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Speech at 22nd ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Meeting

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for Manpower, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Your Excellency Vong Sauth, Minister of Labour and Vocational Training, Cambodia and Chairperson of the 22nd ALMM,

Fellow ASEAN Labour Ministers,

Dato’ Misran Karmain, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. A very good morning to all of you. On behalf of the Singapore delegation, let me first thank the Government of Cambodia for hosting the 22nd ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Meeting (ALMM) and for the generous hospitality of the Cambodian people.

    Singapore Amidst Global Economic Uncertainty
  2. When the ALMM last met two years ago, our economies were recovering from the global economic downturn. Today, there continues to be uncertainties in the global economy. Although the US has shown some signs of gradual recovery, the Eurozone’s debt crisis poses ongoing risks and challenges. Being part of a rising Asia has helped to mitigate these downsides. Singapore expects to grow by 1 – 3% this year.
  3. Singapore’s key challenge going forward is to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth where all Singaporeans, especially our vulnerable workers, can better share the economic benefits. We aim to increase our productivity and help improve the skills of our workers, so that they can benefit from the new opportunities arising from economic growth.
  4. The theme of this year’s ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Meeting – “Improving Social Protection and Skills Development” is therefore timely and appropriate. I will speak on these two imperatives in turn.

    Skills Development
  5. We have always focused on building a skilled workforce as it is key to sustaining our competiveness. We want to help our people to be equipped with industry-relevant knowledge and skills through Pre-Employment Training. We strive to make sure our education system remains strong and accessible to all. We also invest heavily in continuing education and training (or CET). The CET system is underpinned by our Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) system, a nationally accredited skills certification system benchmarked against world standards and industry demands. It comprises some 30 sectoral frameworks and more than 14,000 courses. We continually review to ensure that our CET system remains current and inclusive, so that different levels of workers – from the vulnerable low-wage groups to the professionals, managers and executives – can benefit from it. In 2011, almost 250,000 workers went through WSQ training, of which nearly 70% were lower-skilled workers.

    Social Protection
  6. We must ensure that our workers do not fall between the cracks even as we grow our economy. We continue to enhance our social protection framework to make it more holistic. To look after our people, we believe that employability and jobs are the best forms of social protection, hence it is important to reinforce the values of self-reliance and a strong work ethic.
  7. The foundation of this framework is the Central Provident Fund (or CPF), a mandatory defined-contribution savings scheme which plays a pivotal role in providing for the financial security of Singaporeans in their retirement years as well as serving their housing and healthcare needs. It is a system that has adapted to serve the needs of our society as demands shift and evolve.
  8. In 2007, Singapore introduced a new pillar in our social security landscape, the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme, which helps supplement the incomes of low-wage workers, so that they are encouraged to work regularly. These are not entitlements, so workers have to work to be rewarded. A major component of WIS goes toward building up their CPF savings, and a portion is paid in cash to help them meet their immediate needs. The WIS is expected to benefit over 440,000 older low-wage Singaporeans this year.
  9. For low wage workers, Workfare makes the critical link between skills development and social protection. While the income supplement uplifts their living standards in the short term, only better skills and productivity can uplift their social mobility for the longer term. In 2010, we therefore introduced the Workfare Training Support (or WTS) Scheme to provide low-wage workers with generous training incentives. In 2011, close to 50,000 low-wage workers benefited from the WTS.
  10. Another challenge for Singapore is our rapidly ageing population and ageing workforce. We need to enhance our social safety net to ensure that more older workers can be gainfully employed so as to build up their retirement adequacy. A key initiative for achieving this objective is the re-employment legislation, which came into force this year and requires employers to re-employ their older workers from age 62 to 65. The tripartite partners have worked together to prepare the ground for re-employment and the signs are encouraging: in 2011, even before the re-employment law came into effect, almost all employees reaching 62 were offered employment beyond that age.

  11. Chairperson, skills development and social protection are important and interrelated facets of our national strategies to grow our economies and build better lives for our people. Even as our social safety net protects workers from downside risks, we must continue to invest in our people to give them the hope of upside gains. In this regard, I am pleased to see robust collaboration among ASEAN member states in the areas of skills development and social protection, as well as other progressive labour practices.
  12. Singapore is confident that under Cambodia’s able stewardship of the ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Meeting, we will have an enriching 22nd ALMM, and that ASEAN will continue to see good progress in the areas of labour cooperation and human resources development.
  13. Thank you.