Speech at Workplan Seminar
Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower , Max Atria, EXPO
- This year, our Workplan Seminar is special because we’re paying tribute to our former Minister Lim Swee Say.
o We’re so glad to welcome back our dear colleague and friend, Brother Lim Swee Say!
o Let us also extend a special welcome to SG NTUC Brother Ng Chee Meng
o We appreciate you making time to join us
- We just watched a video on our collective achievements in 2017.
o May I take this opportunity to thank everyone for your support and contributions
o This includes colleagues from within MOM
o Also our stat boards CPFB, WSG and SLF
o Not forgetting TAL and IHRP
o We also had tremendous support from sister agencies e.g. MAS, IMDA, EDB – for which we are very thankful
NTUC and SNEF remained our steadfast partners
o Last year, we made great progress
o Updating Employment Act
o And launching a new Tripartite Standards framework
o Both were possible only because of your support
- In particular, we thank former-SG Minister CCS.
o My letter to him set out his contributions
o And was published in the media last week
- We congratulate Brother Chee Meng on your recent appointment as SG
o Both of us worked very well together in MOT
o I handed over the aviation portfolio to him
o And among first things he did was to meet the unions
o He spent time with them
o And it was not hard to see that he cares about workers
o So I was very glad that when Sister Mary Liew asked PM to send someone to NTUC, Brother Chee Meng stepped up
o In the short time since, I have already heard many positive vibes
- We are extremely fortunate that Singapore’s LM does not just talk (as in many countries).
o It thinks and does, a lot!
o I know CM to be a thinker and doer, and have no doubt he will further strengthen LM
o We are both newly appointed
o But Sister Mary and Brother Robert
o And many more Sisters and Brothers
o Will help us stay on course
- Tripartism in Singapore is working well.
o So why have I chosen to focus on it in my workplan address to Mom-ers?
o It is because the wave of disruptions to global businesses
o Will have an uncertain impact on familiar work arrangements
o As a result, the interests of employers and workers could diverge
o In other words, we must expect tripartism to come under pressure
o We will have to be careful not to be swept up by our anxieties
o If these worries nudge one party to push for actions that fail to balance the interests of other parties
o It can easily cause a breakdown of trust
o And the damage will be very hard to repair
- Therefore, I want to focus on three aspects today:
o Possible impact of disruptions
o How we should respond as tripartite partners
o How we strengthen tripartism
Three Major Disruptions
- Two weeks ago in Parliament,
o many MPs, including labour MPs Bros Heng Chee How, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Melvin Yong and Desmond Choo,
o expressed concerns about the impact of technological disruptions to jobs and employment.
- In fact, there are other equally important disruptions that can impact jobs and employment. Today, will just highlight two:
o Political disruption
o Demographic disruption
- Let me start with political disruption.
- Most of us can remember the shock result of the Brexit vote in June 2016, nearly two years ago.
o By now, many experts have chimed in
o You may have seen analyses that look something like this
o It shows the different profiles of those who voted for “Remain” or “Leave”
o For the “leave” camp to have won, suggests that employment outcomes in the UK must have weakened
o Or at the very least, there was unevenness
o But looking at the macro data, over the 5 years leading up to Brexit
o The employment rate had been trending up
o Unemployment rate was trending down
o There may have been unevenness, but it was not obvious
- More important than the causes, what has been the impact of the Brexit vote?
