- CPF rates for older workers 'may go up'
- 'Staycations' a popular choice this Valentine's
- North, South Korea hold rare high-level talks
Posted: 11 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST
Older Singaporean workers face the pleasant prospect of seeing a rise in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions.
The labour movement has called on the government to raise the CPF rates of those aged above 50 to 55 so that they are on par with younger workers.
But it need not be done "in one go", said labour chief Lim Swee Say, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
Union leaders, he said, are not pushing for the 3.5% gap to be closed "in one go, because we do understand it should be done progressively", he told reporters after an official visit to restaurant chain Eighteen Chefs.
The CPF rate of these older workers is 32.5% compared to 36% for younger workers.
It had been cut in 2003, along with other tweaks to the CPF scheme, when Singapore suffered a recession because of Sars.
But during Budget 2012, it was partially restored to the current level.
At the same time, the Government had promised to give this group the same CPF contributions as younger workers.
"However, we cannot make this major move in one step," Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also the Finance Minister, had said then.
On Monday, Lim gave a broad hint that another step towards parity could be taken as early as next week, on Budget Day.
Tharman is scheduled to present the national Budget in Parliament on Feb 21 and Lim said these older workers hope to hear "some good news from the Finance Minister".
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is also expected to make known this week its plans to push for CPF rates to be tweaked to help Singaporeans save for medical and other financial commitments in their old age. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
Posted: 11 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST
Instead of the usual wine-and-dine formula for Valentine's Day, more couples are opting for "staycations" instead this year.
Celeste Chan, a corporate marketing manager at Naumi Hotel in Seah Street, said: "Why stop at a dinner?
"A staycation can provide a totally different experience and getaway for couples."
For couples seeking a romantic getaway but cannot find time for an overseas trip, staycations are a practical alternative.
Ivan Lim, business development director of Link Hotel, agreed. "Staycations are more affordable than overseas trips and also spare people the hassle of travelling on flights or coaches which could be tiring."
As Valentine's Day falls on a Friday this year, Link Hotel, a boutique hotel in Tiong Bahru, has seen a 15% increase in weekend room bookings for two nights.
It helps that Valentine's Day this year falls on the same day as chap goh mei, also known as the Chinese Valentine's Day.
Wang Zhiling, marketing and communication manager of Wangz Hotel, foresees a higher occupancy level than last year.
"The convenience and ease of booking a staycation makes it a preferred choice for guests who do not have the time to plan ahead," said Tan Chew Yen, a public relations and marketing communications manager at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore.
Room bookings for Valentine's Day at the Ritz-Carlton are almost full, according to Tan.
Indeed, staycations have become bigger and better, with hotels trotting out Valentine's Day packages that do not stop at simply offering a room.
In addition to a one-night stay at a suite, The Ritz-Carlton's Valentine's Day package includes a romantic butler-drawn bath alongside champagne and strawberries.
For the first time, it is also organising Movies under the Stars, where hotel guests will enjoy classic romance films while sipping drinks with their Valentine under the moonlit sky.
Over at the Fullerton Hotel, their My Sweet Valentine package includes a four-course in-room dinner for the couple, Guided Heritage tours and shuttle services to the Orchard Road and City Hall shopping belts.
The exclusive Capella Resort's Be My Valentine: Moonlight Sonata package – it is only available for seven couples – comes with an in-villa spa treatment, a champagne breakfast and a photoshoot. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
Posted: 11 Feb 2014 07:46 PM PST
SEOUL (AFP) - North and South Korean officials sat down for their highest level talks for years Wednesday, marking a potential upswing in cooperation ahead of a reunion for families divided by the Korean War.
The discussions in the border truce village of Panmunjom had no fixed agenda, but were to cover a range of "major" issues, including the planned February 20-25 reunion event, the South's Unification Ministry said.
The South's delegation was led by top National Security Council official Kim Kyou-Hyun, who said Seoul's focus was on ensuring the meeting of separated families goes ahead as scheduled.
The North side is likely to make another push for South Korea to cancel annual military exercises with the United States, which are scheduled to begin February 24.
Kim said he was entering the talks, which kicked off at 10:00am (0100 GMT), with "an open attitude to explore the chance of opening a new chapter on the Korean peninsula".
He did not mention whether North Korea's nuclear programme would be discussed.
It was the first such high-level sit-down between the two sides since 2007, and came a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry's arrival in Seoul for a brief visit focused on North Korea.
The North wants to resume talks with Seoul and Washington on nuclear matters, but both have insisted that Pyongyang must first make a tangible commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons.
According to Seoul, the Panmunjom meet was requested by Pyongyang, whose delegation was headed by Wong Ton-Yong - deputy head of a ruling party organisation that handles inter-Korean ties.
North Korea state media made no mention of the talks, which were held on the South side of the border village where the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean conflict 60 years ago was signed.
Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korean expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Pyongyang was keen to make a public display of its diplomatic credentials.
"It wants to demonstrate a willingness to improve ties with the South in order to obtain concessions from Seoul and others," said Kim, who warned it was premature to expect any major breakthrough.
The North is also likely to push for a resumption of regular South Korea tours to its Mount Kumgang resort.
The South suspended the tours after a tourist was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers in 2008, and Pyongyang is keen to see the return of what was a lucrative source of hard currency.
The success of the upcoming family reunion event would be key to Seoul considering starting up the tours again.
"If the first step goes well, it can move to the next level, expanding the scope of inter-Korean cooperation at a faster speed," the South's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae said on Tuesday.
There are fears the North might cancel the reunion event in protest at South Korea and the United States pushing ahead with their joint military exercises.
Pyongyang views the drills as rehearsals for invasion and has repeatedly demanded Seoul call them off, warning at one point of an "unimaginable holocaust" if they went ahead.
Last year's exercises fuelled an unusually sharp and protracted surge in military tensions, with Pyongyang threatening a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and nuclear-capable US stealth bombers making dummy runs over the Korean peninsula.
Seoul and Washington have made it clear there is no question of this year's drills being cancelled, but US officials have indicated they will be toned down, with no aircraft carrier and no strategic bombers.
Because the Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, North and South Korea technically remain at war.
President Park Geun-Hye, who came to office a year ago, had promised greater engagement with Pyongyang and held out the possibility of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
Substantive dialogue between the two sides mostly dried up under Park's presidential predecessor, Lee Myung-Bak, who took a tough line with Pyongyang.
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