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Speech at Ministry of Manpower’s National Day Observance Ceremony 2013

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower and Senior Minister of State for National Development, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Services Centre

Mr Stephen Lee
President, Singapore National Employers Federation

Mr Lim Kuang Beng
Secretary of Financial Affairs, National Trades Union Congress

Fellow colleagues from the MOM family, staff and friends,


  1. This Friday, we celebrate our nation’s 48th year of independence. This year’s theme is “Many Stories, One Singapore”. I think it’s a very apt theme, because all of us have our own stories.
  2. You have your stories, some similar, some different. And of course today, social media is a platform where you can share your stories and I have come across many different themes. I recently read two letters, written by Singaporeans and published on Yahoo!. One was from a Singaporean who felt ashamed to be a Singaporean and was looking forward to "going Home -- to where I really belong -- to the great North strong and free." He visited Canada for three weeks and shared that he was treated with acceptance and respect there. To him, "Canada has one precious thing Singapore doesn't – its belief in human dignity." Another Singaporean wrote a letter to his sister telling her not to come back home to a 'soulless Singapore'.
  3. There isn't a right or wrong story. All of us have our own stories. We are all shaped by our different circumstances. But what is quite clear is that we have very different stories. I for one, in my time as an officer in SAF and as a politician, have met many fellow Singaporeans who do care for others and who are anything but soulless. I wish these two fellow Singaporeans, and others who feel likewise, the very best and that they may find happiness wherever they may be. I do hope that despite everything, they would also find it in themselves to contribute, and help build a Singapore they can be proud of and that they can love.
  4. Truth is, no one writes our stories but ourselves. Collectively, our stories add up to the story of Singapore. We also choose the lenses through which we view our world and our lives. Do we want to be happy? Sad? Positive? Energised? It depends on how we want to look at things. As individuals, we have to make a choice. There are many Singaporeans who choose not to be a victim of their circumstances, but to step up to shape their own lives and the lives of those around them.
  5. As a society, made up of individuals, the Government, institutions, organisations, we also choose. It is the choices that we make that shape our society. No society is perfect, including ours. However, I see a lot of heart and a tremendous amount of soul in our people. I see that in many of you here, in what you do. We should not short-change ourselves. We shouldn’t run ourselves down. I know many are unhappy with things as they are, they can always be better. The key thing is, what can we do about it? I know many of you have stepped forward to join the public service to make a difference.
  6. I see many volunteers who do their part. Many of you also put in time in volunteer work. It is usually not glamorous work. I see my volunteers on the ground, putting in time, unseen and unheard. But, they do so because they believe that their efforts can make a difference.
  7. And we see this in various forms: lunch distribution, cleaning of flats, local merchants contributing groceries and vouchers. We see this all over Singapore.
  8. And I see so many Singaporeans in public service seeking to make a difference. Our Home Team, our SAF, our colleagues in our Ministries and agencies across the government. All of you here, working hard to make things better for our people. You know that you can make a difference.
  9. There are so many uplifting stories. Most are untold.

    What is Our Manpower story?
  10. Over the years, we have contributed to the building of this country – whether it is through working with our tripartite partners to better protect workers, to develop a skilled workforce to maintain our competitiveness. Not just for its own sake, but to ensure that our people still have opportunities so that they can provide for themselves. We continue to adjust and improve as the world evolves. And we will continue to ensure that growth is inclusive, and workplaces are progressive.
  11. I recently attended the G20 meeting in Moscow. While we know that other countries are facing problems, it is sobering to hear it directly from my counterparts. Many countries there were looking for good economic growth and needed to generate jobs to solve their unemployment problems. Youth unemployment, in particular, is in a very sad state. We have been fortunate, but will we remain so? I don’t know, but we are certainly in a relatively strong position. But, we will move in a different direction. Growth remains important, but it needs to be inclusive and sustainable. Our reasonably healthy state of jobs creation has allowed us this space to adjust.

