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Speech at National Day Observance Ceremony

Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Defence, NTUC Auditorium, One Marina Boulevard

Mr John De Payva,
President, National Trades Union Congress

Mr Landis Hicks
Vice President, Singapore National Employers Federation

Colleagues and fellow Singaporeans,

We gather here today to proudly celebrate our nation's 42nd birthday. We have much to celebrate as we witness our social and economic progress. Singaporeans remain united and our bonds have strengthened. We have often been cited as a positive example of inter-racial harmony despite our diverse cultures, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Employment scene in 2006

2.   Our economy continues to perform well. Last year, the economy created a record 176,000 jobs and we saw an eight-year low unemployment rate of 2.7%. The strong performance has continued into the first half of this year as employment increased by yet again, an all time high of 111,300 jobs.

3.   We should make full use of these positive circumstances to press on with our economic restructuring. The labour market will tighten and there is a shortage of skilled labour globally. We must therefore make full use of our available human resource to meet rising demand. Mature workers are a valuable source of manpower and can contribute considerably in their jobs with their expertise and experience. It makes good sense for both older workers and their employers to ensure that they can work longer.

4.   The Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers has recommended many initiatives to raise the employability of older workers, including enhancements to the ADVANTAGE! Scheme. Under the enhanced scheme implemented on 1 June 2007, companies will receive greater funding support to facilitate their recruitment and retention of older workers. These companies are also encouraged to institute a re-employment policy for their workers beyond age 62.

5.   I am pleased to announce that to date, 22 companies have committed to implementing the re-employment policy under the ADVANTAGE! Scheme. These companies are leading the way to operationalise re-employment practices before the introduction of re-employment legislation. They will benefit from being pioneers in this effort, as they can continue to tap on the contributions and expertise of their workers beyond 62 years. In addition, these 22 companies have committed to implement initiatives under the scheme to employ 235 older workers and re-employ 82 workers beyond the age of 62. WDA is also working closely with the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME), Singapore Manufacturers Federation (SMa) and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) to get more companies on board the scheme.

6.   Apart from older workers, we must also continue to help low wage workers stay in work, earn more and build up their savings. The Government lowered CPF contribution rates for older low wage workers on 1 July to raise their take-home pay and employability. At the same time, the Government also introduced the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) to boost the income of low wage workers and help them build up their CPF for their long term needs. A Tripartite Committee on CPF and Work Related Benefits for Low-wage Workers led by MOS Gan Kim Yong is currently working on encouraging low wage workers to make regular CPF contributions, so that they can benefit from the WIS scheme. The Committee will also be reaching out to employers who have not been paying CPF to their low wage workers, to get them to do so.

Celebrate Singapore: City of Possibilities

7.   This year's National Day Parade will be an exciting one for all Singaporeans. For the first time, we are celebrating NDP on a floating platform at Marina Bay, another example of our creativity in overcoming constraints. This concept fits well with this year's theme “Celebrate Singapore: City of Possibilities”. A decade ago, who would have envisioned a floating platform for a mass parade in Singapore? Or that Singapore would soon play host to world-class F1 races and welcome visitors from all over the world to our very own integrated resorts?

8.   From our humble beginnings, we have become a dynamic and vibrant cosmopolitan city through far-sighted policies, hard work and the united efforts of all Singaporeans. Tripartism has been key to achieving excellent labour relations and helped us tackle difficult challenges. As we have in the past, I am confident that together with unions and employers, we will again respond decisively to the challenges of globalization and an ageing population to maintain our social harmony and economic prosperity.

9.   On that note, I wish all Singaporeans, a very Happy National Day.