As we are at the start of a new term of government, it is an opportune time for us to reflect on the values we'd like to see reflected in our society. This platform aims to encourage your participation in the advocacy work of our social good organisations. By upvoting for the questions that resonate with you, you are amplifying their voice to elected representatives.

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MOM found that among full-time workers aged between 25 and 54, the unadjusted gender wage gap was 16.3 per cent in 2018. When the differences in age, education, occupation, industry and the number of hours worked are stripped away, Singapore’s gender wage gap stands at 6 per cent in 2018.

Workforce participation in Singapore steadily climbs and peaks for women in their late 20s. The figure then declines after women hit the age of 30, without rising in their late 30s and 40s as in other First World countries. Among other small countries at the same income level (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland), more than 85 per cent of women aged 45-49 are in the labour force, compared with only 75 per cent of women in Singapore.

There have been various suggestions to reduce the gender wage gap:

  • Mandate employers to publish gender-disaggregated salary and bonus data.
    Evaluations assessing if pay gaps are due to gender or other forms of discrimination can be carried out

  • Encourage the uptake of paternity and shared parental leave.
    The labour force participation gap, and subsequently the gender pay gap, can narrow if men and women share caregiving responsibilities more equally.
    According to a study in Sweden (where a family loses some of its designated paid parental leave unless the father takes it), a woman's earnings rose by 7 per cent for every month of leave taken by her husband.

  • Recruit returners.
    The UK has set up a Returners Fund with a budget of £1.5 million (S$2.7 million) to help organisations that support women returning to work. We too could introduce a dedicated "returnship" programme that provides clear employment pathways for women who wish to return to the labour force.

A study titled "Make Care Count” found that ageing population, coupled with persistent inequality between the genders, are a burden on women’s retirement finances in Singapore.

For example, on average, respondents whose work situation changed because of caregiving suffered a 63 per cent loss in income, or an average annual loss of S$56,877. The study also found that caregivers could spend an average of up to S$1,917 a month, or 64 per cent of their average monthly household income, on care-related expenses. Doing less paid work also meant smaller contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Respondents lost an average of S$7,705 a year in CPF contributions due to caregiving. “This has negative implications for the caregivers’ own retirement adequacy since Singaporeans are expected to rely on their CPF savings for retirement and healthcare needs,” the study said.

Recommendations by Aware included introducing the statutory right for employees to request flexible work arrangements. It also recommends six days of paid leave for the care of older relatives, on top of the six days of childcare leave available to those caring for children. Those caring for both children and aged parents should be eligible for 12 days of paid leave, the report said.

Aware also called for a new caregiver support grant, with both cash and CPF components for family caregivers. It noted that some respondents of its study felt strongly that they should be given an allowance to recognise their work, especially as they had to give up their jobs to do so.

Women primarily taking on the role of caregiver has implications for their career trajectory, future earnings, and retirement savings.

Organisations such as AWARE, the Singapore Alliance for Women in Ageing (SAWA), and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) have suggested policy proposals to encourage gender-neutral policies and compensation for women who have to forego working.

  • Make paid paternity leave of 2 weeks mandatory (only 33% of fathers utilised it in 2018 likely stemming from a combination of company culture, societal attitudes on gender roles and self-policing at work)
  • Eventually equalise maternity and paternity leave - 16 weeks each - and encourage workplaces to introduce paternity cover policy
  • Legislate the right to request Flexible Work Arrangements
  • Introduce Eldercare Leave (ECL)
  • Introduce a matched savings scheme for caregivers to ensure they have sufficient retirement savings

Housing is not just about a roof over your head. Unreliable housing seriously undermines a parent’s ability to stay employed, to protect their children from abuse, and to have the time and space to plan for their family’s future.

With changes introduced in 2020, HDB now accepts applications from all unwed parents for up to a 3-room flat, in addition to resale flats. This will certainly ameliorate the situation for those who can afford such flats.

However, Parliament had previously revealed that the median monthly employment income for unwed mothers below the age of 35 is S$600. Most, therefore, are likely to need subsidies, so their choice of housing will still be limited despite this change. HDB policy also does not allow unwed, single parents and their children to count as a “family nucleus”, without which, they are ineligible for flats and housing grants under the Families Grant scheme.

More broadly, although the changes now provide more options and have lowered the age of eligibility, single parents will still need to make these requests through HDB where their needs will be assessed, or through their MPs, rather than through the usual sales channels. Requests for rental housing also remains on a case-by-case basis.

Aware’s experience tells us that such an approach has historically failed to meet the housing needs of unwed mothers. National-level data shared in Parliament reveals that when it comes to rental housing applications from single unwed parents, rejections outnumber approvals. From 2014 to May 2019, MND has only approved 380 rental applications out of the 1,014 requests received. Similarly, from 2014 to 2016, only about 20 per cent of the 100 single, unwed mothers under 35 who appealed to buy a flat had their applications approved.

Policies such as the below will help ameliorate the housing situation for single parents:

  • Allowing unwed mothers to form a family nucleus with their child when applying for HDB housing.
  • Creating a separate scheme with objective criteria for unwed parents under the age of 35 to apply for 2- or 3-room flats

For all our top rankings in the world, gender equality is not one of them. In a 2018 World Economic Forum Report that assessed countries' efforts to achieve gender equality, Singapore ranked 67 out of 149 countries. Under the specific sub-index of political empowerment, Singapore ranked 103 out of 149 countries.

Currently, about 23 per cent of our parliamentarians are women, and women make up only around 16 per cent of the Cabinet (3 out of 19).

The most recent figures released by the Council for Board Diversity in September also found that women make up just 15.7 per cent of board members in the top 100 primary-listed companies on the Singapore Exchange. The marginal increase of 0.5 percentage point in the first half of 2019 also raised doubt on whether the council's target of hitting 20 per cent, or about 171 directorships, by end-2020 could be achieved.

