Latest News: 25 February 2021

1. SLA and NParks cautions visitors to Clementi and Dover forests of uneven ground and trees prone to falling 

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and National Parks Board (NParks) have cautioned those visiting wooded areas such as Clementi Forest and Dover Forest to be aware of dangers such as trees that are prone to falling after recent publicity has drawn public interest to these areas. 

The two agencies reminded the public that “these are not areas that are managed for recreation and public access. The terrain and ground are uneven, and paths are not provided.”

They went on to add, “These areas also consist of regrowth vegetation with self-sown trees like Albizia, which are prone to falling and snapped branches. We advise the public to be mindful of these dangers for their own personal safety.” 

The two forests have recently come to the public’s attention after it was discovered that they were zoned for residential development. In response, the public rallied to call for the conservation of these natural areas within Singapore. 

The Ulu Pandan estate, where Dover Forest lies, was one of the areas where the Housing and Development Board (HDB) had planned to offer 17,000 Build-to-Order (BTO) flats this year. An environmental baseline study of the land found that it is home to at least 158 species of animals, including critically endangered ones, and 120 plant species. 

After public outcry, the government extended the public consultation period by four weeks, until 1 March 2021. 

Meanwhile, Clementi Forest shot to fame after it was featured in stunning drone footage captured by a member of the public. Lying just north of Dover Forest, Clementi Forest too has been zoned as a residential area since 1998. However, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has clarified that there are no immediate plans for development. 

Both Dover and Clementi Forest have been at the heart of recent public debates on the balance between urban development and the preservation of nature in Singapore. 

2. Up to 250 fans will be able to catch the Singapore Open semi-finals and finals live 

Tennis fans here in Singapore can look forward to attending a live match as the organisers of the Singapore Tennis Open announced on Wednesday, 24 February, that 250 fans will be allowed per day for the semi-finals and finals taking place this weekend. 

Ticket sales had started at 6 p.m. on Wednesday via Sistic, and were priced at S$61 each. At the time of writing, all tickets have been sold out. The organisers of the Singapore Tennis Open have also reminded spectators that only tickets from authorised agents (SISTIC) will be accepted in the venue, and to be wary of unauthorised resellers on third-party vendors. 

Spectators attending the event must take an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) before entering the Singapore Sport Hub’s OCBC Arena. The cost of the test is covered in the ticket price. 

Additionally, they are required to undergo temperature taking and SafeEntry check-in using TraceTogether. Spectators will only be permitted to enter the venue if their test results, which will take about 30 minutes, is negative. 

They will also have to wear masks at all times, and are not allowed to change seats or mingle between different groups. 

Those who did not manage to obtain tickets for this weekend will still be able to catch the matches live on meWatch. The Singapore Tennis Open Finals will also be aired on Mediacorp Channel 5 on 28 February. Alternatively, fans can catch the matches at Hub.Tennis and beIN Sports

3. Athletics championship, SA All Comers Meet 1, returns after one-year hiatus

The Singapore Athletics (SA) All Comers Meet 1 will be returning this year after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’ll be held from 26 to 28 February (Friday to Sunday) at the Home of Athletics in Kallang. 

The annual meet provides local athletes with an opportunity to qualify for major competitions like the year-end SEA Games in Vietnam. The event had been cancelled last year due to the pandemic. 

SA president Lien Choong Luen told The Straits Times, “In light of the COVID situation, it is even more important to have local events so that the athletes, especially those in the open category, will get the chance to race as they do not have an opportunity to race overseas.”

Lien added, “It is our responsibility to put up a relatively large-scale event for athletes to return to competing since meets are the only venue for them to get real race experience.”

While the national track and field body has held other competitive events over the past year, they were typically only open to the top-eight ranked athletes and varsity athletes. On the contrary, the SA All Comers Meet is a more inclusive event and is “open to athletes of different ages and standards”, according to Lien. 

The SA All Comers Meet will comprise a series of six events throughout this year, making it the main local championship. 

4. Budget debate: highlights

CDC mayor salaries perceived as being “outrageous”; need to review

On the first day of the budget debate on Wednesday, 24 February, Opposition Leader Pritam Singh stated that many Singaporeans are of the view that the Community Development Council (CDC) mayors receive “outrageous” salaries that do not appear to correspond with the CDCs’ functions.

A 2012 White Paper revealed that mayors receive an annual salary of $660,000, in addition to an annual MP allowance of $192,500.

He called for a review of the need for full-time CDC mayors, noting that CDCs received an allocation of $20 million in the 2020 Unity Budget, which was subsequently raised to $75 million in the Resilience Budget, an injection that was “equal to all the reserves of the CDCs put together, according to the CDCs’ FY 2018 annual report.”

Singh asked the Parliament if the $100 CDC vouchers, which will be distributed to around 1.3 million households under the $900 million Household Support package for families, can be used at supermarkets such as NTUC FairPrice, recommending that the scheme be focused on aiding shops in the heartlands and hawkers, such as local provision shops.

Singapore has to continue with plans to increase retirement and re-employment ages, CPF rates

Labour MP Heng Swee Chow said that Singapore has to continue with its plans to increase Central Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions and increase retirement and re-employment ages, as this is vital to aiding older workers in preparing for retirement, as well as other schemes such as flexible work arrangements and the renewing of skills.

The Senior Minister of State of Defence said that over 100 firms have raised the age for retirement or re-employment, or in some cases, both.