    Creating better jobs
  12. Despite a recent slight increase in unemployment rate for Singapore Citizens to 3.1%, it remains very low compared to most countries.
  13. Employment creation remains robust, increasing from 28,900 jobs from the previous quarter to 32,500 this quarter. This means that our labour market remains tight. In a way, it is a good thing because our workers have more options. But it also means that we are still too reliant on labour to boost our growth. We must moderate our labour growth the strain on infrastructure and our social fabric. On the infrastructure front, we are certainly working hard on that.
  14. MOM will continue to work together with companies. Just last week, Minister of State, Amy Khor, launched the “360 Productivity Framework” by the Workforce Development Agency and Human Capital Singapore. The series of activities under the framework, such as the Masterclass Series and Productivity Practice sessions, essentially give employers the opportunity to learn how to innovate and improve productivity.
  15. Tripartite efforts such as the Inclusive Growth Programme led by the NTUC are also useful in helping companies realise productivity gains, and more importantly, share those gains with their workers.
  16. While employers need to take the initiative to improve their processes, employees also need to play their part. We are giving stronger support to our workers to re-skill and up-skill through our Continuing Education and Training (CET) system. It is only with all these parts in place that we can see productivity gains translate into higher incomes, and our workers enjoy a better quality of life.

    Ensuring inclusive growth
  17. A group that we need to continue paying special attention to is our lower-wage workers. We enhanced Workfare this year to cover more workers and give more income support to lower-wage workers, as well as help them improve their prospects and better their skills through training.
  18. We also need to look out for our PMEs. They will also be affected as businesses restructure. As such, job-matching services are more essential than ever to help those that have lost their jobs to get back on their feet. You can’t help everyone, but we will certainly do our best to help as many as we can.
  19. CaliberLink is one of the places where PMEs can seek employment assistance. Mr Alex Tan is one of the older PMEs that CaliberLink helped. Mr Tan lost his job as a Staff Engineer when his company underwent a retrenchment exercise this year. After weeks of fruitless job searches, Mr Tan approached CaliberLink for employment assistance. Mr Tan’s career coach at CaliberLink, Mr Jason Low, coached him in ways to boost his resume and presentation skills. As a result of the coaching and Mr Tan’s own efforts, Mr Tan has already found a new job without any cuts to his last-drawn salary. He is one story amongst many, and we will work to make sure that we have as many of these stories as we can.

    Build more progressive workplaces
  20. Apart from ensuring that everyone shares in the fruits of our growth, we also need to build more progressive workplaces.
  21. We need to start by providing better protection for our workers. After the first phase of our employment legislation review, we are making changes to the Employment Act to cover more workers, including PMEs. We are now in the process of consulting the public on how we can increase protection for workers under non-traditional work arrangements, and exploring additional protection for our lower-wage workers in the second phase of our employment legislation review.
  22. We should also look into putting in place progressive workplaces to draw and retain older workers and back-to-work women.
  23. As we all know, older workers have a wealth of experience and skills we can tap on. Companies should implement age-friendly practices to draw the best from the older workers. We also want to help back-to-work women better balance work and family commitments. To this end, we introduced WorkPro earlier this year in consultation with our tripartite partners to promote work-life harmony and offer more support to bring those who are not working, as well as older workers, back to work.

  24. Our MOM story isn’t a bad one. And all of you contribute to that story. Work is something that every Singaporean does, and our work, whether it is creating jobs, or retirement adequacy, is not something that we should underestimate.
  25. As always, we also recognise that our manpower journey an endless one, with many challenges still ahead of us. But as one of the great sayings go, “You never walk alone”.
  26. Our tripartite partners have been there with us every step of the way and that’s important. Many countries are amazed, impressed even, at the way we’ve been able to build up these relationships between employers, unions and the government. They have given us unwavering support throughout the years, and we thank you for it. Together, we will continue on this journey in making a difference in the lives of Singaporeans, and creating many more success stories and collective memories that will bind all of us together.
  27. There are many stories out there. So many stories of which demonstrate so much heart and soul. I for one am proud of the many positive stories that you create in your capacity as MOM officers. Thank you very much, and I wish you all a happy National Day.