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Speech at the 104th Session of the International Labour Conference "Building a Future with Decent Work"

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, Geneva, Switzerland


Distinguished delegates

Ladies and gentlemen

  1. In a world where there are more workers looking for jobs than there are available jobs, every country faces three common challenges:
    - First, to create enough jobs to minimise unemployment
    - Second, to improve the quality of jobs to minimise under-employment
    - Third, to keep up-skilling and re-skilling the workforce to minimise structural unemployment as industries evolve.
  2. Singapore has done better than most up till now. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, at around 2%. Real wages have grown, not only at the median, but also for the lower income at the 20th percentile. 
  3. However, we cannot take the future for granted. We have to keep embracing the future today.
  4. And the future comes with challenges. Our workforce is aging. Our resident labour force growth will slow substantially in the coming years, and become negligible beyond 2020. As an open economy, we are fully exposed to the rapid pace of technological innovation, shorter skill cycles and keener globalised competition. Our ability to adapt and evolve is a critical factor for our future competitiveness. This is the shared priority of the tripartite partners in Singapore. 
  5. We have started a new tripartite movement called SkillsFuture. This is to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to upgrade and update their skills and knowledge throughout life, to achieve their potential at every stage of their careers. Tripartism is at the heart of SkillsFuture, because we can only succeed if employers, unions and workers, and the Government all work together and play our parts:
    - Employers must recognise that skilled and motivated workforce is the key to their long term competitiveness, and must find ways to attract, nurture, and retain their workers.
    - Workers must recognise that employability is the key to their long term well-being, and must be re-skillable and adaptable throughout their lives.
    - The Government must recognise the pressure of economic restructuring on workers and businesses, and must create opportunities, strengthen infrastructure and provide resources and support to help employers and workers to help themselves.
  6. The challenges we face are not trivial. But we believe that the constructive approach of “Singapore Tripartism” has not only served us well in the past, but will also serve us even better as we venture into the future. Working in unity, we can overcome the fear of uncertainty, turning threats into opportunities. We are confident that a future world of good businesses, good careers and good growth can be within our reach.
  7. President, the International Labour Organisation is the only tripartite agency in the United Nations with government, employer and worker representatives. It is widely recognised as the leading champion of tripartism in leading the world towards a future of “Decent Work for All”. The ILO Director-General’s report on “The Future of Work” is a timely reminder of our common challenges, and the need for us to work together to overcome them. As tripartite representatives of the world, we all have our roles to play in our respective countries, regions and beyond.
  8. Singapore is committed to playing our part. As Singapore celebrates 50 years of nation building this year, we will be staging an International Forum on Tripartism. We look forward to welcoming Director-General of the ILO Mr Guy Ryder as the distinguished keynote speaker, and tripartite leaders from all regions to join us in Singapore in sharing our mutual experiences in strengthening tripartism for economic growth and social progress.
  9. President, I am confident that under your able leadership, the 104th International Labour Conference will be a success. On behalf of the Singapore delegation, I wish all conference participants good progress as we all strive for better jobs and better careers for all.
  10. Thank you.