In 2019, governments around the world voted overwhelmingly for a new International Organisation (ILO) convention. This treaty recognises that employers must be responsible for ensuring that everyone, regardless of contractual status, enjoys working conditions that are free from violence and harassment. Disappointingly, Singapore was one of six governments — along with Russia, El Salvador, Malaysia, Paraguay and Kyrgyzstan — to abstain.

Last year, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) handled 192 cases of workplace harassment of women. These comprised sexual and non-sexual harassment. These cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Cases are likely under-reported to the authorities because employers’ obligations are poorly defined.

Violence or harassment may carry individual criminal liability, but that is beside the point. Not all workers wish to pursue legally punitive action. Many simply want their employers to step in and stop the harassment, and provide safe conditions. At present, employers are not obliged to do so.

A key recommendation would be mandating employers to have Workplace Sexual Harassment (WSH) policies instead of relying only on the civil suit regime. This has several key advantages:

  • It is better at preventing WSH from occurring.
    Legal remedies often seem remote. Employer policies pro-actively integrated into organisations will be much more effective in fostering an atmosphere of zero tolerance for WSH.

  • It offers a more effective way of addressing WSH.
    Perpetrators are often in more senior positions than victims, who hesitate to use the law without explicit assurance from employers that they will not be victimised for it (e.g. terminated).

  • It is better for businesses.
    Victims who feel unsupported by employers often simply leave, affecting staff retention. Moreover, staff relations may be unnecessarily damaged by employees seeking lawsuits, rather than resolving complaints through less polarising internal grievance processes

Report by Aware finds that migrant wives are more vulnerable than Singaporean women to family violence, and face disadvantages in divorce, as they lack the independent right to reside in Singapore.

Women make up 70% of all migrant spouses in Singapore. Unless they have a work visa, these non-residents depend entirely on their citizen spouses for the right to reside in the country. The power imbalance that arises can lead to abuse and violence on the citizen spouses’ part. AWARE found that migrant spouses called the Helpline about family violence at twice the rate of local women (27.5% vs 13%).

Migrant wives meet additional obstacles in the areas of housing (e.g. ownership of public housing flats after the citizen spouse passes away) and divorce (e.g. contesting claims and obtaining custody). Migrant mothers who undergo divorce often face the painful prospect of separation from their children.

To provide greater protection, AWARE recommends that the government allow abused migrant spouses to renew their Long-Term Visit Passes independently of their citizen spouses.

In the face of the COVID-19 economic crisis, many migrant workers have expressed the largest source of their stress comes from worrying about whether they will be able to keep their jobs as migrant workers are usually the first to go during such challenging times. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong also said that the job security of migrant workers who return to work after quarantine will depend on their employers and the state of the economy. However, returning home in debt could have devastating consequences for them and their families, especially given current circumstances. Migrant workers should also not be treated as disposable goods having the least law protection under the law.

Currently, migrant workers are only allowed to work in the occupation and for the employer specified in the work permit card. This means that they face restrictions on changing jobs should they face job insecurity.

One sliver lining is that there are temporary measures set up by MOM to allow inter-sectoral transfers of Work Permit holders. They recognise the merits of hiring an existing worker: employers will benefit from experienced workers with a faster deployment time, as well as save on the cost of bringing in new workers. This is also crucial as Singapore's dependency on foreign manpower is as high as 80% with more than 50% of the demand coming from critical public sector infrastructure projects.

However, supply side bottlenecks remain, including reluctance of current employers to give consent for transfer, information asymmetry on available jobs in the market, and limited digital literacy and language barriers. According to TWC2, even if migrant workers find a vacancy, they typically have to pay thousands of dollars to recruiters within Singapore to secure the new job. Otherwise, an employer with a new project might be more keen to hire a fresh worker with no experience but willing to pay a greater amount in recruitment fees.

Not retaining existing migrant workers also makes it harder for Singapore to retain skills and experience, which affects our productivity.

A win-win solution would be for MOM suggested by HOME would be to allow workers in such circumstances to switch employers without having to obtain permission of their current employers, and facilitate job matching at a national level to ensure manpower is available where needed. TWC2 also suggests strongly incentivising re-hiring of migrant workers who are already here but face redundancy and repatriation while strongly dis-incentivising importation from abroad. This way, workers stand a good chance of getting a new job after losing one, thus boosting their career security. Singapore gains through better skills retention.

Since Singapore's circuit-breaker, HOME has seen a 25% increase in the number of calls to their helpline for domestic workers. This is due to several reasons, such as: increase in household and caregiving duties, additional verbal abuse, having to work on their rest days, restrictions in mobility to leave the house for essential errands, lesser access to their phones, faced delayed payment of salaries, or asked to take a pay cut as employers are facing financial difficulties.

According to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, MDWs should be given adequate rest and food, and acceptable accommodation. However, these are just guidelines that are not clearly defined. Based on HOME's experience, there are many domestic workers who work more than 12 hours a day, and the duration of a rest day is not defined as 24 hours. Domestic helpers also accept poor sleeping arrangements and end up paying for their own food due to lack of bargaining power with their employers and fear of losing their jobs.

In June 2011, the international labour organisation (ILO) adopted the convention on decent work for domestic workers. This treaty requires signatory countries to guarantee domestic workers the same rights as other workers on daily and weekly rest periods, working hours, overtime compensation, paid annual leave, as well as adequate protection against violence. More than 20 countries have ratified the treaty, but Singapore is not one of them. Despite having the second-highest domestic worker population in Asia, Singapore is lagging behind in conferring labour protections against them.

As a start, HOME recommends that Employment of Foreign Manpower Act should define the duration of a rest day as 24 hours for domestic helpers to properly rest and recuperate. This erases ambiguity on whether domestic workers are entitled to rest day compensation for work done. Furthermore, domestic workers should be covered under the Employment Act so that the basic rights such as statutory limits on working hours, public holidays, sick leave, and paid annual leave, can be extended to them.

In a study conducted by whatsenoughsg, the minimum budget needed for someone to meet basic standards of living is $1,300 (though the amount could be higher depending on specific household needs). Currently 100,000 Singaporeans earn a take home pay of less than $1,300.

