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Speech at 99th Session of the International Labour Conference

Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Manpower, Geneva, Switzerland


  1. Mr President, let me first congratulate you on your election as the President of the 99th Session of the International Labour Conference.

    Strong tripartite collaboration paid off
  2. When we gathered here last year, we were faced with a global economic crisis. For Singapore, 2009 threatened to be the worst year for our economy and labour market since our independence. The Singapore Government, employers and unions, came together quickly to formulate and implement measures to help businesses manage the downturn and save jobs for workers.
  3. We introduced a national training programme, the Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (or SPUR for short), to encourage employers to send their workers for training and build new skills for the future. Since its inception, SPUR has benefited more than 200,000 workers or about 10% of our local workforce. The government also introduced a fiscal stimulus package which included a Jobs Credit Scheme that reimbursed employers a portion of wages for every local worker they retained. These measures helped to contain retrenchments and keep the overall unemployment rate low, at 2.3% as at December 2009, despite the severe recession.
  4. Today, we are meeting under very different global economic circumstances. With the global economy improving, governments across the world, including Singapore, are starting to progressively scale back stimulus measures. Nevertheless, there remains a cloud of uncertainty arising from the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, risks of a jobless recovery in the US and concerns over asset inflation in emerging Asia. In sharp contrast to a contraction last year, Singapore’s GDP grew strongly by 15.5% in the first quarter of 2010. Based on preliminary estimates, overall unemployment rate fell further to 2.2% as at March 2010.
  5. Singapore has weathered the crisis better than we had feared. This positive outcome would not have been possible without the close consultation and collaboration among the government and our tripartite partners during the downturn. The strong foundation of trust was developed over the decades through the many collaborative initiatives we undertook to jointly tackle major challenges in the past. This was further strengthened as we managed the downturn last year as a united front.

    Repositioning the economy for sustainable growth
  6. Going forward, tripartism will play an equally critical role in repositioning Singapore for economic growth in a rapidly changing landscape. In the midst of the economic downturn last year, Singapore set up an Economic Strategies Committee to plan ahead and develop strategies to seize opportunities during the recovery and sustain our growth over the long term. The Committee recommended a strategic shift to focus on innovation, productivity and skills as key drivers for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
  7. To achieve this, we will make significant investments to enhance our Continuing Education and Training (or CET) system. We will increase our CET capacity by almost 50% to 720,000 training places by 2015. We will enhance our CET system to better cater to all levels of workers, providing them with more opportunities to upgrade their capabilities, so as to create a highly skilled workforce. To ensure that all segments of our workforce participate in the national productivity drive and benefit from economic growth, we will also strengthen training support for low-wage workers. We are introducing a Workfare Training Scheme, to motivate low-wage workers to upgrade themselves, and to encourage employers to send these workers for training. These initiatives on innovation, productivity and skills will draw heavily on the combined efforts of the tripartite partners, to drive us along this road of transformation.

    Sharing Singapore’s experience on tripartism
  8. At Singapore’s invitation, an ILO study mission visited Singapore in January this year to experience first-hand how tripartite collaboration works in Singapore. I am pleased to note that the ILO mission has given highly positive comments on our model of tripartism. The ILO report commended Singapore for the “variety of means that the tripartite partners have used over the years to find common solutions, creating win-win-win situations through tripartite consultation and consensus.”
  9. During the visit, it was suggested that Singapore share its tripartite approach in overcoming the economic downturn at a side-event at this year’s ILC. I am pleased to report that the event was successfully held last Friday and was attended by over 100 delegates.

    Ratification of Convention 144
  10. Mr President, Singapore’s unique brand of tripartism has served us well through this and previous crises as we addressed challenges together. Having evolved over the years from an adversarial relationship in the past to a synergistic and collaborative partnership today, tripartism in Singapore has often been referred to as our secret weapon that drives our economic success. Workers, employers and the government shared common goals and worked closely together to build harmonious industrial relations. This has benefited businesses and workers, and helped Singapore achieve inclusive growth.
  11. Given our well-established tripartism framework, further strengthened during the recent economic crisis, Singapore believes that we are now ready to take our tripartism a step further. I am therefore pleased to announce that Singapore, with the full support of our tripartite partners – the Singapore National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation – will ratify ILO’s Tripartite Consultation Convention 144 this year. This will be a significant milestone for Singapore, to institutionalise tripartism as a unique competitive advantage contributing to our economic and social progress. I would like to thank the ILO for its useful advice rendered to us on this matter. We look forward to closer collaboration with the ILO in strengthening tripartism and social dialogue in ASEAN countries.
  12. ASEAN will also be looking to ILO support over the coming years in several areas. As the titular member of the ILO Governing Body representing ASEAN, Singapore is pleased to announce that the ASEAN Labour Ministers endorsed a five-year work-plan at the ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Meeting held last month in Vietnam. We hope to receive ILO support for these new projects, including the third ASEAN HR Conference.

  13. In closing, I wish to commend the ILO on its prompt response to the challenges brought about by the global economic crisis, particularly in helping member states deal with difficult employment issues alongside economic recovery, the creation of the Global Jobs Pact and the engagement with the G20 countries. Mr President, I am confident that under your able leadership, the 99th International Labour Conference will be a success.
  14. Thank you.