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Speech at MOM National Day Observance Ceremony

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower, CPF Building

Mr Stephen Lee
President, Singapore National Employers Federation

Mr Patrick Tay
Assistant Secretary-General, National Trades Union Congress

Fellow colleagues from the MOM family, staff and friends,

A very good afternoon to everyone present. 

Introduction
  1. It’s our 49th birthday this year and we look forward to it. The theme this year is “Our People, Our Home”. All of us are Singaporeans. To me, National Day is probably one of the most significant and important holidays that we celebrate. As Chinese, we celebrate Chinese New Year, Malays have Hari Raya and the Indians have Deepavali. But National Day is the one day that all of us, as Singaporeans, come together.
  2. But what does it mean to us? We’ll really have to decide for ourselves. If we don’t celebrate it, then no one else will.

    Theme: Our People, Our Home
  3. So that’s a useful point for us to reflect upon. It’s something that many of us take for granted. People get angry over different things. While we can disagree with policies, there are certain things that we shouldn’t drag into the whole process, and that includes our country and who we are as a people. We can agree to disagree, but some of these issues should rise above the others.
  4. The theme, “Our People, Our Home”, means a lot to us, especially to those of us in the public service. Not only are we citizens, but we also play an important role in looking out for our people. It’s useful for us, whether we are in MOM, CPF Board, or WDA, to remind ourselves of what we do and why. As part of the overall Government effort, we contribute to the economic growth and creating job opportunities. For us, it is important that labour policies are put in place, so that the economy can thrive.

    Improving employment practices
  5. We should not take this growth for granted – it is not a given. We need growth to continue to be competitive and create opportunities for our people and children. So, we need to create policies that can strike a balance between being open and sustainable, and ultimately make sure that opportunities are available.
  6. We are not doing badly on that front. Unemployment remains low, but it does not mean there is no unemployment. The figures are strong and for the foreseeable near- to medium-term, I think it should remain that way.
  7. And as we create opportunities for our people, we must at the same time equip them with the ability to seize those opportunities. So, this is where we work closely with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Trade and Industry to prepare our people. While the education system prepares us, we will continue to shoulder that responsibility in terms of continuing education and training, especially post-formal education. We make sure that as the world changes – and we know that the world is changing very quickly – we are able to continue equipping Singaporeans with the skills and abilities to adjust and adapt. Some sectors may fade away or evolve, individuals may want to change their professions, and that’s where we come in to make sure that opportunities are provided. Whatever your education background, there are pathways open to you as you embark on your journey at your workplace, to build your dreams.
  8. While we equip our Singaporeans with the ability to take on those opportunities, it is also our responsibility to improve the work environment. We have done so through the recent Employment Act changes, and other changes put in place to enhance safety. The work environment is only conducive if you create opportunities and ensure that you can seize those opportunities. That in turn leads to a conducive and progressive work environment. And that is something that many of you play a part in shaping those policies, whether it is in terms of work-life harmony or trying to promote more flexible working hours for Singaporeans who have different needs.
  9. All these efforts ensure that the workplace is positive. We spend a lot of hours, and at times too many hours, at work. If we are going to spend that many hours at work, then let us make sure that the work environment and experience are positive. There is no reason why work should be seen as just functional. I think we can make work meaningful and unique. We are also looking at promoting progressive HR policies at the workplace. All these will go a long way in contributing to the positive experience that Singaporeans can have.

    CPF
  10. In terms of looking out for our Singaporeans, we also extend to post-work. As you all know, CPF has been a hot topic recently. But many of us don’t always read about the topic until we need to. And I think it is important for us to recognise that the CPF remains a very strong and stable system. Our colleagues at CPF work very hard to administer and constantly improve it, to better look after Singaporeans.
  11. So after work ends, how do we continue to ensure peace of mind and retirement adequacy? That is something that we will continue to strengthen.

    Being part of a home
  12. We try to make sure that we look after our people. But I will just add on about “Home”. While this is something that is not exactly within MOM’s purview, I think it is something we need to think about as Singaporeans.
  13. I will give the analogy of the HDB flat. We can provide a physical infrastructure, whether it is a three-room flat, four-room flat, or executive condo. But it is, after all, just a physical building. It only becomes a home because of the relationships. A family that is divided and has no love and compassion is not really a home.
  14. In many ways, as a nation, and as a home, it is really about relationships. We cannot mandate that, but I think it is something we need to nurture and grow. We can provide good economic growth and opportunities, but the soul of the nation really rests with our ability to relate to one another, our culture and values. That is something that does not happen all the time. We will have to work at it.
  15. I think many of us know that when we look back to our lives many years down the road, our careers and achievements will not matter. What matters then is really our loved ones and the relationships.
  16. And at the same time, we need to strengthen relationships with our friends, colleagues, neighbours and the community. Many of us may have been staying in our apartment blocks for a long time, but have never spoken to our neighbours. And I think it is a very different experience when you have contact with the people, and get a sense of who they are. This also changes the feel of the environment. So, like how the house becomes a home because of the family and relationships, a community grows because you know the people.
  17. As an MP on the ground, I feel that bringing people together is the purpose of various activities that the People’s Association organises. These are opportunities to meet other people, build relationships, and hopefully over time, grow a sense of community. From there, you will be able to derive meaning. Once you remove those relationships, this is just a physical place. There is really no meaning.
  18. I also think it is important to celebrate the history, heritage and our environment. I actually don’t think we celebrate and pay enough attention to it. Yet these give us a sense of our history.
  19. Ultimately, the glue that brings us together is really the relationships. And that is something that as a government, we can try to nurture and create opportunities for that to happen, but you can’t mandate that. All of us have the responsibility to play our parts.
  20. So even as officers, we do what we can to shape policies to make lives better for Singaporeans, what really make us stand out as a great nation is the heart and soul. And that is something that I hope, in your own way, you can play a part. Reach out to your families and your neighbours. A lot of us are reserved and keep to ourselves, but I believe if we begin to reach out, there will be strong and positive relationships, and we would have contributed to building something special. I think that is where we will begin to change as a society.

    Conclusion
  21. To reiterate, the NDP theme is “Our People, Our Home”. I can tell you that being involved in National Day is a challenge – imagine having to come up with new themes each year. But, they actually all mean the same thing. They all revolve around the fundamental ideas of what it means to be a nation. As a government, you are able to shape some of these. But the softer parts really require every Singaporean’s participation.
  22. So with that, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for your dedication and efforts. Whether at MOM, CPF Board, WDA or SLF, we receive criticisms. We are at a stage where you will find Singaporeans making comments. But you also do know that many Singaporeans are grateful for what you do. Many of them say their thanks, and send in their bouquets, and it is important to take heart for these. You really do make a difference. And I think as we celebrate National Day, we also celebrate the efforts that all of you have contributed to the journey. With that, thank you very much, and happy National Day.