Skip to main content

Speech at International Forum on Tripartism 2015

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability

Sisters and Brothers from overseas

Our tripartite partners

  1. We have come to the end of the International Forum on Tripartism. This forum was conceived because this is the 50th anniversary of Singapore. And looking back, we know that if not for tripartism, many of the achievements we see in Singapore today would not have been possible. This is the same as we look forward to SG 100. It is also very obvious to all of us that we still have a lot more to do to further strengthen tripartism.
  2. So with this in mind, we started two to three years ago to plan for this forum. We approached International Labour Organization (ILO) to invite Mr Guy Ryder as the keynote speaker and Mr Ryder readily accepted our invitation without any hesitation. Over the last few years, we also reached out to our tripartite partners in other countries. This evening, we are very fortunate to have them here and once again, let us thank our tripartite leaders from Barbados, Japan, Ireland and Denmark, as well as our delegates from overseas.
  3. I would say that each of us is pre-occupied with similar priorities – how to transform the lives of our people for the better, especially for the working people. Each of us adopt a different approach towards tripartism. We may pay more attention at the national level, sectoral level or enterprise level in different cases. In some cases, we place more emphasis on the tripartite partnership while in other cases, more on the bi-partite relationship. However, it does not matter where we place the emphasis at the three different levels.
  4. At the end of the day, we all face a few key challenges. The one key challenge which I thought was most important, as shared by Mr Ryder, is how to make Tripartism a permanent feature. Tripartism has been around in Singapore for 50 years. How do we make sure that tripartism will continue for the next 50 years? This is a question Singapore needs to ponder, and likewise for all the other countries as well.
  5. For us to succeed in making tripartism a permanent feature in our respective countries, firstly, we need to make sure tripartism will survive, not just in good times but also in bad times. During good times, it is important that we continue to build trust so that when it comes to difficult times, there are sufficient trust among the partners for us to work together. The sharing by our tripartite leaders from Ireland is insightful as it reminds us of the importance of strengthening tripartism. In the case of Singapore, in order to continue to ensure that tripartism will be effective through difficult times, we need to have enough resources in our money bank. We need these resources to help us lessen the pain of our workers. For Singapore, in 2009, we had various programmes using the national reserves to lessen the pain of our workers. At the same time, not only do we need to have a strong and healthy money bank, we will also need a strong and healthy trust bank which will come about if we continue to build trust during good times.
  6. As Mr Ryder has reminded us, the best way to build trust is to produce results which will change the lives of the people for the better. The second aspect which I thought was very important is – will strong tripartism lead to weak unionisation? In other words, can both tripartism and unionisation co-exist? Does it mean that if tripartism is strong, unionisation will then be weak since workers are well taken of? Or does it mean that unionisation can only be strong if tripartism is weak?
  7. In Singapore, we believe that strong tripartism and strong unionisation can go together. If tripartism is all about preventing bad practices to ensure that workers will not be exploited, I will then agree that tripartism will lead to weak unionisation because the welfare and interest of the workers can be taken care of simply through legislation, and workers will not need to join the union.
  8. However, we believe that in Singapore, unionisation and tripartism are not about preventing bad practices. In fact, it is the opposite – it is about promoting best practices. For example, in Singapore, we do not believe that treating workers fairly is good enough. In fact, we want our tripartite partners to work together so that we can treat our workers progressively and not just fairly. We believe that if tripartism can bring about fair treatment for workers, strong unionisation and strong tripartism can co-exist.
  9. Today, we have heard some questions asked, about changes in the work practices and that more workers are becoming non-traditional workers. In this case, would tripartism be relevant to this group of workers? If we adopt the old mindset that tripartism will only serve union members, the non-traditional workers who are not union members will fall outside the scope of tripartism. If we adopt this mindset, tripartism will eventually become less relevant to workers of the future.
  10. Therefore, we will have to keep re-inventing our mindset – tripartism should serve all collars, ages and nationalities of workers and every worker deserves a fair and progressive treatment.
  11. Tripartism is functioning well in Singapore today and we fully recognise that there are a lot more ways to keep re-creating Singapore’s tripartite model, in order for it to remain relevant to the future of jobs, skills, businesses and workers.
  12. On behalf of the tripartite partners in Singapore, we thank all of you for participating today. This is the first time we are holding this forum and the outcome, results and learnings have far exceeded our expectations.
  13. Thank you all and I wish you all the best. Let us all work together to recreate tripartism in our respective countries to make sure we create a brighter future for all workers.