Among other things,
o The Government’s attention has been focussed on terms of exit from EU
o Businesses have been spooked by the uncertainty,
o And they have started to worry
o As a result, the begin to hedge their bets
o For example, by building up elsewhere, just in case
o This may not cause massive unemployment overnight
o But job prospects must surely be hit
There have been several other elections with unexpected outcomes
o The existing orders were being rejected
o It is not for us to judge whether these outcomes were right or wrong, good or bad
o But for us to understand that there is no guarantee of political stability
o even if things appear to be going well
- These political disruptions are also a reminder that ground concerns must be heard
o They must then be seriously and sincerely addressed
o even if we cannot resolve all problems overnight
- This thinking applies to our work in MOM too
o We must know what the concerns are
o For example, as growth slows, people worry if wages will stagnate
o Or whether jobs will be lost to disruption
o There are also challenges faced by OW, LWW, freelancers and women
o And worries about retirement adequacy
For MOM family, there are many touchpoints with the public where ground concerns are keenly felt
o Such as at CPF Call and Service Centres which I visited last week
o There, I met Kaye Yong, Liew Yoke Pin and several others
o Who carry out their work with professionalism and enthusiasm
o Their service makes a difference to every caller
o Helps to put them at ease
o Across the board, our officers’ service and attention matter
o Each interaction is important
o When we do it well, the public feel they are heard or helped, and it builds trust
o When we don’t do it well, the public feel frustrated, and it can gradually lead to the erosion of trust
o I know many officers are going beyond the call of duty and doing your utmost to serve the public
o Hope to get to know more of you better
o And through you, hear the voices of fellow Singaporeans
- It is important to do so to stay grounded and maintain trust
o Because a breakdown of trust is often at the root of political disruption, which is usually a very noisy affair.
- Another type of disruption that creeps up more quietly has to do with demography.
o Let me start with fertility.
- Globally, TFR has been in steady decline for decades
o In early 50s, half of the world’s population lived in countries where TFR > 5.5
o By late 70s, half of the world’s population lived in countries where TFR ≤ 3
o From the last decade, more than half of the world’s population live in countries with below replacement TFR
- Another global trend is increased life expectancy.
- With improved healthcare, the size of the aged population worldwide is growing rapidly.
o By 2030, the number of people aged 60 and over will be about the same as China’s population today, at about 1.4 billion.
o By 2050, well before we get to SG100, the world may well have around 2 billion people above the age of 60
- What about Asia?
o In 2015, only Japan had an elderly population (aged 65 or over) exceeding 15% share
o By 2030, most Asian countries will have elderly populations of 20% or more
- In many countries too, the size of the working age population will fall
o Except in India, Indonesia and Philippines
o Where the growth will be quite marginal
- What do these mean for us in Singapore?
i. First Q to do with international definition of “working-age”, should we continue to assume that most people do not work beyond age 64? [In fact, Bro CM asked a good Q recently: why should there be an expiry “age” for people’s desire or willingness to work?]
ii. Second Q, if so many countries will have older populations, how can we turn this into a competitive edge for our economy and society? How to make longevity = opportunity for Singapore?
iii. For employers, if TFR is falling and populations are ageing, how can we help them adjust their HR strategies to better tap the senior workforce?
Fortunately, we are not starting from zero base. As a result of earlier moves,
o our employment rate for residents aged 55-64 is well above OECD average
o We are not a member of OECD, but if we were, we will be ranked 11th out of 35
- Even then, we are not quite where we can be
o Several countries like NZ and Sweden have employment rates well above 70%
o It shows we have room to improve!
- We are also not alone in seeking to make the best of our ageing populations to strengthen the workforce
o In Japan, the Government encourages older workers to remain employed for as long as they are able
o It intends to raise the maximum age that people can choose to start receiving their pension payments;
o The Japanese who choose to delay pension payouts will get to draw higher monthly payments
o Much like our CPF Life deferred payout scheme
o Many Japanese companies are also providing more opportunities for mid-career switchers, for workers aged 45-54
o The Japanese Statistics Bureau reported that half a million such workers changed jobs in 2016
o Which is the highest number since 2002
o In addition, technology is playing a big part
o The Japanese have become comfortable with technology
o They design tech to work in harmony with humans instead of replacing them
o E.g. Exoskeletons and smart goggles help older workers move better and see more clearly
This brings me to our concerns about technology disruptions:
o All around us, we can see and feel the shifts
o From the way we get taxi rides
o To how we shop for groceries and clothing
o And book air tickets or hotels
o Even to get job assignments
o Every now and then, we also hear predictions that can be very alarming
o How many million jobs
o Lost to robots/automation
- They make one wonder, what should our attitude be towards technology?
o Is it something to be resisted vigorously?
o Or something to be embraced unconditionally?
