Greeting the nation on May Day, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the labour movement is at a turning point, where it's key priorities must focus on:
- Building tripartite consensus to raise the retirement and re-employment ages further
- Championing the progressive wage model
- Upgrade and retrain workers for the long-term.
He noted that efforts so far are starting to be felt at the macro level, give that last year labour productivity grew by 3.7%, "although progress was not evenly distributed".
"The gains were largely in the outward-oriented sectors, especially manufacturing. We still need to work harder to improve productivity in domestic services, such as retail and food and beverages," he clarified.
He also talked about last year's retrenchment rate being the lowest in more than 10 years. "Had we not strongly emphasised training, upgrading, and redeploying staff, companies might have taken the easy way out, retrenching old workers and replacing them with freshly hired new graduates, and the dislocation would have been much worse."
He added: "We must keep up our efforts at training and upgrading. It is a marathon without end, but we are making progress."
Both PM Lee and Deputy PM Heng Swee Keat spoke about the importance of strengthening trust and cooperation among the tripartite partners.
In a comprehensive message, DPM Heng covered three strategies to transform for the future:
- Be an active agent in the transformation of our economy;
- Prepare our workforce for jobs of the future through lifelong learning;
- Pursue inclusive growth.
Some of the ways to achieve this three-pronged strategy are highlighted below using excerpts from DPM Heng's speech.
Strategy 1: Transforming our economy
He highlighted the establishment of the Company Training Committees (CTCs), which will take take training beyond broad-based, national strategies, to the company level.
"All too often, workers and companies might not be clear about their skills training needs. Unions can apply their deep knowledge of the workplace and factory floor to identify the right courses, customise training, and help workers develop relevant skills for particular jobs," he explained.
He cited discussions with union leaders, where they asked for more support for unionised workers. To this end, DPM Heng accepted the suggestion that from 1 April 2020, unionised companies and e2i’s partners can receive an additional 10% of funding support from the Labour Movement, under the Enterprise Development Grant.
To be eligible, companies will have to set up CTCs, and commit themselves to other positive worker outcomes such as raising salaries of low-wage workers, or reskilling.
Strategy 2: Preparing our workers for jobs of the future
DPM Heng said: "We can’t protect jobs that will be made redundant. But we can and will protect workers – every working man and woman."
Talking about how we can do better, he said that today's training mainly helps workers take up good jobs in existing growth areas. Going forward, we should start thinking about how our workers can develop skills for jobs that do not yet exist.
Meanwhile, given that the jobs of tomorrow will be different from the jobs of today, unions can help to develop the right attitude among workers towards upskilling and reskilling, he reinforced.
He called out NTUC’s e2i for its work in this regard, and also noted the Budget announcement that S$3.6 billion will be spent over the next three years to help workers thrive amid economic transformation.
Strategy 3: Pursuing inclusive growth
Referring to the Labour Movement’s mission to help workers secure the 3Ws – better wages, better work prospects, and better welfare, DPM Heng affirmed the goal is to help all workers secure these, from daily-rated workers to those in managerial and professional roles, as well as the self-employed and the part-timers.
Tho this effect, he highlighted initiatives for lower-wage workers, seniors and those who have left the workforce early.
Support for seniors includes higher Workfare payouts, additional extra interest for older CPF members, and the extension of the Special Employment Credit to end-2020. While agreement has been arrived upon to raise the retirement and re-employment ages, the CPF contribution rates will also be reviewed.
He concluded: "Whether you are rich or poor, whether you are a worker or a manager, whether you are an employer or a unionist – each of us owes a duty to care for, support and sustain each other."
Photo / PM Lee's provided, DPM Heng's Facebook