A new task force to champion the protection of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) is being set up by the labour movement, it announced yesterday.
The group will be headed by National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) executive director Sim Gim Guan, and will likely start work in October.
Its aims are to engage PMEs and employers over a six-to 12-month period and come up with recommendations on government policy, best practices for companies and training, said NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng on Wednesday.
He and SNEF president Robert Yap will be the task force's advisers.
Mr Ng said Singapore has perhaps reached a tipping point where some degree of "market failure" has occurred, causing middle-aged local PMEs to become more vulnerable.
Traditionally, PMEs have not felt they need extra protection, and many of them negotiate their own individual employment contracts and chart out their own careers, noted Mr Ng.
But since about two years ago, he said, more mature PMEs in their 40s to 60s have been sharing their anxiety and frustrations with him as they find it hard to get a job if they are retrenched, and worry about job security while they are employed. And they are even more affected in an economic downturn.
"Hopefully we can jig market forces from all different levels so that we can move forward to achieve economic success and also equitable distribution of jobs to PMEs that are local," said Mr Ng.
Data from the Ministry of Manpower shows that professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) typically have a lower than average rate of re-entry into employment within six months of being retrenched.
Mr Tay, a labour MP, said he will work towards levelling the playing field for local PMEs.
"The key is that our locals - in terms of hiring, retention, retrenchment - should be treated fairly," he said.
His sense is that local PMEs are not complaining about companies that employ top foreign bankers who bring in millions in investments, but rather those that hire foreigners for less specialised roles which anyone can do.
Mr Ng cautioned that a balance needs to be struck between the micro-level concerns of individual Singaporeans and the macro-level needs of the economy.
Swing too far on one side and Singaporean PMEs may feel they do not have fair access to jobs.
But getting it wrong in the other direction will affect Singapore's ability to be a vibrant economy that attracts the top talent in the world and the needed number of workers, he said.
"If we get this balance wrong, either way our economy will not be at the optimal state to move forward."
He added that NTUC wants to work with the Government to review foreign manpower policy options. These could include a differentiated quota for Employment Pass holders at different salary levels.
The labour movement has been expanding its engagement with PMEs in recent years, such as through its U Associate scheme with professional bodies, which focuses on growing PMEs' networks.
Rank-and-file unions can represent PMEs in collective bargaining, and there are also PME unions such as the Port Officers' Union and the Air Transport Executive Staff Union.
But this latest push is the most concerted effort so far to help this group of workers in the area of protection, said Mr Ng.
Mr Tay said that even after the recommendations are presented, NTUC hopes to have a stronger relationship with PMEs to be a collective voice for them and their issues.
SNEF's Mr Yap said that although employers have immediate concerns about business survival, they are also thinking about how to retain and build capabilities for economic recovery.
"In working with NTUC, SNEF hopes that we can develop Singaporean PMEs, especially those aged 40 to 60, that would meet employers' skills demand in the future economy. Employers should upskill and reskill their mature PMEs to enable them to contribute to their business more impactfully," he said.