Mohamad has a response as well.
Mdm Deputy Speaker: Yes.
Dr Tan See Leng: I think that Mr Singh missed my point. That may be a whole myriad of reasons why able-bodied Singaporeans cannot or are not prepared to commit to just two days of work a week. But we have already started the Progressive Wage Model. We have also gotten some of the other measures to help to uplift the lower-wage workers. And many of these schemes will take effect over the coming months.
The $500 is fixed at this particular point in time. When that rising tide comes up, we will certainly see where this group of Singaporeans, who are still not affected, would fall into. I think that we can then review the policy. Just like what we have done constantly. If you look at the last few years, we have been constantly reviewing, improving and uplifting the framework. I will invite Senior Minister of State Mr Zaqy to further add to it.
The Senior Minister of State for Manpower (Mr Zaqy Mohamad): I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his clarification. On the minimum income criterion, I just want to say quickly that: one, it is not meant to discount any of our lower-wage workers from receiving Workfare. When Minister Tan spoke about concessionary Workfare, what it means is that: if you are receiving ComCare, or if you qualify for ComCare, then automatically you will get Workfare as well. Even if you are a part-time worker, earning less than $500. So, that is one assurance that today.
As Minister Tan shared, the number is about 20,000. This is because with the Local Qualifying Salary (LQS) coming into play, the number that Mr Pritam Singh cited will certainly reduce, because the hourly rates will go up.
And therefore, we will see less. Like the example that Deputy Speaker raised, for someone like that, if they are truly low income, if they are on ComCare, they will automatically get Workfare. I hope this clarifies.
Mdm Deputy Speaker: Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Pritam Singh: That clarifies. Can I just confirm if they are not on ComCare, they would not get the WIS?
Mr Zaqy Mohamad: Indeed, yes. So, as I shared, if you are on ComCare, means you are low income and most likely, if you are earning less than $500, part-timer, you will get it. And that extends to all our persons with disabilities too, to ensure that no one gets left behind. This separates our truly low-income part-time workers who may be constrained for whatever reason, whether caregiving or other constraints, that they are still provided assistance, not just from ComCare. Holistically, they also get Workfare.
1 March 2022