"A basic standard of living in Singapore is about, but more than just housing, food, and clothing. It is about having opportunities to education, employment and work-life balance, as well as access to healthcare. It enables a sense of belonging, respect, security, and independence. It also includes choices to participate in social activities, and the freedom to engage in one’s cultural and religious practices." - As defined in the study

In 2019, 30% of households had an Average Monthly Household Income (including CPF) from Work Per Household Member of less than $1,647 (for 20% of households, it was less than $1,179).

The government has certain welfare assistance schemes in place. However, they are conditional, and are short-term stop-gap measures that are insufficient for independence and security. Yeoh Lam Keong estimates that the bottom 10 to 20 per cent of working households struggle to meet basic needs, while the bottom 20 to 30 per cent of working households “are probably barely able to meet basic consumption and human capital investment needs but have little in the way of retirement savings, leaving them vulnerable to falling into poverty in their lifetime”.

It’s a misconception that people are poor or homeless in Singapore because they don’t have work. SW101’s study showed that 60% of the homeless people they’d come across were in fact working. 58% of them were working full-time, while 38% were in casual employment. “They are able-bodied, and they are actually holding down jobs—just not very rewarding jobs. The low wages are a reminder of the work issues that a particular segment of the population faces,” Dr Ng Kok Hoe at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy told The Straits Times in October 2017.

Universal Basic Income
"Give all Singaporeans a universal basic income for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, to assure them that their basic needs will be met even if they lose their jobs," said Nominated MP Walter Theseira. Under his proposal, dubbed the Majulah Universal Basic Income Scheme (MUBI), all Singaporeans - including children and retirees - will get $110 a week for 12 weeks.

HOME has found that many Singaporeans adopt the belief that it is acceptable to discriminate against migrant workers because it is a privilege for them to work in a first-world country like Singapore. A study by International Labor Organisation (ILO) and UN Women reported that 52% of survey respondents from the general population in Singapore thought hate crime had increased due to migration. This is reinforced by our environment as there are heightened police presence in areas where migrant workers congregate; barricades which prevent them from entering residential zones; and banning domestic workers from using facilities in condominiums.

Dr Matthew Mathews, head of the Institute of Policy Studies' Social Lab, also points out that migrant communities are largely segregated from the resident population in dormitories or construction sites. He says that "Singaporeans have, at various times, expressed their concern that they do not want to be living near the foreign worker population because they are seen as culturally very different and sometimes dangerous. This greatly reduces opportunities for interaction and the fostering of mutual trust and understanding." For example, in 2008, about 1,400 out of 7,000 residents signed a petition to object a workers' dormitory in Serangoon Gardens. In response, Foreign Minister (back then) George Yeo said that the Ministry of National Development would seriously consider how to create foreign worker communities that are sustainable and self-contained. Since then, more large purpose-built dorms have come up with facilities like cinemas, cricket fields, and vendors providing services like remittance and sale of phone cards nearby. This encourages workers to stay within these communities rather than congregate elsewhere. According to the same study by ILO, the lack of interaction could contribute to the negative views of migrant workers, and further drive a wedge between both groups.

Furthermore, the recent reporting of the COVID-19 situation in migrant worker dormitories reinforces these attitudes. In the article "Coronavirus: Figuring out what to watch," the Straits Times author mentions that the exact number of those being infected within the dorms "are not of critical importance in terms of policy decisions," which suggests that migrant workers are not individuals with equal worth as the rest of the population. Subsequently, local news coverage of the virus began separating our daily infection numbers into migrant workers living in dormitories and 'community cases'. By equating our success of tackling the virus with how many 'community cases' there are, we are inevitably dehumanising the migrant workers.

Overall, these attitudes are discriminatory and result in perpetrating the negative stereotype of migrant workers.

Swiftly transitioning away from fossil fuels is key to reducing emissions. The only truly effective strategy to achieve this, advocated by activists around the world, is divestment. This means selling all financial assets and investments in large oil and gas companies.

As of September 2019, a total of US$11 trillion has been committed to divest from fossil fuels by financial institutions around the world—a 22,000% leap from 2014. Divesting declines fossil fuel companies the capital they require to conduct business, hence minimising the devastating impacts of their actions. Furthermore, climate saving sectors look to benefit from this move, with divested capital being reinvested into renewables.

Singapore’s largest banks, DBS, OCBC & UOB have all announced that they would cease financing future coal and fossil fuel extraction projects regardless of the efficiency of technologies used. However, these banks have remain committed to their current projects. DBS remains involved as a financial adviser for the Java 9 and 10 project in Indonesia, while both DBS and OCBC are named among the syndicates looking to finance the Van Phong 1 and Vung Ang 2 projects in Vietnam. Combined, these projects would add another 4.5 GW of new coal power, capable of releasing one billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere over a 40-year operating life. All three projects also carry other severe environmental, economic and social risks. Furthermore, some of the world’s biggest corporate emitters have refineries in Singapore, particularly on the reclaimed petrochemical hub Jurong Island. These include Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell, and PetroChina.

When and how can divestment from polluting corporations take place?

In their Calls to Action, the organisers of SG Climate Rally proposed starting with institutional investors like sovereign wealth funds, by factoring in long-term climate risk assessments in investment decisions and collaborating with policymakers. To a large extent, this would mean that sovereign wealth funds and other financial institutions should stop providing financial backing to oil, coal, and gas projects, such as those in Vietnam currently funded by DBS. In making regulatory, licensing, tax and other decisions affecting economic activity, the government should be actively seeking to transition away from economic reliance on fossil fuel businesses as rapidly as feasible. Currently, there is limited transparency on what our institutional investors are investing in, making it difficult to seek specific calls for divestment.

The Singapore government could also opt to pass a resolution, calling on corporations from private and public sectors to divest from fossil fuel assets. According to a report by Arrabella Advisors, a similar resolution passed in the European Parliament was well received among institutional investors who gradually divested from fossil fuel assets.

