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Speech at Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM)’s Launch Event

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

Sister Mary Liew, President NTUC
Brother Chun Sing, Secretary General, NTUC
Brother Robert Yap, President, SNEF
Brother Stephen Lee, Tripartite Alliance Chairman
Brothers and Sisters
Friends and Partners

Good morning.
  1. This event reminds me of how far we have come in Tripartism. When I was a young man in the 60s, Singapore was in its early days of industrialisation and we did not have anything. 
  2. Under the leadership of our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, we adopted this strategy of borrowing. We did not have technology, market, capital, nor jobs and we borrowed from the world - US, Europe, Japan and we talked to the MNCs. Because of this borrowed strategy, we get to where we are today.
  3. In return for borrowing, we offered them a pro-business environment. We offered them something that they could not get from many other countries such as industrial peace, and a productive and competitive labour force. 
  4. Because of the pro-business environment, companies willingly lent us their technology, market and support. At the end of the day, we are doing this not just to serve the interests of businesses, but more importantly, to serve the interests of our workers as well. 
  5. In other words, we have to be pro-business to attract companies here, yet at the same time, be pro-worker so that Singaporeans will benefit from all the development and progress. 
  6. So how did we become pro-business and pro-worker at the same time? The answer is very simple - Tripartism. However, the problem is that while Tripartism is a very simple concept, it is very difficult to implement. This the reason why until today, Tripartism is still a secret weapon. Our challenge is to continue to build on it.
  7. So until today, 45 to 50 years later - we are still counting on Tripartism to help us create a better future, not just today, but into the future. 
  8. As we move towards the future economy, we need to create more and better jobs. We set up the sectoral tripartite committee, sector by sector, for 23 sectors, with the Labour Movement, the industry, and government agencies. We turn to Tripartism to help us to create better jobs, in every sector of our economy. 
  9. We want to make sure that our workforce is adaptable and able to take on all the new jobs and careers being created for them. Our Adapt and Grow initiative is also a joint and collective tripartite effort by the Labour Movement, employers and government agencies. 
  10. In order to make sure that our workforce is inclusive, we turn to Tripartism as well. For example, to enhance the well-being of the low-wage workers, we set up sectoral tripartite committees for landscaping, security and cleaning sectors. 
  11. We want to ensure that our mature workers will continue to be able to remain productive for a longer time. Through tripartite efforts, we introduce the concept of re-employment. Come 1 July 2017, re-employment age will be raised to 67. By then, our re-employment age will be one of the highest in the world.
  12. For back-to-work women, we want to ensure that our workplace become more flexible - flexi-load, flexi-hour, flexi-place. To make this happen, we call on Tripartism yet again. In fact, NTUC was the champion for the back-to-work and over time, the employers have embraced that. 
  13. We are creating better jobs, making workers more adaptable and making workforce more inclusive. At the end of the day, we have to make sure that human resources in Singapore will be valued as future human capital. 
  14. For that to happen, who do we call on? Tripartism. In fact, we started the journey 10 years ago - we decided that it is important for us to move towards the concept of human capital, and promote and encourage the adoption of fair employment practices.
  15. In 2006, we set up TAFEP - Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices. The key word of TAFEP is not ‘FEP’, but the ‘TA’ (Tripartite Alliance). People talk about fair employment practices everywhere in the world. But in Singapore, we do it the Tripartite way. 
  16. Today, we are taking another positive step forward and we have set up TADM. Again, the key word is ‘Tripartite Alliance’. TAFEP and TADM - these are major steps that we are taking to ensure that in Singapore, human resources will be valued as human capital. 
  17. We want to ensure that the unfair practices in Singapore are eliminated. Under the Fair Consideration Framework Watchlist, we take firm action against companies which adopt unfair practices. At the same time, we are encouraging more and more employers to go beyond being fair – from fair to progressive. Through tripartite efforts, we launch the Human Capital Partnership (HCP) just two months ago. Today, the number of companies under the Watchlist is longer than the list of Human Capital Partners - 250 under the watchlist and 74 under the HCP today. The ratio is 3:1. Through tripartite efforts, we believe we can reverse this such that the HCP list will be much longer than the watchlist. 
  18. Even as we do so, we have to recognise that from time to time there will be disputes between employers and employers, even in a progressive organisation. This is unavoidable. When a dispute happens, we have to find a way to resolve them amicably, and maintain mutual respect at the same time. 
  19. With this in mind, the tripartite partners decided to take a bold step forward to set up TADM. TADM will provide a cheaper, better and faster way to resolve disputes, compared to going to civil court. 
