Singapore— Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a promise that, just as it has from the beginning, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) will always stand by workers.
The Prime Minister made these remarks at the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference on Tuesday, October 15, 2019.
He acknowledged that the landscape of work is indeed changing, which may cast some uncertainty for the future. However, he assured the delegates at the conference that the Government is ready to help with training people for new roles that would fit the changing environment.
He also emphasized the importance for workers themselves to be ready for change.
PM Lee said that he has been attending the National Delegates’ Conferences of NTUC for around 20 years, and the last one he attended was during the country’s 50th anniversary four years ago. He added that this year’s celebration is also a significant one since its the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Modernization Seminar, which he called a “pivotal moment” for the NTUC and People’s Action Party (PAP).
He traced back the shared roots of the PAP and NTUC, saying that “the PAP and the Labour Movement have been intertwined – twins – from the very start. At first, the PAP and the unions were partners in the anti-colonial struggle. Later, the PAP and the NTUC were partners in the fight against the communists.”
As for the present, the Prime Minister said that in these days of “unchartered waters,” the ties between the leadership of PAP and NTUC must be made even stronger.
“Our economy is entering a new phase. Technology is transforming many industries. Emerging businesses are disrupting established players. Our workers have to be ready for change. We have to talk about it, we have to understand it, and we have to say we are ready to face it.”
On the side of the government, their role is to help workers make transitions smoothly even as different industries are undergoing changes.
The Prime Minister said, “So we have to help our workers handle this transition properly. Train them for new roles, teach them to cope with the rapid changes, and remain employable. Hold their hands, and give them confidence. We can make it together. It will not be easy, but we will walk with you every step of the way.”
This is not so in other nations, he added, where workers who have been retrenched are left on their own accord to make their own way. And some of those who have not been retrenched are left with a feeling that their lives are not improving.
PM Lee continued, “The masses are angry that the elites in the country, their leaders, seem disconnected, seem to be only looking after themselves. Worse, when people feel being looked down upon. The social compact, that trust, that mutual reliance, has been fractured. So people are angry, they just want to tear the system down, because it is no longer working for them. What comes after that? They do not know. Will it be better? They have no idea. ‘But I am angry, I want to tear this down, I do not care whether that will make things better,” giving examples from the Unites States, Britain and France, where populism is growing, and even Hong Kong, which he points out, is an “example closer to home.”
But Singapore, PM Lee, is different from Hong Kong and these other nations, in that “we already have a government that represents the workers’ interests – the PAP government.”
The PAP’s fundamental objective is to advance the well-being and the future of our workers. That is why the PAP government – we build affordable homes for families; we deliver high quality health care to young and old; we make good preschools and schools available to every infant and child; and we ensure that the public transport system is reliable, efficient and affordable to all.
Most of all, the PAP government creates jobs and opportunities for our workers, to enable every citizen to improve their own lives through their own efforts – provide for their families and themselves and their futures, with confidence and pride. This is far better than having a populist government that gives vent to the frustrations of the population, or panders to the short-term passions at the expense of our long-term interests.”