Planning is key to ensuring a just transition which won’t leave workers unemployed. In their plan submitted to the NCCS, 350 Singapore suggested redistributing revenues from a carbon tax (raised to US$40-80 per tonne) to citizens, through a progressive carbon dividend. They also recommend setting up a transition fund for industries choosing to transition out of certain sectors, and policies to provide learning opportunities in line with green jobs.

Divestment tends to be a drawn-out process that often takes years to complete. Furthermore, corporations involved in fossil fuel extraction such as Shell or BP have protected themselves from the impact of fossil fuel divestment by racking up huge cash reserves & implementing share repurchase schemes to protect their share prices & existing investors.

The government could also promote shareholder engagement as a joint strategy in conjunction with divestment. Divestment deprives sympathetic institutional investors of the opportunity to engage in shareholder activism; the ability to pressure companies they have an ownership stake in, to introduce more sustainable ways of doing business – for instance, by blocking the awards of executive pay rises and bonuses. This engagement-oriented joint strategy instead encourages institutional investors to maintain a large equity stake in fossil fuel companies, as opposed to selling off these shares to investors who are apathetic to climate change & non-advocates of sustainable business practices. Institutional investors can actively engage with fossil fuel companies in their portfolio & set expectations for the companies to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreements. If companies fail to make sufficient progress or decline to make these changes, investors should then choose to divest.

With climate change being the defining issue of our time, more in Singapore are aware of the problems that it brings about. Education forms a very pivotal aspect in aiding people to understand and address the impacts of climate change. The very effect education has in being able to bring about changes among people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles warrants the need to start young.

Indeed, following requests to strengthen climate change education, MOE has attempted to include climate change issues in the school curriculum and activities. By doing so, students are able to understand more about climate change and subsequently, make informed decisions. However, while schools educate students on climate change, climate change education on other fronts falls short.

The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) had called for a whole-of-society effort in order to address climate change requiring the collective efforts of the government, individuals, businesses, community groups and non-governmental organisations. Nonetheless, without sustained public education, such a joint effort seems to be a far cry.

In order to tackle climate change through public education, MP Dennis Tan stated in February that education efforts should be ramped up. His suggestion included NCCS partnering with research agencies in order to make climate change related research accessible and readable to Singaporeans. By doing so, there could be greater civic participation and awareness raised among Singaporeans.

Additionally, local environmental initiative Greenwatch has advocated for public education in their policy brief 2020. Their recommendations include: - Conducting nation-wide awareness campaigns in order to make public more aware of climate-related risks, impacts and policies
- Communication of effects of climate change on other pressing issues such as social inequity
- Mandatory climate change education in the national curriculum and integration of climate change study into all academic subjects
- Framing climate change as an urgent systemic issue to push for collective action as compared to an issue of individual responsibility

Globally, public education has been recognized as an important step to change public opinions and attitudes towards climate change. In 2019, Italy became the first country to have a mandatory coursework on climate change requiring students in every grade to study it.

The enhanced isolation of migrant workers have left many of them feeling depressed and anxious. For domestic helpers, many are stuck in their employers house with little recourse to leave; for migrant workers, they are being quarantined in their dormitories.

Beyond the stress of managing their workload and meeting the needs of their families back home, their anxieties have been heightened by the lack of rest, poor living conditions, and stress of losing their job. However, counselling and psychological services are not easily available for migrant workers to help them cope with such stresses. In a survey, 68% of migrant workers said they somewhat agreed/agreed/strongly agreed with the statement "I feel depressed."

Hence, HOME recommends we implement readily-available and free helplines and counselling centres that address the mental health needs of our migrant workers.

Typically, if a current employer of a domestic worker wishes to transfer her to a new employer, he/she would have to provide the new employer with a letter of consent for the new work permit application, and continue to pay for the helper's upkeep during the transition period if she has been returned to the agency.

Recently, MOM announced a new rule to make the transfer of domestic helpers easier: employment agencies will be able to help clients cancel their helper's work permit even if she does not have a new employer, in hopes that she can be transferred to other households. This means that the employment agency would be responsible to pay for the helper's upkeep and maintainance, and pay for the travel ticket to send her to an international airport to return home should she be unable to look for a new employer.

However, domestic helpers only have a 14-day window to find a new employer, or be repatriated home if unsuccessful. This new rule incentivises an employer to transfer a domestic helper instead of sending her home, which alleviates their financial responsibility of the upkeep and repatriation of domestic helpers if they no longer wish to employ them. There may also be instances where agents compel a domestic worker to take up employment she does not wish to, so that the employment agency does not continue to incur upkeep costs, bearing in mind that current travel restrictions around the region make it difficult for domestic workers to be repatriated.

Fundamentally, the fact remains that domestic workers do not have any authority over their employment status. Employers are able to dismiss and repatriate a domestic worker without giving any prior notice, or without her desire or regard to leave the employment. This deportability and labour immobility are fundamental factors influencing migrant domestic workers to stay in such highly exploitative situations, as well as not report instances of abuse and violation.

Hence, HOME recommends we should move towards establishing the right for domestic workers to switch employers freely, with clearly defined notice periods that employers and domestic workers are to abide by. As a start, domestic workers who have finished their contracts should be allowed to look for alternative employment without their employers’ consent. This will effectively help them to negotiate their salary commensurate with their experience and skill sets.

Currently, Singapore's migrant workers face multiple financial hurdles:

  • Excessive Recruitment Loans
    According to HOME, migrant workers typically have to borrow huge sums of money at exorbitant interest rates to pay their recruitment agents - sometimes as high as $8,000 SGD. This is due to the many middleman between them and the job, and means that before they even begin the job proper, they already face increased debt burdens and long loan repayment periods. This is a significant factor in their compliance with degrading working and living conditions.

