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Speech at MOM's National Day Observance Ceremony 2019

Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower, Hotel Fort Canning

Sister Mary Liew, President of NTUC

Brother Ng Chee Meng, Sec-Gen of NTUC

Brother Robert Yap, President of SNEF

My parliamentary colleagues

Brothers and Sisters from our tripartite partners- NTUC, SNEF

Friends from Kinderland

Partner vendors and community partners

MOM colleagues


  1. Thank you for joining the MOM family for our National Day Observance Ceremony. 
  2. This year, we celebrate 54 years of independence.  It is also the year of our Bicentennial. Hence, I suggested that we mark this year’s Observance Ceremony at Fort Canning Hill so that everyone would have a chance to visit the Bicentennial Experience later, if you haven’t done so.  
  3. Fort Canning is one of the most historic landmarks in Singapore, being one of the first British-built fortifications, completed in 1861. What is less known is that it was constructed by 400 Chinese coolies, who formed the backbone of Singapore’s early labour force. 
  4. In 1877, William Pickering was appointed the first Protector of the Chinese in colonial Singapore. Not far away from here, we still have a street named after him. I had often wondered what Pickering was supposed to protect the Chinese from.
  5. Among other things, his job was to check on abuses in the coolie trade and to ensure fair employment contracts for the newly arrived coolie labourers, also known as sinkehs. It helped that he spoke several Chinese dialects.  The Chinese Protectorate could be seen as one of the early efforts to regulate labour practices in the colony, an important responsibility currently taken up by MOM in modern day Singapore.  
  6. In a way, our labour relations colleagues are modern-day William Pickerings.  They mediate differences between employers and employees, but in a more diverse jobs landscape.  Our workforce today is as multicultural as our society.  We have also gone well beyond fair contracts. By and large, Singaporeans aspire to be part of an inclusive workforce, and want to work in progressive workplaces.

    Service delivery is important to support effective policy deployment
  7. Over the years, labour relations remain an important cornerstone of the work of MOM and our statutory boards, CPF board, Workforce Singapore and Singapore Labour Foundation.  Be it to conciliate disputes at the workplace, help a jobseeker find a job, or assist Singaporeans to transact on our platforms – to be able to do it well and meet the needs of Singaporeans is never easy. 
  8. We are among the busiest public sector agencies in Singapore.  Just MOM alone, we see more than 28 million website visits and 16 million e-services transactions annually. This is on top of the more than 1 million calls and emails we handle every year.  Regardless of the high volume, our officers put their best foot forward daily.
  9. Senior Assistant Director, Advisory & Services, Wong Cixian, for example, successfully conciliated a dispute between hotel employees who were represented by the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union (FDAWU) and their employers. Cixian’s efforts earned him an appreciation from Mr Daniel Ma, IRO from the Union, who said, 

    “Am glad that both Union and Management had managed to resolve matters amicably, with the conciliatory assistance of Cixian who has worked hard with all parties. Most of his efforts took place outside of the meetings at MOM where he had to separately speak with either parties. Thank you for that Cixian” 

  10. WSG colleague Belinda Boo on the other hand, is a career coach who has helped numerous job seekers over the years. One of her clients, Mr Stanley, was very appreciative of what she has done and complimented her dedication to her work:

    “Belinda even gone the extra mile by consistently checking on my progress and encouraged me till the day I've found a job.  I'm grateful to WSG Careers Connect Services which is a beacon of hope for all job seekers.”

  11. While we continue to serve Singaporeans face to face, a lot of our services are also going digital.  Many of CPF Board’s transactions are now online, and some Singaporeans require extra help with these e-services.  CPF Board customer service colleague Noorashila Ibrahim recently assisted Mr Kadiron, who is visually impaired with the use of the OneKey token for government transactions online.  Here is what he had to say:

    “I really appreciated Noorashila’s effort. She made effort to explain the 2FA & OneKey token to me, now it’s very easy process even for a Primary One student!”

  12. I would like to commend Cixian, Belinda and Noorashila again, for a job well done. As your Minister, I am proud of your service excellence. And as a fellow citizen, I am touched by the care and concern you’d shown.
  13. For 2019, 68 of our officers have been conferred National Day Awards in recognition of your contributions to the nation. Well done!