- Technology will most certainly change how businesses operate and also our jobs. Take ICA for example.
o At our land checkpoints,
o Currently, officers must carry out visual inspections on all cargo and conveyance
o Soon, bus scanners will be installed and process automated
o But, this does not mean that the officer’s role will be gone
o We will still need a person to identify abnormalities
o Therefore, the Officer can learn to analyse scanned images
o And be deployed to do a higher value job
o This will help ICA perform faster, more reliable security screening
o Make Singapore safer for everyone
- Another point to note: even if technology reduces manpower-reliance in some areas, growing companies may still have to hire more to fill other jobs
o Take Amazon for example
o It hired many more people even as more robots were introduced
- In other words,
o Businesses and jobs will be transformed by technology
o Potentially creating more meaningful, enjoyable work
o New jobs may also be created in growing companies/industries
o Potentially offering better prospects for workers
o Working people can benefit, provided they are
o Not stuck with old skills in declining businesses
o And are given a chance to reskill and be redeployed
- There is another case to be made for technology: its impact on wages.
o Historically, advanced industries in US have provided more upside to workers’ earnings.
o To extent that technology helps improve productivity, wages can also be higher
o Take a look at evidence across different countries
- These observations should shape the way we think about technology and the disruptions that may follow.
Our response: An Agile Ecosystem as the Winning Formula
- In fact, we should take a step back to consider this: if most mature economies are facing the same disruptive challenges,
o How can we stay one step ahead of the competition and win?
o What should our tripartite response be?
o In other words, how do we turn challenge into opportunity?
- In essence, it will be about how we nurture an agile ecosystem, consisting of
o An agile workforce
o Agile businesses
o Agile government
- To be agile, means being
- What does it mean to be an agile workforce?
o It starts with having an Agile Mindset.
- A few weeks ago, I met our Career Coaches
o You see some of them here for a May Day lunch we hosted for the A&G alumni and their families, plus their employers
o The work of our Career Coaches is very much appreciated by our jobseekers
- That’s why I asked them for their observations at the front line, and what advice they give to jobseekers
o One of them said something that sticks in my mind
o He said, “don’t wait till you have lost your job”
o Pick up new skills to stay relevant
- This is very practical advice. But what new skills to pick up?
One familiar way is to up-skill or deep-skill
• To be able to do a larger job
• Or to become a specialist
Another, less familiar way is to broad-skill
• To be ready for re-deployment to another department, line of business or another country
To maximise opportunities, it pays to cross-skill and multi-skill too
Vincent See, one of our A&G alumni who was recently featured in the media, is a good example
• He spent major part of his career as IT support in hospitality sector
• He noticed that his company was restructuring to cut cost
o Before losing his job, he initiated a move into a new company in different sector
o By taking up WSG’s Attach-and-Train programme
• Fortunately, besides IT, he also had project management skills
o Because of this, he was assigned to help develop an e-procurement platform
• By cross-skilling, Vincent made himself valuable to his employer
o Prompting them to offer him a full-time job before the attachment ended
o And successfully transited into a new role of a System Specialist in the logistic sector
• In future, by continuing to cross-skill or multi-skill, Vincent will have more options as an IT specialist in other organisations or take on new roles in the logistic sector.
- What does this look like to you?
o Some people say “tic-tac-toe”!
o And it can be a winning formula for career advancement
Of course, taking care of our careers is not a game
o But in future, even if more jobs are disrupted, workers like Vincent who display such agility will have an edge.
o These are workers who stay relevant by adding skills, and multiplying opportunities
- A tic-tac-toe approach by each individual translates into a workforce with Agile Skillsets
o It is the essence of Skillsfuture
o To make every worker a better worker
o Who are agile enough to move quickly and flexibly from old jobs that are lost to new jobs as they are created
- A workforce with agile mindsets and agile skillsets is half the battle won.
o The other half requires agile businesses.
o What does that look like?