Previously, the government, employers and tripartite partners of unions raised the statutory retirement age from 62 to 65, and the re-employment age from 67 to 70 over the approaching decade. From July 2022, a new retirement age of 63 and re-employment age of 68 will be applicable.

Mr Heng urged the government to step up support for older workers in industries that were hit hard by the pandemic, such as the aviation and retail sectors, help companies incorporate flexible working arrangements, and to include older workers in upskilling schemes.

Calls for greater legal coverage for gig workers

Labour MP Desmond Choo said that gig workers should receive greater legal coverage to mitigate the “lopsided bargaining powers” of platform companies, which have left segments of the workforce, such as food delivery riders, at a disadvantage.

He noted that most of these workers are “lowly skilled and wholly dependent upon the platform companies for their livelihood”, yet are at the mercy of their employers, who have the power to “unilaterally change the terms of their service and incentive structures” as the workers are not included under the Employment Act and Industrial Relations Act.

He urged the government to consider allowing these workers to be represented under NTUC or to receive protection under the Employment Act, and to collaborate with platform companies to help workers in upskilling and raising productivity.

NTUC projects launch of progressive wage scheme for F&B and retail sectors in 2 to 3 years

Deputy Secretary-General Koh Poh Koon said that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) seeks to carry out the progressive wage model (PWM) across the F&B and retail industries in the next two to three years.

This move would help increase the wages of close to 70,000 low-wage workers, almost doubling the existing coverage of approximately 80,000 workers in the cleaning, security and landscape maintenance sectors.

NTUC also hopes to implement the PWN for workers in the strata management, pest management and solar technology industries in future.

Greater support for vulnerable groups in society

In Parliament, MPs sought greater support for vulnerable groups of society, including lower-income families, women with greater responsibilities pertaining to caregiving, and people who grapple with achieving digital literacy.

Suggestions to help included the streamlining of applications for assistance schemes, provision of complimentary broadband connections for lower-income households, evaluations for digital literacy, and the launch of a publicly accessible repository of professional caregivers, who can be leveraged on in the event that short-term respite care is needed.

Need for adjustment to aid workers with the rise of work-from-home arrangements

MPs have raised the need for a re-evaluation of Singapore’s approach to labour, accommodation and working culture, especially with the rise of telecommuting and the ability to work from any location, in the wake of COVID-19.

Assistant Secretary-General of NTUC Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) said that the increased ability for workers to work from any location would lead to rising competition for jobs, and highlighted the need for Singapore to be prepared for it.

Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) expressed a similar sentiment, underscoring how vital it is to ensure Singapore’s workforce is able to stay relevant in relation to the global job market, by equipping workers with the appropriate skills and perspectives to thrive while working remotely.

Calls for greater anti-discrimination legislation to bolster Singapore’s workforce

Labour MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer) said that stronger initiatives such as anti-discrimination legislation, are necessary to bolster the Singaporean workforce.

Citing a concern that Singapore’s dependence on foreign talent has resulted in a superfluous rise in competition for jobs, he recommended the establishment of formal legislation to discourage discrimination, be it for factors such as nationality, age, race, gender, or disability.

He said that to “safeguard the Singaporean core and curb discriminatory hiring, we must ensure that Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) have access to a level-playing field for jobs while balancing companies’ manpower needs in the immediate and longer term.”

Need for financial discretion as Singapore draws bonds to finance infrastructure projects

MPs stated that it was vital to maintain a balanced budget and practice prudence while protecting reserves for the future, even as Singapore has to progress in its management of finances.

In relation to the Government’s plans to issue new bonds to the tune of $90 billion to finance infrastructure undertakings, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang) said that should the items be “funded under the annual Budget cycles, which is on a cash flow basis, it will put significant strain on our other Budget allocations.”

Road tax rebates to be given to taxi drivers in March and April

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that 15 per cent road tax rebates would be awarded to taxi drivers at an earlier date. This will be reflected through the deduction of rental between mid-March and April. Between May and August, $360 in rebates for petrol duty will also be given to them and drivers in the private-hire industry.

This was in response to the announcement of a raise in petrol duties last week. Existing road tax rates will still apply to non-taxi and non-private hire drivers, with excess amounts used to offset the payable amount at the next renewal.

More should be done for nurses aside from increasing pay

On Wednesday, 24 January, Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) suggested that Singapore focuses on helping workers in the healthcare sector develop their career growth and environments at work, aside from increasing their salaries.

He pointed out Singapore’s heavy reliance on non-local nurses in spite of efforts to encourage locals to join the nursing sector, stating that wages are not the only reason for Singaporeans not wanting to choose this profession.

Long working hours, stress from juggling difficult patients and their families and expectations, as well as possible disruptions to family life due to irregular working hours were also cited as possible factors that deterred Singaporeans from joining.

Mr David’s suggestions included the implementation of work benefits such as complimentary holidays and compulsory leave. He also suggested highlighting the role of enrolled nurses, who do not have a definite career pathway.

Staff giving COVID-19 vaccines not to leave positions mid-task

Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament on Wednesday that staff members of vaccine providers who are administering the COVID-19 jab are not permitted to leave their positions prior to finishing the task they are in the midst of.

Dr Janil said that proper documentation must be in place, along with the reassigning of responsibilities to other staff members, in the event that there is a need to step away.

This follows after an incident last month, during which a staff member of the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) was accidentally given the equivalent of five doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

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