  20. Two weeks ago, a PME – Head of Marketing, earning about $7,000 a month came to MOM. He was terminated without notice by his employer. He came to us and he wanted to claim one month of unpaid salary, and find out the reason for his termination. As he is not covered by the Employment Act, our TADM advisor spoke to him and assured him that TADM can help him from 1 April 2017. As he is currently unemployed, TADM also referred him to WSG to help him find a job. We are very happy that TADM will now be able to resolve cases like this.
  21. Next, besides reaching out to more employees, we will also be able to resolve more disputes. One of the cases we received involved a childcare teacher, who resigned due to a disagreement with the principal of the child care centre. She incurred liquidated damages from breaching a training bond. The child care teacher came to MOM, and even though this is not within the scope of TADM, we facilitated on a voluntary basis.Through voluntary mediation, both sides were able to resolve the issue. On the part of the childcare teacher, she acknowledged she had a part to play in the disagreement. At the same time, the employer, agreed to waive its claim for liquidated damages as the employer recognised her passion and commitment to childcare. A case like this therefore was resolved amicably. 
  22. We hope that TADM will be able to continue to resolve issues, beyond salary claims, on a voluntary basis. Last but not least, TADM will also provide more holistic support. When an employee comes to TADM, he may require the support of legal advice for complicated cases. Through TADM, we will provide them access to legal clinic and legal advice. In some cases where there is loss of jobs, we will help them with job search and employment support. For cases where employees may face financial difficulties, we will provide social assistance. For low-wage workers, we will also provide Short-Term Relief Fund to them. 
  23. At the end of the day, we hope that TADM together with TAFEP will be able to prevent dispute upstream – by moving from unfair to fair to progressive. And at the same time - should any dispute happen, we would have an amicable way of resolving the issues. 
  24. Looking back, there is no doubt that Tripartism in Singapore has indeed been very effective, for both employer and employees, and the economy at large. The tripartite partners have also decided that we should take another big step forward, to cement this spirit of Singapore Tripartism. 
  25. We have decided to set up a Tripartite Alliance Limited (TAL). This company limited is jointly owned by MOM, NTUC and SNEF and it is a shared ownership. The three parties will collate our resources, pool our expertise and work together as one tripartite alliance to serve the interests of our workers to the best of our ability, not just today, but into the future. To ensure that the tone, spirit and direction is fully aligned, it is important that we have the right leadership. I'm very happy that we managed to convince Mr Stephen Lee, to be the board chairman. Thank you Stephen. 
  26. To ensure that the tripartite agreement is a strong one, we are very fortunate that all three parties have given their full commitment. On NTUC’s side, I am very grateful to NTUC Secretary-General, Brother Chun Sing for nominating Deputy Secretary-General, Heng Swee How and Brother Tan Hock Soon to represent NTUC. On SNEF’s side, I am very grateful to Dr Robert Yap for nominating Brother Douglas Foo and Brother Han Kwee Juan. From MOM’s side, we have Aubeck Kam, Permanent Secretary of MOM. 
  27. And to take care of the day to day leadership as the Executive Director of TAL, we are very happy to have someone who has been very much involved in Tripartism all these years - Brother Then Yee Thoong.
  28. This is our line-up and from here, through this tripartite commitment, we will continue to grow in strength. TAFEP and TADM will be the first two entities under TAL. The future development of TAFEP and TADM will be supported and directed through TAL. With this is mind, TAFEP and TADM are both located at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability (DNI), and our mission is to make DNI the hub for Tripartism. Besides TAFEP and TADM, we also have our partner, e2i - the anchor tenant of this place. The MSF Social Services Office is also located in this building.
  29. NTUC U Care Centre, will likewise be providing support to the centre. By bringing all these together, we believe that we will be able to provide a more holistic tripartite support to all workers. 
  30. We will continue to extend the scope of Tripartite Alliance. The next area we are looking at is Workplace Safety and Health. The tripartite partners are all concerned about this issue and we want to make sure that every worker - whether it is a local worker or foreign worker - will be able to go home safe and sound at the end of the day. This is a high priority to us. 
  31. In conclusion, I would like to say that we would not be able to get to where we are today, if not for the strong support of our tripartite partners.
  32. There is one group of people I would like to make special mention and thanks to, and they are the staff of MOM. 10 years ago, we seconded many of our staff to TAFEP and with the set-up of TADM today, a total of 70 staff will be transferred from MOM to TADM. I am fully aware that some of them are very sad that they are leaving MOM, but in fact, they are not leaving MOM. They are actually joining the tripartite family, which is even bigger than MOM. 
  33. I sincerely thank my MOM colleagues for taking up this challenge, to migrate from the MOM family to come under the tripartite family. I assure you the work under the Tripartite Alliance will be even more meaningful. And I assure you that we will take good care of your career development. As we expand the scope of Tripartite Alliance, there will be more areas for us to grow your career and your expertise. Thank you for all the years of contribution with MOM, and we look forward to your contribution to the Tripartite Alliance. 
  34. Thank you.