- I recently visited a fairly young company in an old business.
- Spic & Span (S&S) has been around for just 3 years but has a bold mission:
o They want to to rethink, reinvent and repurpose the cleaning industry
- The reality is that many of its staff are older workers
o S&S also wants to be able offer vulnerable workers, such as persons with disabilities, with decent job opportunities
o Such as 53 year-old Ang Thiam Boon
Who lost his arm in an industrial accident
- One challenge is that:
o Many offices have high glass windows that are difficult to clean
o But CEO Benjamin Chua saw an opportunity instead
o He sourced for glass-cleaning robots (WinBot) that could be remotely-controlled
o Making it easier, safe and smarter for its cleaners
- Another challenge is that:
o Cleaners start work from 7am
o But many offices don’t want to be disturbed by the noise that could be generated by vacuum cleaners
o As a result, cleaning staff may not be allowed to work after 9am
o Ben sensed an opportunity to better optimise staff deployment
o He sourced for quieter equipment and persuaded some customers to let his workers try working after 9 am
o His experiment paid off!
- S&S has also been agile in responding to the needs of clients
o Customers told him staff were falling sick
o S&S was quick to bring in a chemist to develop solutions
o Improved air quality
o Won over customers that want to provide healthier workplaces
- As a business, S&S shows how Agile Mindset + Agile Toolset can be game-changers
o It found ways to be inclusive and progressive
o Got new tools to help workers be more productive and earn more
o It is a win-win for both workers and businesses
o I hope their business grows, and they can hire more people
- In fact, agile businesses are at the heart of the Industry Transformation Maps
o We need every one of them transform and grow
o To be more productive and innovative
o So that every job can be a better job
- I hope you can see how an agile workforce coupled with agile businesses can help Singaporeans chart a bold path forward
o Even if disruptions hit jobs
o Even if our population is ageing
- In fact, this is how Singaporeans can distinguish ourselves when compared to workers in other countries
o Because it is not so easy to do,
o It can help us stay relevant and competitive
o Keep us attractive as a place to invest in, to grow businesses
- MOM too is committed to keep ourselves agile to complement efforts by businesses and workers
- Over the last two years,
o there were at least 40 enhancements or additions to our policies and programmes.
o MOM will remain agile in responding to the needs of businesses and workers, adjusting as we go along.
- For example:
o We enhanced Work Trial and made it Career Trial
o We expanded PCPs to include cover redeployments i.e. help workers avoid retrenchment because they have been re-trained for new jobs with the same company
o The LEDS: moved from bespoke solutions to ready-to-go solutions so that more businesses can become more manpower-lean more quickly
- Through these efforts, there is a good chance that we can continue to achieve better employment outcomes for Singaporeans.
Strengthening Tripartism: Four Key Commitments
- But an agile ecosystem as I have described does not happen by chance
o It is more natural for each system component to resist change
o More natural for each to want to preserve our own interests
o Less likely to look out for each other
- Left to chance, it will be difficult for Singapore to remain exceptional
o And for Singapore to stay special, so too must our tripartism
o The question is how?
- l depend on our key commitments to each other
- Our first commitment must be to reaffirm our shared ownership of the future.
o We must recognise that our destinies are tied together as one
o And we are far better off working with each other than against
We are fortunate in this regard.
- SNEF President, Dr Robert Yap, in his May Day message said that “With the Labour Movement by the side of workers and the tripartite partners united with them, companies can successfully transform.”
o SG Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament recently that the LM will “push the transformation agenda by working even closer with the Government and businesses”.
o Both show clear ownership of our transformation agenda for Singapore, in order to create our future together
- Our second commitment must be to innovate with our shared values in mind.
