I have already written about my former employer’s ‘creative accounting’ methods with regard to my CPF contributions. When employers try to deny workers their CPF monies, it really upsets me. So in this blogpost, I’m including a ‘case study’ of a 65 year old cleaner, NTUC’s proposal to raise CPF contribution rates for older workers, and how we can all play a part in ensuring low wage workers do not get treated unfairly by their employers by equipping them with knowledge about their rights as workers.
The 65 year old cleaning lady
The cleaning contractor she is working for told her she could either choose to receive more take-home pay (S$800) without CPF, or get CPF but with less pay. On top of that, she was not offered a contract of service, thus she was not entitled to annual leave, medical leave and other Employment Act benefits.
Her son, aged over 40, suffers from schizophrenia and lives with her. He has trouble holding down a job but has medical bills of up to S$200 per month.
When she realized her friends were receiving Workfare but she wasn’t, she called the NTUC hotline 1800-255-2828 to enquire about how to sign up for Workfare, not realizing that it is an auto-inclusion scheme by the government as long as the employee gets CPF.
She was referred to the CPF Board, which helped her retrieve 3 years’ worth of employer CPF contributions, amounting to S$2940. Although she gets less take-home pay, the CPF contributions can go towards the rent for her rental flat and foot part of her son’s medical bills. She can now receive Workfare too.
Unfortunately, without a contract of service, the company will not be reimbursing her for the annual leave, medical leave, etc, that she should have gotten during the 3 years she worked for them.
Raising CPF Contribution Rates For Older Workers: The Debate
The Labour Movement’s Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How is pushing for higher CPF contribution rates (especially from the employer) so our older workers can have more savings for retirement and healthcare. Their emphasis is on employer CPF contribution rates to be raised from the current 14% for workers aged over 50 years
These rates were cut in previous years when times were bad and to make older workers above 50 years more attractive to employers who had other concerns such as recessions. But now that things are looking better, and we are living longer (is 50 years really THAT old?), shouldn’t those rates be revised upwards? On top of this, workers aged over 50 years may still have housing loans and children education costs to pay, which a higher employer CPF contribution rate would help. Taking this one step further, should workers, regardless of age, be denied their due (CPF or otherwise) if they have proven themselves to be good employees?
Predictably, employers are dismayed by the CPF hikes. Some older workers are also worried that this may cause employers to be hesitant about employing them.
I do think that, yes, some employers may find it less attractive to hire older workers now because of the CPF rate hike, but it’s not a huge concern because of the tight labour market. Moreover the government is helping older workers keep their jobs e.g. Special Employment Credit given to companies, especially to SMEs. Some may say it’s never a good time to raise CPF contribution rates, but if implemented, it’s better to time it during tight labour market conditions than during downturns with poor economic forecasts.
My main concern would be how employers get greater “incentive” to get creative with their accounting, again. Either tell older employees to accept higher take-home pay without CPF (like in the cleaner’s case I shared above), or try to sneak the employer’s CPF contribution from the employee’s salary (like I have personally experienced). Or there could be even other ways of getting around paying CPF that crafty employers have devised!
How then can we help these older workers, and those who are more vulnerable to being ‘exploited’ (for lack of a better word)?
1) Ask: do not assume that because your aunt or neighbor appears to be happy with his/her job, that all is rosy where CPF matters are concerned. Sometimes, just by asking if he/she has received Workfare can help uncover certain things that unscrupulous employers have been doing.
2) Support: Most of these older workers would not know how to get their monies back. Some may even be fearful of losing their jobs and hence not take any action. Explain that what their employer is doing is unlawful and even if asked to pay back the CPF monies owed, the employer has no grounds for dismissing the worker. If the employer decides to fire out of spite, take up the case with the Manpower Ministry.
3) Know: Know your rights as a worker, and know that you can seek help anytime you think your rights have been infringed upon by an employer. One of the numbers to call is the NTUC hotline 1800-255-2828.