In a keynote speech delivered at the NTUC Delegates’ Conference today, PM Lee Hsien Loong guaranteed the Government’s pledge to keep workers at the core of the nation’s economic and social development efforts amidst global uncertainties.
The Singapore leader likewise asserted that the collaboration between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) must be tenacious and deep-seated and that the two groups must establish a “symbiotic relationship” as this will be the foundation that can thwart disquiet and social division witnessed in other parts of the world.
Mr Lee said the bond between the PAP and NTUC leadership has “to be sustained and strengthened”.
“Once again, we are sailing into uncharted waters,” he continued.
“The world is filled with uncertainties. Our economy is entering a new phase. Technology is transforming many industries. Emerging businesses are disrupting established players.”
Despite these, workers have to be ready for change, said Mr Lee, as he assures that help will be available to help them train for new roles, cope with the rapid changes in their industries and to remain employable.
“Hold their hands and give them confidence that we can make it together,” he said.
“It won’t be easy but we will walk with you every step of the way.”
According to Mr Lee, in other countries, workers are left alone to fend for themselves when they lose their jobs. Many more who still have jobs feel left behind, while the masses are angry that the elites in their society are “disconnected” and they feel looked down upon.
“The social compact, that trust (and) that mutual reliance has been fractured,” said the prime minister. “People are angry and they just to want to tear the system down, because it is no longer working for them (but) what comes after that, don’t know.”
This is why populist movements are growing in many countries, such as the United States, Britain, and France.
“But underlying this is also the sense that serious economic and social concerns have not been addressed,” Mr Lee continued, pointing to concerns about expensive housing and how the younger generation losing optimism about their future.
“We should study closely what’s happening in all these other places, including Hong Kong, and ask ourselves: Can this deep social angst happen here? Can this social division befall us? And my answer is yes it can if we are not careful.”
He added that Singapore, being a small and open country, is not immune to these underlying forces that are tearing at other countries.
“If it happens to us, like what’s happening elsewhere, we will suffer the same consequences as the other countries, only worse because we are that much more vulnerable.
PAP remaining close to its roots
The “symbiotic relationship” between the PAP and the NTUC is a key foundation that can help to avoid such a “dire outcome”, he pointed out.
“The PAP will always remain close to its roots in the labour movement.”
With its fundamental objective being to advance the well-being and future of workers, the PAP government has set out to build affordable homes, deliver high-quality healthcare for all ages, ensuring the availability of good preschools and schools, as well as a reliable and efficient public transport system.
It also creates jobs and opportunities for workers so as to “enable every citizen to improve their own lives through their own efforts.”
“This is far better than having a populist government that gives vent to the frustrations of the population or panders to short term passions at the expense of our long term interest,” said Mr Lee.
On its part, the labour movement has also participated as an equal and constructive partner to create prosperity and growth.
It is also continuing to re-think its role by keeping itself up to date and relevant to the changing needs of workers.
Earlier, noted how the make-up of the Singaporean workforce is changing, with the inclusion of more professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), as well as those involved in the gig economy.
The workforce is also one that’s ageing, with changing needs that involve caregiving duties for elderly parents and young children.
NTUC president Mary Liew said of the government’s treatment toward the country’s workforce, “We must be nimble. We must be adaptable and we must continue to represent and protect all our workers,” she said.
Ms Liew also stressed the need for the labour movement to leverage technology to better serve its members in the areas of training and protection.
Said Mr Lee: “As you make your way forward in an uncertain world, a strong NTUC will help you, guide you and walk with you. This is how we can stay united and progress together.”
Concluding his speech, the prime minister said the promise that pioneer leaders had made to keep workers at the centre of the country’s economic and social development efforts, “remains as central and as relevant today as it was 50 years ago”. -/TISG