- Why is this important?
o In an age of disruption, the tensions will grow
o And we must expect calls for policies and approaches to adjust
- For example:
o Some businesses will urge the Government to liberalise FW policy
o Because they have an ageing workforce
o Or want to capture growth opportunities that need people with specialist skills
o Some workers will urge the Government to tighten FW policy
o Especially those who have been displaced and are anxious
o Or are frustrated by employers with ageist attitudes who don’t give them a chance to prove themselves
- Faced with these pressures, our responses must be anchored by our shared values.
o We should remain pro-business and pro-worker in all that we do
o It is the only way to preserve trust within the tripartite movement
- We must therefore be responsive, while maintaining a careful balance:
o It would be a mistake to not keep Singapore open to specialist skills and talents from around the world
o At the same time, it would be a bigger mistake to not strengthen support for Singaporeans
o In terms of our FW policy
o We must manage its by becoming more manpower-lean
o We must also take steps to enhance quality of foreign workforce so that 2/3+1/3 > 1
o Within that context, we can apply selective flexibility to support targeted transformative efforts e.g. Capability Transfer Programme
o To strengthen support for Singaporeans:
o We need companies to think beyond plug-and-play
o We need them to help develop local talent pipeline through the many Skillsfuture and A&G programmes
o We will also need them to keep building up their Singaporean core
- Third, we must re-commit to the shared vision of inclusive workforce and progressive workplaces.
o In 2011, as a labour MP on the backbench, I moved a motion in Parliament on inclusive growth
o Many MPs joined in to call on the Government to do more to support LWWs
o “so that all Singaporeans may share the fruits of our prosperity through better skills, better jobs and better incomes.”
o The following year,
o instead of pushing for a minimum wage,
o the LM promoted the Progressive Wage Model (PWM).
- Today, tripartite partners have implemented the PWM in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors.
o About 70,000 resident workers have been uplifted through better career progression and earn higher wages in a sustainable way.
- But our understanding of inclusiveness and progressiveness cannot be static.
o Every generation has different aspirations and faces fresh challenges. Take for example, Flexible Work Arrangements
o an alien concept in the past
o but increasingly relevant today
o So too must our programmes and emphasis evolve
o That is why we introduced Tripartite Standards
o As way to push the boundaries
o We will need to keep adjusting, to sharpen our focus on
o what is most relevant to the times,
o and what will make us future-ready.
- Our fourth commitment must be to leverage our shared resources to address fresh challenges.
- Last year, we set up the Tripartite Alliance Limited (TAL).
o It is a good example of how we pool resources to better serve employers and workers, and proven to be very useful
o This year, when issues faced by freelancers came into the spotlight, we expanded the services of the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) to cover Self Employed Persons (SEPs)
o By next year, to make it more convenient for regular employees, TADM will be able to mediate wrongful dismissals along with salary claims
- But even before TAL, back in 2008, NTUC set up Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).
o E2i was a front-runner in career guidance and job-matching
o And remains our close partner for Adapt & Grow
o NTUC is also the champion for Inclusive Growth Programme
o From the time I was in NTUC, union leaders and Industrial Relations Officers rolled up their sleeves to promote IGP
o Government provided funding support to incentivise companies to share productivity gains
o These joint effects helped to uplift wages for >100k LWW
- Besides the LM’s resources, our employers are also building up.
- Last year, SNEF’s Agency for Productivity Practices, Human Resource and Industrial Relations (or SAPPHIRE) was launched.
o Supported by WSG, SAPPHIRE has helped many companies to transform and enhance their competitiveness.
o SNEF has also been our close partner in encouraging the adoption of Tripartite Standards.
Three key initiatives to strengthen tripartism
- These four key commitments - our shared ownership of the future, shared values, shared vision, shared resources - are the foundations of Singapore’s unique brand of tripartism.
o Tripartism can continue to be a great source of strength and energy
o To deal with the challenges of disruption
o And take Singapore forward
- In particular, we should strengthen tripartism where it matters most
o So I consulted Brothers Chee Meng and Robert on their priorities
o For a start, we will focus on three key initiatives
- The first initiative concerns our older workers. About one in three of our resident workforce today is aged 50 and above.
o They have anxieties about the future, particularly as technology disrupts businesses and jobs
o Labour MPs talked about it during COS and the recent debate on President’s Address
- To address these concerns, we will convene a Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers (TWG-OW). The TWG’s focus will be to
o Ensure an inclusive workforce and progressive workplaces that values older workers;
o Review the longer-term relevance of the retirement and re-employment age;
o Consider the next moves on the retirement and re-employment age; and
o Examine the CPF contribution rates for OWs and their impact on retirement adequacy.
