May Day Message 2022 by Dr Tan See Leng Minister for Manpower
For two years, we have battled COVID-19. Everyone made sacrifices day and night, to protect lives and livelihoods. Our healthcare and frontline workers had to work long hours and brave infection risks to care for us and keep us safe. Employers and workers had to navigate the myriad of changes to keep businesses going. While the fight is not over, we are now in a stronger position, thanks to the collective efforts of everyone.
In 2021, we saw strong growth in resident employment, improvement in unemployment rates, and a significant decline in retrenchments. As we stand now, our prospects for 2022 look even more promising. We are opening our borders, easing safe management measures and moving towards normalcy.
Strong tripartite effort in fight against COVID-19
Since the pandemic, the foremost economic challenge we faced was preserving livelihoods. We were keenly aware of the repercussions that unemployment could have on individuals and their families, and that we had to do all we could to minimise the number of jobless Singaporeans as each month dragged on.
The tripartite partners acted swiftly and decisively, intricately balancing the interests of both employers and workers. The National Wages Council convened four times in two years to provide timely guidance to businesses. In October 2020, when there was significant slack in the labour market and mounting pressure on employers to retrench, the tripartite partners agreed to issue supplementary guidelines for employers to implement temporary wage cuts to the extent necessary to minimise retrenchments. It also called on employers to urgently adopt the Flexible Wage System to sustain businesses and save jobs in the immediate term, while allowing for greater resilience in our wage systems and sufficient agility to weather future downturns.
This year also marks the 50th year of the National Wages Council. Our sincere appreciation goes to the Council for five decades of hard work in formulating wage and wage-related guidelines, while balancing between promoting the growth of businesses and advancing workers’ welfare. Special acknowledgement to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), who rallied workers as a key member of the Council. In the latest round of guidelines issued in October 2021, recognising that our economy and labour market have been steadily recovering, tripartite partners have also called for easing of the exceptional wage policies introduced earlier.
Emerging stronger from COVID-19
The Government rolled out extraordinary measures like the Jobs Support Scheme, SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package and Jobs Growth Incentive, to avoid the worst of job losses in the pandemic. We kept our minds on how we can help workers and companies prepare for the future so that Singapore emerges stronger from COVID-19.
The pandemic has accelerated our path towards the future of work. Businesses and workers alike must find progressive new ways to reimagine and restructure the way we work. The tripartite partners and in particular the Labour Movement, will continue to lead the way in helping workers adapt to these workplace transformations.
1) Upskilling our local workforce
Since April 2019, NTUC has formed more than 800 company-training committees. This enables companies to systematically map out transformation plans in line with the Industry Transformation Maps, while sharing that growth with our workers through better wages, welfare and work prospects.
We will ensure that no worker is left behind. Our Progressive Wage approach, which is based on tripartite negotiation and consensus, allows us to deliver sustainable growth for both workers and businesses. In this decade, we will be working together to implement the recommendations of the Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers, by expanding Progressive Wages to more sectors and occupations to cover up to 9 in 10 lower-wage workers.
2) Strengthening protection for workers in the transition
In addition, an Advisory Committee on Platform Workers - comprising representatives from the Government, Labour Movement, industry and academia - is reviewing how to strengthen employment protections and ensure a more balanced relationship between workers and platforms. To date, we have reached out to more than 20,000 platform workers. The Labour Movement’s advocacy and the insights we have received have been invaluable to the Committee’s discussions, as it continues to shape its recommendations to improve platform workers’ well-being.
The tripartite partners are also committed to strengthening fairness at the workplace. The Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness is working on enshrining the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices in law. It will send a strong signal that we do not tolerate workplace discrimination of any form, and broaden the range of actions that can be taken in the event of a breach.
3) Continued spirit of mutual trust and support in the future of work
Globally, we see a shift in employer and employee preferences for Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA). This is why the tripartite partners will continue our efforts to support employers and workers to transition to such new modes of work. Together, we have committed to raise the adoption of the Tripartite Standard on FWA to cover at least 4 in 10 workers by end of this year. We are developing a set of Tripartite Guidelines that will set norms and practices for FWA.
Tripartism key to Singapore’s growth
Looking back over the past two years, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), NTUC and Singapore National Employers Federation’s collaborative efforts in managing the impact of COVID-19 certainly reaffirms the importance of tripartism. We must treasure this model, which is unique and exceptional to Singapore. At the height of the pandemic, many countries experienced strikes and work stoppages. Here, our tripartite partners worked together, from the implementation of safe management measures to carrying out retrenchments responsibly.
It behoves us as tripartite partners to sustain this spirit of collaboration and trust in the years and decades ahead. The fact that employers and workers have come through the last two years of COVID-19 without the need for excessive regulation or litigation, but with a sense of unity and cohesion, should give us even greater confidence that our tripartite approach works well.
As the Labour Movement expands its membership base and works towards its target of 1.5 million members by 2030, we can look forward to further entrenching the spirit of tripartism in our economy. NTUC will continue innovating its operating model to adapt to the evolving labour landscape – so as to ensure workers are better skilled and can enjoy better wages, better welfare and better work prospects. We are confident that with the close cooperation between NTUC and employers, and with MOM standing ever ready to render support, we can build a resilient Singapore for everyone.
Happy May Day!