    Tripartism: Working in partnership for our workers
  14. We are fortunate that in Singapore, our officers work within a constructive tripartite movement.  Both the labour movement and employers are forward-looking and solution-oriented. Importantly, they choose to work with the Government. This means we can align our efforts and focus on the future.  
  15. By now, you would have heard me talk about MOM’s longer term vision to help Singaporeans achieve career mobility, so that they can fulfil their work aspirations.  About two weeks ago, I elaborated on the importance of job creation and job transformation.  With better jobs, our workers will need better skills.  The two are like a pair of wings – we need both to fly.
  16. To implement our strategies for jobs and skills well, we need agencies that are focussed and coordinating closely with one another.  Trade associations and chambers must help design the roadmaps and effectively guide their enterprise members.  We also need the labour movement to galvanise workers and help them to adapt.
  17. This is where Singapore’s unique brand of tripartism stands us in good stead and remains our competitive advantage. It is our Singapore way of doing things – where each one of us plays our part, and work together to turn every challenge into opportunity.
  18. There are many examples of tripartism in-action that explain my optimism.  Here are just a few:

    o Back in 2008/2009, a tripartite workgroup was formed to tackle the global financial crisis. This workgroup was able to quickly come out with the “The Tripartite Guidelines on Managing Excess Manpower” in less than a day. 

    o I was then still in NTUC. This discussion took place on a Saturday, starting off in the morning and ending in the late afternoon at 3pm. At the end of it, the workgroup celebrated by having a late lunch of local delights. This type of speed is unthinkable in most other countries!

    o There continues to be regular tripartite workgroups to solve important issues. We had the Tripartite Workgroup for Self-Employed Persons in 2017 and we are just finishing up the work of the Tripartite Workgroup for Older Workers. 

    o We have also set up TAL (Tripartite Alliance Limited), so there is joint ownership and a balanced approach in promoting progressive employment practices and dispute management. 

    o All these would not have been possible if not for the strong bonds and camaraderie that we have built up over the years.

  19. Another example is the Future Economy Council (FEC), a tripartite committee led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, with the involvement of many 4G ministers and key tripartite partners.  The FEC charts the direction of Singapore’s economy, and oversees the implementation of the Industry Transformation Maps. 
  20. These plans continue to be refined as they are implemented by government agencies, unions, trade associations and chambers including SNEF, in careful consultation with one another. 
  21. Over and above the official meetings, the 4G ministers share our observations and consult each other regularly on jobs-related matters.  This is important so we get a better sense and can respond in a more coordinated and timely manner.  For example, we are all keen to support Brother SG’s initiative to get 1,000 Company Training Committees going.
  22. Internationally, there are not many examples where a union is proactively trying to save workers and not jobs per se, and is pushing the transformation agenda. Our employers that run businesses in other countries know this.  
  23. How did the labour movement in Singapore become so different from elsewhere? This is a question I hope every MOM officer will learn the answer to.  That’s why about 100 of us walked over from the Museum before this NDOC event started!
  24. This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of the watershed “Modernization of the Labour Movement” seminar of 1969.  NTUC has put up an excellent exhibition at the National Museum, aptly titled ReUnion. I had been at the launch and wanted MOM’s senior team to see it.  
  25. The Modernisation Seminar was the start of a major reset. The adversarial approach to industrial relations gave way to collaboration and partnership to achieve win-win outcomes for unions and employers.  Without that foundation, our labour relations may be managed very differently, and the industrial peace we enjoy just a pie in the sky. We would have had severely diminished capacity to focus on the future, which is what we see in many other places.
  26. I hope all MOMers make an effort to understand tripartism more deeply.  The ReUnion exhibition is a great place to start.  
  27. Besides labour movement, our employers kept their end of the bargain. SNEF, in particular, has rallied employers to reshape their human resource practices and advance Singapore’s own brand of tripartism.   

    o For example, after our major recession in 1986, SNEF persuaded many employers to adopt the NWC’s recommendation of flexi-wage systems.  As a result, today wages are more responsive to productivity and company performance.

    o In 2008/2009 global financial crisis, employers worked with the unions to implement shorter work weeks and temporary lay-offs, which helped to minimise the number of retrenchments. They supported the call to “cut costs to save jobs”, instead of “cut jobs to save costs”.

  28. I therefore take this opportunity to thank all our tripartite partners for working closely with MOM all these years.  

  29. Let me conclude.  
  30. The theme of this year’s NDP is “Our Singapore”.  For MOM, “Our Singapore” is a reminder that each one of us can make a difference. Our tripartite partners are counting on us, in the same way we are counting on them. Every National Day, we renew our commitment to do our best for Singaporeans, and to do it in our special tripartite way.
  31. Our Singapore way is to turn every adversity into opportunity.  It is to work together as one tripartite movement, to chart new paths and meet Singaporeans’ aspirations.
  32. Through tripartism, Our Singapore shines brighter. Happy National Day!