- Given the seriousness of this matter, I have asked PS (Manpower) Aubeck Kam to chair the TWG-OW
o This will allow for better coordination with relevant agencies
o The TWG will comprise representatives from tripartite partners
o SG NTUC, President SNEF and I will be Advisors
Enhanced Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) for Lower-Wage Workers
- The second initiative concerns our lower-wage workers (LWW)s). NTUC launched the Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) in 2010
It specifically incentivises businesses to share productivity gains with LWWs.
o Over the years, it has benefitted over 2,500 employers and 113,000 workers
- Brother CM said in his response to the President’s Address
o That NTUC would like to expand the use of the IGP
o to support more companies in efforts to raise productivity
The Government fully supports this push
o We believe that it goes beyond wage improvements
o As it also concerns the skills development and career progression of LWWs
o Therefore, MOM will work with NTUC to enhance IGP
o We will also look at other ways to ensure that LWWs are part of our nation’s progress
Skillsfuture For Enterprises (SFE) to boost Human Capital development
- The third initiative concerns our businesses, specifically how to stay agile by developing their human capital. While we have many agile employers with progressive workplace practices
o there are still many businesses that are not quite able to keep pace with the transformation of industries
o they also need support to advance from basic HR management to Human Capital (HC) development.
- MOM and WSG recently announced the SFE initiative
o to help such employers build HC development capabilities as a key part of their corporate capabilities.
o This includes putting in place HR systems, structures and processes
o and transforming companies’ HC practices to provide better training and development for their employees,
o Help them stay in the game.
The SFE will be implemented through
o a network of intermediaries (i.e. Advocates such as Trade Associations and Chambers, and Enablers such as HR consultancies)
o It will provide end-to-end assistance to employers in building up their HC development capabilities
o Includes diagnosis of their current capabilities
o Help them develop and implement improvement plan to close gaps
o Which will help them and their employees be more agile
- We are ready to introduce SFE with SNEF as a partner
o This will be a one-year pilot programme, with SNEF as both an Advocate and Enabler
o The pilot targets to engage 1,000 companies across the 23 ITM sectors on the adoption of HC development initiatives.
o The full roll-out will be expanded to 10,000 companies over five years.
- These three initiatives will occupy the tripartite partners’ attention for next few years. But they are not all that we are working on:
o MOS Zaqy will bring his private sector experience to bear, be our champion for WSH and progressive workplace practices including for persons with disabilities
o SPS Low Yen Ling will also champion women’s inclusion in our workforce, help young graduates best develop their careers and fulfil their potential
o We are an almost-new team and we are as excited as we are committed, looking forward to your strong support.
- Having shared with you our priorities, let me conclude.
- I started this speech by sharing my concerns that disruptions will put pressure on our unique brand of tripartism and cause it to break down.
- I did not mean that the risk is imminent. But just because tripartism is in good working order today
o does not mean we can take it for granted
o or that we cannot strengthen it further
- Our way forward in an age of disruption
o Must be to tackle the challenges squarely
o Recognising that Singapore is not alone in having to deal with them
- Singapore and Singaporeans can continue to distinguish ourselves
Through a more agile ecosystem
o And a stronger tripartite movement
- The tripartite partners must always stand in solidarity with one another, and with fellow Singaporeans
o We must join hands
o and move forward together
o We should aim high
o to create a better Singapore for our children and their children.
- As one united tripartite movement,
o we can overcome the challenges of disruption
o to create a better future together.
We can and we must succeed!