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Opening Remarks at Singapore Conference on the Future of Work: Embracing Technology; Inclusive Growth

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo , Raffles City Convention Centre

Mr Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization,

Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN,

Fellow Ministers and senior officials from ASEAN and partner nations,

My co-hosts this morning

Sister Mary Liew, President of NTUC

Brother Ng Chee Meng, Sec-Gen NTUC and Minister PMO

Brother Dr Robert Yap, President SNEF

Brothers and sisters from the Singapore tripartite movement,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. Good morning. On behalf of the tripartite partners in Singapore, welcome to the Conference on the Future of Work, especially to all our overseas delegates.
  2. The Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the Singapore National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) are honoured to co-organise this conference together with the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  3. The topic today is the Future of Work. All of us have a vested interest in it.
    • Unionists are concerned about workers’ livelihoods,
    • Businesses wonder how their workforce must adapt,
    • Governments want to make sure that growth is inclusive, economies stay vibrant, and societies remain cohesive.
  4. We congratulate the ILO on its centenary and thank DG Guy Ryder for ILO’s leadership in starting important conversations about the future of work.
    • The Global Commission’s report is aptly titled “Work for a Brighter Future”.
    • It made clear each country should develop its own set of national strategies, adapted to national circumstances.
    • But learning from each other is always helpful.
  5. Our conference in Singapore hopes to make a small contribution to this important global conversation
  6. ASEAN

  7. The great advantage for ASEAN is that our economies are growing.  If this were not so, it will be harder to look to the future with a sense of hope.
    • With more than 640 million people, ASEAN is today collectively the world’s fifth-largest economy.
    • ASEAN’s economy has grown by an average of 5.3% annually since 2000, above the global average of 3.8%.
    • Our GDP has more than quadrupled over the last two decades to about US$2.7 trillion1 today. This is faster than many other emerging economies.
  8. Even with an overall growth story, we are not without challenges. 
  9. Challenges

  10. First, demographic shifts.
  11. Globally, the total fertility rate (TFR) has been in steady decline for decades.
    • In the early 50s, half of the world’s population lived in countries where TFR was above 5.5.
    • From the last decade, more than half of the world’s population already lived in countries with below replacement TFR, which is 2.12,3 
    • Among the 10 ASEAN member states, five have below- replacement TFR. Most people are surprised when I share this factoid.
  12. While TFR decreases, life expectancy has been going up with improved healthcare. This means that the size of aged population will grow rapidly all over the world.
    • By 2030, the number of people in the world aged 60 and over will be about the same as China’s population today, at about 1.4 billion.
    • In 2015, Japan was the only country in Asia with an elderly population (aged 65 and over) exceeding 15%, but that is a thing of the past.
    • Even within ASEAN, the proportion of the population aged 65 and above, is expected to double over two decades, from 7.7% in 2015 to about 15.5% in 2035.
  13. While some countries in ASEAN have rapidly growing youth populations today, with these demographics, the size of the working age population will fall with time.
  14. These developments could mean
    • Increased pressures on pension or retirement support systems, including for informal workers and, as a result,
    • And a need to adjust our strategies. In particular, our growth strategies.
  15. Besides demographics, the second challenge is that technology will also change the jobs landscape. We now know:
    • Technology creates new jobs even as it causes some to be lost
    • More importantly, all existing jobs are likely to be transformed
    • However, it is not a given that job quality will improve for everyone.
  16. How can we
    • take full advantage of technology to improve job quality,
    • and just as importantly, to walk this journey with our workers?
  17. Finally, we also have to be mindful of climate change, which could further disrupt businesses and workers.
  18. In spite of these challenges, ASEAN remains a place of potential. Because of the growth momentum,
    • we can avoid massive youth unemployment or under-employment if we equip the youths with the right vocational skills,
    • development can also be more inclusive, especially for women and seniors,
    • businesses can be encouraged to make work safer and smarter for vulnerable groups.
  19. Our efforts today will determine whether our societies continue to progress, where our people get the chance to
    • improve economic security,
    • fulfil their human potential, and
    • enjoy social protection and justice.
  20. I am hopeful these can be achieved, if we focus on investing in
    • our people’s capabilities,
    • the institutions of work and
    • making work decent and sustainable.
  21. Singapore therefore affirms the Global Commission’s report and the call to “Work for a Brighter Future”.
    • In fact, our approach towards the future of work is broadly aligned with the recommendations.
    • Let me share briefly how Singapore thinks about it.
  22. Singapore’s approach: Tripartism is key