  • No Minimum Wage or Wage Protection
    We recognise that the amount each migrant worker is paid differs for each company. Based on HOME's research, migrant workers in the construction and marine sectors can earn as little as $300-$400 a month, despite long working hours and travel time to get to work sites from the city fringes. Meanwhile, migrant workers who work as conservancy cleaners earn on average $500-$800 a month, and are not part of the Progressive Wage Model like Singaporean cleaners who are guaranteed a minimum wage of $1,200. This lack of a mandatory minimum wage for migrant workers mean that they are unprotected from vulnerable long term economic exploitation, as their wages remain low and do not take into account increased cost of living or inflation.

  • Withholding of salary, unlawful salary deductions, late payments and unfair dismissals
    Migrant workers have also expressed untimely payment of salaries by employers, and may resort to borrowing from unlicensed or licensed moneylenders as a consequence. They face pressures to send money home to assist with family finances, or manage sudden emergencies regarding education, health, or reconstruction of their homes due to natural disasters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 53.5% of migrant workers in a survey strongly disagreed with the statement "I am confident that I will get my salary although I have not been working because of COVID19." Only 1% agreed with the statement.

While MOM has released an advisory on salary payments to employers regarding migrant worker salaries, employers are still able to terminate workers whose wages they are unable to pay. HOME has already seen numerous cases of workers who have been laid off overnight, losing their access to accommodation and food. This advisory also only applies to migrant workers living in dormitories, and do not apply to the majority of migrant workers who rent bed space on the open market.

As such, HOME recommends the following:
Moving towards a zero recruitment fee model, starting with better regulation of recruitment practices to prevent excessive recruitment fees
Conduct a review of all laws pertaining to the employment, wellbeing and living conditions of migrant workers and ensure that they comply with international standards
An accreditation system that allows migrant workers to be under the progressive wage model
Setting up of minimum wage for workers, to allow sense of financial security despite dehumanising working conditions
For this period of COVID-19, migrant workers' wages, like local workers’, can be government-subsidised to reduce the financial burden on employers, in turn helping them keep more workers employed and ensuring their welfare is taken care of.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that migrant workers are very much indispensable to the functioning of our country. However, due to their lack of bargaining power (fear of deportability, long loan repayments, job insecurity, etc) it is impossible for them to advocate for their own well-being and speak up without fear of persecution. In a survey, 33.3% of migrant worker participants indicated that they "strongly agree" with the statement "I feel scared to bring up any issues I am experiencing."

For a start, HOME recommends we ensure workers can raise concerns freely without fear of punishment. Particularly, foster a climate of open communication which encourages workers to speak freely to their employers, dormitory operators and to the authorities, and which strengthens workers’ voices. In the long-term, a framework for worker-led, and worker-owned unions and groups that represent the needs of low-wage migrant workers should be legalised.

Under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), an employee can claim compensation from his employer if he suffers an injury or medical condition by accident due to work. Employers are required by law to purchase a work injury compensation (WIC) insurance for all manual workers and non-manual workers earning $1,600 or less a month. However, there is no accountability or incentive for the insurers to ensure that the workers are fully aware of their rights and entitlements.

This is a problem as workers might not know how to request from doctors clear evidence that subsequent complications arose from the workplace injury. This problem is exacerbated in cases where a worker's access to medical treatment is delayed by errant employers, resulting in delayed medical treatment. As employers must pay hospitals first before insurers reimburse them, the main barrier to treatment is hospitals' lack of assurance of payment from tardy or errant employers.

Food support organisations interviewed by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation do not have the same method of identifying households or beneficiaries. While many used formal channels such as assessing household income eligibility, the income threshold varied with organisations. Moreover, organisations also used informal assessment methods, as well as take-in referrals and walk-in cases.

Rental flats (mostly one-room but also two-room) were a particular proxy indicator of need for some organisations, as they were available only to low-income households. However, examining the distribution of food insecurity by housing type revealed that, a good 36.6% of them lived in three-room flats. A further breakdown of this data showed that 30.1% of the three-room-flat households experienced moderate to severe food insecurity.

Targeting food support through informal channels and proxy methods hence raises the concern of whether food support is reaching those who most need it, that is, the severely food insecure. The survey results showed that as many as 10 (22.2%) of the 45 severely food insecure households received no food support at all.

Another related problem that results from the fragmented targeting of food organisations is duplication in food support. While the organisations interviewed reached an estimated 7,000 households, these were not unique households, as some received support from more than one organisation. This shows how food resources are potentially wasted as a resulted of duplication in food support.

In order to tackle these gaps, the Lien Centre for Social Innovation had recommended 2 main suggestions. It calls for greater coordination and targeted food support.
In order to practise targeted food support, organisations could conduct needs assessments and have clear eligibility criteria. By having a clear eligibility criterion, it would guarantee that people are given the right support. An example would be ration packs being given to those with the ability to cook. Doing so would ensure that there is no mismatch in the resources provided and the help needed by individuals facing food insecurity.
Apart from that, it is also crucial to have a consolidated and coordinated network among the food organisations. A collective network would include the sharing of information and pooling resources on needs assessments, households reached, food distribution and volunteer mobilisation. A collective network and an open mapping of food support provision across the various food support organisations would prevent the duplication of food support given to the same households.

What is currently being done?
The Nature Conservation Masterplan (NCMP) developed in 2015 was set out to intensify and strengthen NParks’ biodiversity conservation efforts over the 5 years. The plan includes conserving key habitats, habitat enhancement, restoration and species recovery, enhancing research capabilities and community outreach programmes. For instance, as part of the NCMP, NParks committed itself in 2019 to plant more than 250,000 native trees and shrubs in the nature parks and open areas within the nature reserves over the next decade.

