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Speech at 103rd Session of the International Labour Conference

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin , Minister for Manpower, Geneva, Switzerland

Mr President

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen


  1. Today, we are here to discuss how countries can work together to achieve our common objective of promoting decent work for the well-being of workers around the world. I would like to take this opportunity to share Singapore’s perspective.

    Driving Growth through Productivity
  2. Let me start with a brief update on our labour market. In 2013, the Singapore economy grew by about 4.1% with the overall unemployment rate remaining low at 1.9%1. This year, there are modest improvements in the global economic outlook, although much uncertainty remains. Against this backdrop, we expect our economy to grow by 2 to 4%2. Our job market is likely to remain tight in light of strong labour demand.
  3. Our key challenge remains to create good jobs so that all workers can benefit from economic growth. We see restructuring for higher productivity as the only way to ensure sustainable wage increases. We have therefore embarked on a productivity drive to create better jobs, as a means to achieve sustainable growth which will benefit all segments of our society. The Singapore Government is working closely with our tripartite partners – the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) – to help businesses innovate and move up the value chain and, at the same time, help workers to improve their skills and thereby employability as well.

    Update on recent policies to enhance employment and social protection
  4. The future economy will be driven by rapid technological change and shorter skill cycles. There will be new job opportunities, but workers will need to master new skills to stay relevant and take on these new job opportunities. At the same time, the composition of our workforce is changing – our population is becoming more educated, with Professionals, Managers and Executives (or what we call PMEs, for short) forming a growing proportion of our workforce in Singapore.
  5. To address these challenges, we are focusing on three areas:

    • First, making workplaces better and safer;
    • Second, creating better jobs and raising workers’ incomes through skills upgrading; and
    • Third, achieving inclusive growth and supporting lower-wage workers

    (i) Making workplaces better and safer
  6. In 2013, Singapore expanded the Employment Act to enhance protection of PMEs. We are looking into how we can provide PMEs with more avenues of representation, and how we can provide all workers with access to affordable and expeditious mechanisms for resolving employment disputes.
  7. We are also stepping up enforcement efforts against those found responsible for Workplace Safety and Health infringements. We will also undertake a further review of our regulatory and legislative framework, to help entrench a mindset that sees all work injuries and ill health as preventable.
  8. In a globalised economy where people move freely across borders in search of economic opportunities, there are opportunities for traffickers to exploit vulnerable individuals with empty promises of good jobs and economic opportunities. We are therefore working on a dedicated legislation called the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, to deal with human trafficking in a comprehensive and in a holistic manner.
  9. In addition, we regularly review legislation to ensure that foreign workers are adequately and appropriately protected from undesirable employment practices.

    (ii) Creating better jobs and raising workers’ incomes through skills upgrading
  10. As I mentioned earlier, workers need to continually upgrade their skills. This is critical to our efforts to raise productivity and achieve sustainable wage increases for all workers. We are therefore embarking on a major review of our Continuing Education and Training system, to make it more relevant to the evolving needs of our workers and businesses. This includes providing greater support for self-initiated upgrading in order to better empower individuals to pursue their career goals and to ensure that companies are able to tap on a more skilled workforce.

    (iii) Achieving inclusive growth and supporting lower-wage workers
  11. Inclusive growth has always been our priority. Apart from supplementing incomes and supporting skills upgrading of our lower-wage Singaporeans, we recently made it mandatory for cleaning companies to pay their cleaners wages that are commensurate with their skills, training and productivity. Our tripartite partners have worked closely together to develop a Progressive Wage Model, which puts in place a clear progression path for cleaners to upgrade and secure higher incomes.

    Tripartite Cooperation
  12. Tripartism plays an important role in tackling economic and employment challenges in Singapore. As we press on with our restructuring and productivity efforts, we will leverage on our history of strong tripartite cooperation to balance the interests of employers and workers. We will continue to work closely with our tripartite partners to build a productive and skilled labour force which can respond quickly to global competition.

    Singapore’s Cooperation with the ILO
  13. Singapore’s efforts to create better and safer workplaces, create better jobs, and achieve sustainable wage increases for our workers is fully aligned with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) objective of providing decent work for all.
  14. In 2011, Singapore signed a partnership agreement with the ILO to develop and implement a joint cooperation programme in progressive labour and workplace practices in Southeast Asia. We have since conducted a number of activities under this agreement to promote occupational safety and health, tripartism and social dialogue. Today, I am pleased to announce that Singapore and the ILO have renewed our partnership agreement for another two years. We will continue to work closely with ILO, our social partners and our fellow ASEAN member states to promote decent work in our region.

  15. Mr President, I am confident that under your able leadership, the 103rd International Labour Conference will be a success. On behalf of the Singapore delegation, I wish all conference participants a fruitful time. Thank you.

1Singapore Ministry of Manpower, “Employment Situation, 2013”.

2Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry, “Economic Survey of Singapore, 2013”.