  23. Since independence, Singapore has recognised the critical need to develop our people to their fullest potential.
    • This is aligned with ILO’s human-centred agenda.
    • We are always mindful that our policies and initiatives must ultimately benefit our workers.
  24. Beyond ensuring that our people can find meaningful work, Singapore regularly reviews our employment legislation, policies and programmes, to ensure:
    • adequate and appropriate labour and social protection;
    • an inclusive workforce; and
    • progressive workplaces;
  25. We also recognise the need to support career mobility for our workers, regardless of where they start.
  26. What do we mean by career mobility?
    • For our young graduates: it means opportunities to enter into exciting jobs that are being created;
    • For those already in the workforce: it is the ability to move into new careers or job roles with confidence;
    • For our seniors: it means options to continue working if they want to;
    • For those in low-wage jobs: it is about having the skills to be more productive and to advance.
  27. In Singapore, we also believe that career mobility is best achieved through four key commitments by the tripartite partners:
    • First, shared ownership of the future. It belongs to us together and we have to create it together;
    • Second, shared values in being both pro-worker and pro-business in all that we do;
    • Shared vision of an inclusive workforce and progressive workplaces; and
    • Last and not least, shared resources to address fresh challenges as one tripartite movement.
  28. Together, we must constantly nurture a healthy ecosystem that comprises of:
    • An agile workforce
    • Agile businesses
    • And, very importantly, agile government
  29. An agile workforce is one that is proactive in picking up new skills to stay relevant.
    • This is the essence of SkillsFuture, Singapore’s national movement that promotes lifelong learning and skills mastery,
    • And the objective is, to borrow the words of my brother Lim Swee Say, to make every worker a better worker, still the best phrase to describe what this is all about.
    • And this can be done through the active support of our unions.
    • And later during the conference, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will share more on how they are supporting this effort through worker 4.0.
  30. For businesses, it will be increasingly important to take advantage of technology and training
    • To keep pace with industry transformation,
    • improve the quality of jobs and
    • help workers be more productive and empowered.
    • The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) will elaborate more on this later in the conference.
  31. The Government must also stay responsive.
    • We have to take the lead, for example, to point out future directions and pitfalls.
    • We must also make resources available, or help get them organised.
    • And most importantly, Government must help to bring the key stakeholders together, to get our priorities aligned,
    • So that we can be greater than the sum of our parts.
    • And all of society can make progress together.
  32. One example of the tripartite partners coming together to ensure career mobility of our workers is through the Adapt and Grow (A&G) initiative.
    • And this was launched in 2016.
    • The A&G initiative consists of different programmes to help workers transition into new careers.
  33. Last year, A&G helped more than 30,000 jobseekers move into new jobs.
    • An increase of 20% compared to over 25,000 in 2017.
    • More than half of jobseekers were PMETs.
    • Nearly one in three was aged 50 and above.
  34. It is the willingness of our workers to adapt, supported by enlightened employers, and programmes like these that help to keep Singapore’s employment high and unemployment low.
  35. Industry transformation is also setting the pace, in the finance and maritime sectors, for example.
  36. Both sectors are significant contributors to Singapore’s economy:
    • In the finance sector, it employs more than 160,000 workers who, together, contribute more than 10% of Singapore’s GDP,
    • In the maritime sector, there are more than 170,000 workers, who, together, contribute about 7% of Singapore’s GDP.
  37. To get a sense of what’s happening, why don’t we let you see for yourselves?
  38. How about a round of applause for our very inspiring workers and the enlightened employers that are helping them to make this transition?
  39. So, I hope these two examples encourage every one of us that it is possible to embrace technology to have inclusive growth in the future of work.
    • We do this by through promoting lifelong learning,
    • Because skills will be the engine that propel people upwards and laterally
    • To achieve greater career mobility at all stages of their lives.
  40. Announcement and closing remarks

  41. In a few days, we will mark International Labour Day. To better serve all of our workers, let us face our challenges with a balance of humility and confidence
    • Humility, because we will never have all the answers to all the questions about the future
    • Confidence, because as humans, we have the capacity to learn and adapt, not just to survive but to thrive
  42. This conference is a great opportunity for tripartite partners in ASEAN and our region to convene and prepare ourselves for the future of work.
  43. It is however, only a beginning. It is clear we will need a platform for ASEAN to:
    • continuously learn from each other,
    • build capacity and share best practices.
  44. This morning, the ASEAN Labour Ministers adopted and signed the ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Statement on the Future of Work.
    • This clearly demonstrates our collective commitment
    • to answer the ILO’s call
    • to “Work for a Brighter Future”
    • for all our people.
  45. To support us in this journey, we also discussed the idea of a Future of Work Regional Initiative
    • to build on today’s Conference
    • for continued social dialogue and capability-building
  46. We believe it will benefit us to bring together international experts and regional stakeholders to share and develop ASEAN’s capabilities areas through workshops, seminars and courses.
  47. With the support of the ILO and our ASEAN colleagues, Singapore is happy to do its part to help get this regional initiative going.
  48. For a start, we can focus on three key areas:
    • Tripartism, for businesses and workers to find win-win solutions and thrive collectively in the future of work.
    • Workplace safety and health for decent and sustainable work; and
    • Embracing technology for inclusive growth.
  49. We are excited to work with our tripartite partners – NTUC and SNEF, and will also engage our partners, including ASEAN, ILO and other stakeholders to explore further how to bring this idea to fruition.
  50. The need for action is urgent. My hope is that through greater partnership and collaboration, we can all embrace the future of work and win as one ASEAN.
  51. Thank you all once again for being here in the Future of Work Conference and Happy May Day in advance.


  1. Department of Statistics Singapore, ASEAN Statistical Highlights 2018.
  2. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2017). Wold Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables.
  3. Max Roser, Fertility Rate,