What else should be done?
However, while such efforts are commendable and a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to ensure that Singapore’s ecosystems and biodiversity are preserved. In order to address threats to biodiversity and nature, Greenwatch had suggested the following:
- (a) Mandatory impact assessments that look at the costs (e.g. potential loss of biodiversity) incurred when installing and maintaining coastal and other environmental adaptation measures
- (b) Carry out greater restorative planting and shoreline protection as nature-based solutions to adapt to sea level rise
- (c) Mandate and publicly release Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) that evaluate biodiversity and carbon emissions impacts prior to planning for all greenfield developmental projects
- (d) Increase legal protection of natural areas and work with NParks, URA, and SLA to issue a long-term moratorium on further development of Singapore’s natural areas and secondary forests to enhance our carbon sinks*

A carbon sink is any reservoir, natural or otherwise, that absorbs more carbon than it releases, and hence reduces the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The aim of the climate pledges made under the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, with the aim of limiting warming to just 1.5 deg C - the target scientists say is necessary for preventing the worst climate impacts. The Paris Agreement calls for countries to declare Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to fulfill this goal.

Overall, Singapore contributes about 0.11 per cent to global emissions. However, in terms of per capita emissions, Singapore ranks 27 out of 142 countries - with each person here producing more emissions compared with each person in China, the United Kingdom and Indonesia, according to International Energy Agency data cited on the National Climate Change Secretariat's website.

Singapore’s latest NDC is to peak its absolute emissions by 2030. It also aspires to halve the peak emissions by 2050, with a view to achieving net-zero emissions as soon as viable in the second half of the century. Climate Action Tracker rates this target as "highly insufficient" as it is consistent with warming between 3 deg C and 4 deg C.

Since emissions intensity is the ratio of emissions to economic activity (usually measured by Gross Domestic Product), a country may reduce its emission intensity while increasing its absolute emissions simply through economic development. Singapore is projected to meet its 2030 NDP without any further policy changes and with a with a 2030 absolute emissions target that is 58% above 2014 emission levels.

SG Climate Rally has stated that it wants Singapore to “peak our emissions by 2020, to halve them by 2030, and to achieve net zero by 2050”. These goals, they argue, are in line with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found to be necessary to keep global warming to below 1.5°C.

The poverty rate has been rising among working elderly. In a 2015 paper on elderly poverty in Singapore, Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy showed that the poverty rate among the working elderly jumped from 13 per cent in 1995, to 28 per cent in 2005 – to 41 per cent in 2011.

A notable trend is the rise in the number of older workers taking home less than $1,000 a month. According to Ministry of Manpower figures released in 2014 and reported in The Sunday Times, the number of such low-wage older workers doubled to nearly 35,000 over the past decade. According to the Labour Force in Singapore 2019 report, about 30% of cleaners and labourers are above 60 years old, and the median gross monthly income for them is $1300. The older they get, those who previously held blue-collar jobs would find themselves even lower down the workforce rung, noted Dr John Donaldson, who has written on poverty in Singapore.

There is Comcare Long-Term Assistance which is available for elderly persons who receive only a small monthly payout from other sources, and whose children are low-income themselves. Comcare Long-Term Assistance consists of varying levels of cash assistance, depending on household size and medical assistance required.
For the elderly specifically, there is Silver Support, a pension scheme which provides a quarterly cash supplement to the bottom 20% of Singaporeans aged 65 and above. It is applaudable, and apt that the Silver Support Scheme is getting expanded in 2021.

Without stronger assistance and support for the elderly, there is the risk of disrespecting the dignity of the elderly. A further critique is that there are too many targetted help schemes – with varying criteria and limiting conditions attached. This created two types of problems:
One: Confusion and lack of understanding, which might explain why some elderly poor would rather just carry on working than attempt to seek support. Dr Ng says, “If I am collecting cardboard, am I going to spend time figuring out how the schemes work, and then test out each one to see if I qualify; or am I going to work so that I can secure tomorrow’s expenses? I am going to work!”
Two: Having to jump through hoops to meet criteria, means that some will fall through the cracks. Take the requirement that applicants must not have children who can financially support them. Said Ms Nurasyikin: “Just because they have kids, it doesn’t mean that they are taken care of… But (applicants) don’t get the assistance just because the database shows that they have kids.”
Ms Wong Yock Leng, a senior social worker with Tsao Foundation, said: “When you ask for ComCare assistance, they will check for everything… That’s why a lot of people don’t apply anymore after that. It’s so daunting, the whole process.”

The problem of job security In the second quarter of 2020, Singapore's overall unemployment rate rose to its highest level in more than a decade, as retrenchments more than doubled and total employment declined amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic hit, job security was a pertinent issue amongst certain demographics of Singaporeans. Here, we focus on gig economy workers.

There are currently 210,000 gig economy freelance workers in Singapore, most of whom are engaged in transport or food delivery. These individuals are employed under short-term ‘zero-hours’ contracts, subject to unstable fluctuations in demand. In a year of a pandemic where economic activity is stalled, these gig jobs are especially threatened since customers reduce their spending and employers look to cut costs. In the short run, gig work results in a fundamentally unstable income, and insecure job. In the long run, this could mean a lack of retirement income insecurity.

Associate Professor Walter Theseira from SUSS (former NMP) describes freelance jobs like driving as having “little hierarchical structure and are fairly simple … [which] mean that no employer hiring for a permanent career position will take most gig-economy experiences seriously as evidence of fitness for a job that requires significant technical and management skills, or which requires substantial discipline.” Freelance work, in this light, deepens the hole in which underemployed people—individuals whose qualifications or experience outstrip their current job scope—already find themselves in. Freelance work is a trap that will not set free the people who turn to it because they cannot secure full-time employment at a firm.

In 2017, the Singaporean government set up the Tripartite Workgroup on Self-employed persons (SEPS). The Tripartite Group devised a set of industry guidelines, known as the Tripartite Standards, for contracting freelance workers.
From early 2020, a scheme called Contribute-As-You-Earn (CAYE) was introduced. CAYE allocates a portion of freelancer fees into MediSave accounts, providing more medical security for gig workers in the long term.
Furthermore, lower-income gig workers qualify for Workfare Income Supplement (WIS). Each year, the government provides WIS payouts to more than 40,000 gig workers.
Gig workers can also tap on the Workfare Training Support scheme to apply for training allowance and upskill themselves.

