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PM Lee Hsien Loong’s May 1 message tells NTUC to anticipate challenges as “the future of work looks very different”

Mr Lee said that in many developed countries workers concerns were not addressed, and they felt bewildered, leaderless and helpless which resulted in them turning to extreme political movements that pander to their fears and insecurity

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As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong extolled the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for its superior performance over the last 5 decades, he also tells them to anticipate challenges as “the future of work looks very different.” This was his May Day message as he believes that the labour movement remains crucial to Singapore, he said on Tuesday (Apr 30).

“Workers’ concerns are not addressed, and they feel bewildered, leaderless and helpless,” he said. “Not surprisingly, they turn to extreme, nativist political movements that pander to their fears and insecurity, but offer no realistic solutions or inspiring leadership to improve their lives.” This was what Mr. Lee noted as happening in many developed countries, which led to the disintegration of union memberships and the marginalization of organised labour.

“In Singapore, constructive and cooperative unions, together with enlightened employers and a supportive government, have delivered better incomes for workers and steady progress for the country,” he said and this is one good reason why the country’s labour movement needs to be proud of itself.

“We must stay on this path, and strengthen trust and cooperation among the tripartite partners, so that despite the uncertainties and challenges in the global economy, we can continue to thrive and prosper together as a nation,” PM Lee added.

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Mr. Lee likewise depicted the labour movement’s Modernisation Seminar in 1969 as a “crucial turning point” marking its decision to “fundamentally shift from confrontation to collaboration.”

“This is how the NTUC became a vibrant, progressive organisation, an essential and equal partner in Singapore’s unique model of tripartism,” he further expressed.

Mr. Lee pointed out in his message that the labour movement is currently at “another turning point” where the swift changes taking place in the outside world resulted in new jobs being created everyday while old industries and jobs have been phased out.

“The future of work looks very different,” he said. “The NTUC must anticipate these challenges, and prepare the unions, union leaders and workers for them early, before they overwhelm us.”

NTUC, he said, has played a “major role” in promoting the re-employment of older workers, such as by helping build tripartite consensus to raise the retirement and re-employment ages further.

To acclimatise workers with the many changes, Mr. Lee stressed that the government, in collaboration with NTUC, has initiated several programmes to upgrade and retrain employees under the banner of SkillsFuture and Adapt and Grow. “We continue to improve the programmes, as we gain experience with them and new needs emerge,” he said.

“We must keep up our efforts at training and upgrading…..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 said.

The prime minister considers it a long-drawn out process just like a never-ending marathon, but added with confidence, “we are making progress.” /TISG

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