No no… I’m not saying that Singaporeans are not having more kids because their pain threshold is low. I have nothing but the greatest respect for ladies for being able to go through all the discomforts and pains related to pregnancy and childbirth. The “labour pains” I am talking about is the employment problems that is besetting Singapore now.
I was talking to some friends the other day. They are married. But they don’t have kids. And they are very resistant to the idea of having kids. I asked them why. They said that they were worried about whether they have the ability to bring up the kids. One reason for that fear is the lack of job security. They are afraid that they may lose their jobs in the future. Then they won’t have the ability to provide for the family. And bringing up children can be quite a financially demanding endeavour.
This fear of the lack of job security is not unfounded. There are more layoffs in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also warned that employment demand is waning, the tightness in the labour market is reducing. As a result, resident wage growth is expected to slow, and unemployment is expected to rise. So it’s understandable that people are worried about their jobs. And that worry has led them to be reluctant to have children.
If the government is serious about encouraging people to have children, they also need to reassure Singaporeans that there is some employment stability. And it goes beyond just telling Singaporeans that they need to upgrade and re-skill. Upgrading and re-skilling takes time and money.
Let’s take someone who is retrenched and would like to re-skill to be a web developer as an example. A full-time web-developer course can take up to 9 weeks and cost up to $9,000. Currently this person can only get $500 in the form of SkillsFuture from the government to defray the course fees. But more importantly, for that nine weeks, he won’t have any income. So it’s a double whammy.
That’s why, contrary to what the government says, I think an unemployment insurance is a good idea. It’s not, as PM puts it, a “worker paying out of his salary to subsidise his own unemployment”. It’s a worker paying out of his salary to buy more time so that he can properly upgrade, re-skill, and find a better job. It will provide workers with some peace of mind, assuring them that even if they lose their jobs, they have some financial resources to tide through the job search process.
There are many reasons, beyond just economic growth, for having an unemployment insurance scheme. I hope that the government won’t simply dismiss it out of hand. I agree that the devil is in the details. But I hope that the government will continue to study it, consider different models, iron out the kinks and implement a model of unemployment insurance scheme that suits the needs of Singapore.
[Featured image: TODAY file photo]