However, as the gig economy becomes a permanent fixture in Singapore, it is paramount that the job security of these workers is protected.
Stronger safety net
Teo You Yenn suggests that a stronger safety net is necessary. In particular, there should be more relaxed criteria to qualify for the social assistance regimes. Teo You Yenn has also said that the social assistance regimes in Singapore have “intensive gatekeeping” which could mean “help [comes] too little, too late”. Case in point would be the Workfare Income Supplement, which is only available for those above 35 years old. With less intensive gatekeeping, that can ensure gig workers have enough to tide unstable times.
Tailoring Contribute-As-You-Earn (CAYE) scheme to the workers
Dr Walter Theseira, believes there is still room for more protection of gig workers by tailoring CAYE. One suggestion is to allow the self-employed to vary their CAYE contribution rates according to their income “peaks and troughs”. Another suggestion is to tailor the contributions in CAYE to the specific tasks which gig workers do. This is important in ensuring that workers have sufficient disposable income for their needs, while allowing them to save up and have medical security. Dr. Theseira made it clear that the authorities must ensure that workers are not abused in a way that they feel “compelled to work all the time in order to remain in good standing”.

A study conducted by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation at SMU categorised food insecurity in Singapore as 3 main types: mild, moderate and severe.
The study mentioned that an individual experiencing mild to moderate food insecurity faced problems such as eating low nutritional value and repetitive food.
Moderate to severe food insecurity looks at individuals who have reduced food proportions and skip meals when they are unable to afford food.

The 2018 study found that out of the 236 Singaporeans who live in low-income neighbourhoods and are served by food support groups, 20% of them face severe food insecurity. The same study found that there is no one factor that could be singled out as the main cause of household food insecurity in Singapore. In fact, the qualitative findings in the study classified the factors into 3 main categories: income, health constraints and time constraints.

One of the leading reasons behind food insecurity is due to financial concerns. Income level is seen as a tool to identify if individuals or households need food support. Though formal channels assessed household income data, organisations did not have the same income eligibility criteria: the lowest per capita income cut-off was $400 and the highest $750.

Apart from that, other organisations looked out for information provided by community workers to identify potential households for food support. Informal channels include simply judging whether an individual or family seems to be in need or using housing type as a proxy for income level. In particular, three organisations targeted one-room rental flats as households living there had to have a monthly income of no more than $1,500. While income levels affect an individual’s level of food insecurity, the study also found that 27% of the participant sample had an average monthly income of $2,000 and above indicating that there are other pressing factors as well.

Health Concerns
Ill health, immobility and frailty are possible key reasons for food insecurity, mainly amongst the elderly in Singapore. 57% of participants who reported having chronic health conditions fell into the moderately to severely food insecure bracket. The health conditions of beneficiaries—particularly the elderly—reduce their mobility and ability to access food, hence increasing their vulnerability to becoming food insecure.

Time constraints
Survey results revealed that 26% of the severely food insecure participants did not get enough to eat due to insufficient time for shopping or cooking. The insufficient time indicates the time pressures faced by certain households and their struggles to be food secure. The data also indicated that these households also experienced financial constraints. Correlation tests were used to explore variables that may be linked to having enough time for shopping and/or cooking and the primary factor correlated with having insufficient time for shopping and cooking was age.

To materially support those who are experiencing food insecurity, it is necessary to change the perception of need in Singapore. Education and raising awareness about these issues will help to prevent misconceptions on food insecurity and increase empathy for food-insecure individuals and households. In the long term, education may contribute to creating a less stigmatised food support environment and generate more support to tackle food insecurity in Singapore. Additionally, to tackle food insecurity more systemically, food support organisations can link up closely with social service organisations providing other means of support. These organisations can provide further help and support to lift households out of food insecurity. This can include financial management workshops, employment support, access to health subsidies, tuition for children, enrichment and aspiration building for adults and children. Having such partners will also allow food support organisations to focus on expanding their outreach and provision for greater impact. While such an approach takes time, it provides focus for the long-term and holistic solutions required to tackle food insecurity.

“Trying to access financial aid in Singapore is stigmatising. The programs are very clearly framed as exceptional and for a minority. This is what we know from the international research on social policies: when programs are exceptional rather than universal, and especially when they are targeted at the lowest-income, there is a stigma attached to accessing them. Stigma is the opposite of dignity. It makes a person feel ashamed, of lower worth. There is stigma in accessing ComCare in a way there is no stigma accessing, say, the Baby Bonus. I saw people who are already at the end of their rope insisting that they are “still ok,” telling me that they would rather exhaust other avenues than go to the Social Service Office. Process matters.” - Teo You Yenn

Research done by Beyond Social services has revealed that the indignifying state processes results in people who do not seek help and adds to stress levels of individuals who are already trying their best to navigate their challenging circumstances.

When social assistance is difficult to qualify for, onerous to access, insufficiently generous to meet basic needs, and come attached with social judgement, they add to people’s sense that they have to manage on their own, regardless of their difficulties.

The Land Transport Master Plan 2040 plans to work on 3 broad areas in order to improve public transport. The recommendations include making public transport and active mobility modes convenient enough that it will support 90% of all peak-hour journeys, more inclusive transport system to meet the needs of Singaporeans and a safer travelling experience through more spaces for walking, cycling and public transport.

Greenwatch has called for greater action to reduce car usage and convert all vehicles to clean energy to further reduce emissions in the transport sector. Some of the recommendations by Greenwatch that could potentially work in tandem with the Land Transport Master Plan 2040 include increasing mode shares of public transport and active mobility, redesigning of streets to be more people-centric than car-centric by converting car space into cycling paths and foot paths and lastly, by providing infrastructural support and financial incentives for a quicker transition to Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) and this looks towards the complete decarbonization of the public transport. These measures will help build a more reliable, affordable and accessible public transport system and active mobility options.

Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy are contributing to global warming. The combustion of extractive fuels like coal and natural gas release gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where they act like a blanket in trapping heat. This causes weather patterns to change and increases the likelihood of extreme weather events.

Singapore is powered mainly by natural gas, which is a cleaner form of energy compared to coal but still a fossil fuel nonetheless. More than 95 per cent of Singapore's energy now comes from natural gas, which it imports in liquefied forms from all over the world and through pipes from neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia. The Singapore government also intends to continue to rely on natural gas for the next 50 years for a substantial part of its energy needs.

The Singapore Government is investing heavily in solar energy, and is trialling the installation of solar panels on water bodies to overcome space constraints. Solar energy would by 2030 make up a greater share of Singapore's energy mix, but natural gas, a fossil fuel, would still Singapore's dominant fuel in the near future, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said during the opening session of Singapore International Energy Week in 2019.

Since 2019, Singapore has implemented a carbon tax. Climate Action Tracker critiques Singapore's carbon tax as being too low to be effective. A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels, usually paid by the industry that is extracting these fuels (as opposed to the consumer who uses them). This acts as an economic incentive to reduce carbon emissions. The current carbon tax charges S$5 per tonne of GHG emissions from 2019 to 2023, after which the tax will increase from S$10 to $15 per tonne of GHG emissions by 2030. This is far lower than the US$40-80/tonne recommended by environmental groups such as 350 Singapore. Moreover, only facilities emitting above 25,000 tons a year will be taxable, which adds to about 30 to 40 facilities. Emitters responsible for between 2,000 and 25,000 tonnes a year are required to submit emissions reports, but they will not have to pay a tax. Facilities can apply to be deregistered on a case-by-case basis if their greenhouse emissions “fall below certain thresholds for three consecutive years.” This policy will allow corporations to plan ahead, but it has been criticised for its leniency.

According to Greenwatch, progress on moving towards renewable energy in terms of regional collaboration remains slow and mooted in the distant future”, and solar energy has limited potential. The government has rejected renewable energy subsidies, while continuing to subsidise fossil fuels. Worse, the petrochemical industry is relentlessly expanding. The government calls ExxonMobil, in particular, a “close and trusted partner”. The industry now accounts for “close to half of Singapore’s emissions together with the oil and gas industry.”

Many fail to realise that households can still be food insecure even if they are hunger free. These households tend to have little access to nutritious food.

Disregarding the spread of food assistance, quality of donations that food organisations depend on often do not match with the dietary requirements of some beneficiaries, especially the elderly. Many of the food support organisations themselves rely on donated food items and prepared food. While they wish to obtain fresh and healthier food for their beneficiaries, the quality of their food support is dependent on what they receive. Organisations face a constant challenge in finding food and monetary donors who can support their cause.

Additionally, another problem includes the lack of “nutritionally adequate” food. A research study in 2014 found that the elderly living in one- and two-room flats had a higher risk of malnutrition. With the elderly already being a vulnerable group in terms of nutritional intake, it is crucial that there is a change in the nutritional quality provided as the elderly dependent on such assistance may face negative health consequences.

While the Meals-on-Wheels programme provide homebound individuals with client-specific dietary requirements such as meals for diabetics or soft diets, many other food assistance groups provide beneficiaries with what’s available and this often means instant noodles or canned foods that are high in sodium and saturated fat. Providing food alone without special attention towards the nutritional value of food is extremely detrimental to beneficiaries with existing health problems.

As such, this calls for a shift among food organisations. Food organisations should not only focus on reaching out to these households and providing them with food but also ensure that these food items are personalised and nutritious to food-insecure individuals. The Lien Centre for Social Innovation calls for food organisations to prioritise providing fresh food in ration packs and although that would result in higher expenses, the long-term benefits of nutrition and health of beneficiaries should be the utmost priority. It also recommends a personalised ration pack consisting of a balanced meal as opposed to snacks and drinks in order to cater to the various needs and differences of the beneficiaries.

The widening of wealth inequality will be especially pronounced in other emerging countries which have a higher susceptibility to extreme weather events or a significant proportion of the population living in rural areas or depending on agriculture for their livelihood.

Though not as severe as other countries, Singapore will also face polarising effects because of climate change. Food prices are expected to rise because of crop yields declining due to rising temperatures and more frequent occurrence of natural disasters. This will put increased pressure on lower income groups in Singapore struggling to afford sustenance, impairing their ability to channel their efforts towards improving their earning power through self-development.

Measures implemented to help mitigate climate change such as increasing the prices of fossil fuel energy sources could worsen conditions for low-income groups. While intended to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, this may inadvertently result in creating more difficulty for lower income groups. They would suffer from the increased cost of living, as they would typically rely on fossil fuel energy sources rather than renewable energy sources which are typically more expensive, widening the inequality gap. Such policies should weigh this trade off and should explore ways to optimise both the effectiveness in terms of reducing emissions as well as the uneven effects these may have on different income groups.

A carbon tax will enhance Singapore’s mitigation efforts to reduce carbon footprint. A tax on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will incentivise emitters to improve their energy efficiency and innovate to reduce their GHG emissions. With carbon tax generating revenues - the government expects to collect nearly S$1 billion (US$750 million) from the carbon tax in the next five years -, it is crucial to identify where these revenues should be channeled to.

The Singapore Government has said that revenue from the tax will fund green initiatives, via two existing schemes: the Productivity Grant (Energy Efficiency) and the Energy Efficiency Fund.

Greenwatch has suggested that the carbon tax revenue be put in a differentiated fund where part of the revenues will be used to (a) redistribute to lower-income households to offset any increase in electricity prices and (b) to finance the development of green industries.

British Columbia is a prime example of how carbon tax can be used. Its carbon tax is known to have successfully aided in reducing carbon emissions. Apart from that, revenues generated from the carbon tax are used to (a) provide carbon tax relief and protect affordability, (b) maintain industry competitiveness and (c) encourage new green initiatives. Such measures ensure that consumers are able to adjust well to the carbon tax while also allowing the government to engage in green projects.

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