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Keynote Address by Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo at HR Tech Festival Asia 2020

Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN, 

Sister Mary Liew, President of the Singapore National Trades Union Congress,

Brother Robert Yap, President of the Singapore National Employers Federation,

Senior officials from ASEAN, Plus Six Dialogue Partners, and the International Labour Organization, 

Brothers and sisters from the Singapore tripartite partners, 

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Opening

  1. Good morning. 
  2. I’m Josephine Teo and I am happy to join you at the opening of this year’s HR Tech Festival Asia. 
  3. Let me thank HRM Asia for the invitation and for co-organising the “ASEAN Future of Work” track with my Ministry.
  4. The theme of this year’s conference is aptly titled “Navigating the New Era of HR and the Workplace”.
  • Prior to COVID-19, the world of work was already transforming due to technological advances and shifts in global supply chains, among other drivers of change.
  • For many years now, Singapore’s priority has been to equip our workforce with the ability to adapt through skills mastery and lifelong learning.
  • As disruptive as it was, the pandemic has accelerated this transformation.  It reinforced the need for countries to prepare our people for the Future of Work.

Impact of COVID-19 on Labour Markets

  1. Whether we are ready or not the future has arrived. The impact of COVID-19 has been felt all over the world.
  • In the first half of this year, as many as ninety-three percent of the world’s workers experienced full or partial workplace closures1.
    • Businesses were forced to adapt their work practices.
    • This includes the widespread adoption of remote working arrangements.  Almost overnight the pace of digitalisation went from first gear to fifth.
  • Lockdown measures and the rapid worsening of economic conditions have also led to heightened unemployment and temporary layoffs.
    • In Asia and the Pacific alone, the total loss in working hours for the second quarter of 2020 was equivalent to two-hundred and thirty-five million full-time jobs2.
    • Vulnerable workers in informal and low-wage work were among the hardest hit.
  • As in many countries, workers in Singapore were not spared.
    • Overall unemployment has risen to two-point eight percent in June, the highest in more than a decade.
    • In the second quarter, the proportion of retrenched residents who were able to secure a new job within six months also fell to an all-time low of fifty-eight percent.
  • The outlook remains uncertain

Singapore Remains Committed to Addressing the Future of Work

  1. Yet in managing this crisis, we also have the opportunity to prepare for an eventual economic recovery and for the Future of Work.
  2. We can do this by
  • Helping workers stay employed and employable;
  • Ensuring safe working; and
  • Transforming our economy and businesses to seize opportunities.
  1. These continue to be priorities for Singapore, even as we focus on battling the threat of COVID-19 due to the public health crisis.
  2. To support businesses and protect the livelihoods of our workers, the Singapore Government has put in place extraordinary budget measures.
  • With the latest round of support measures announced by our Deputy Prime Minister Mr Heng Swee Keat, the total budgetary support is close to one-hundred billion dollars.
  • About three-quarters of this has been dedicated to help businesses and workers save jobs and support wages.
  • We are also providing more support to preserve the core capabilities of businesses in the hardest hit sectors.
  1. At the same time, we have been working in close collaboration with key stakeholders, including our tripartite partners.
  • Later during the conference, my Permanent Secretary, Mr Aubeck Kam, will share more on Singapore’s response to address the impact of COVID-19 on the job market, including our tripartite-led efforts. 
  1. Despite the uncertainty and unprecedented nature of this crisis, Singapore remains committed to helping our businesses and workers adapt to the rapidly changing world of work.

Announcement on Regional Centre for the Future of Work

  1. Looking beyond our shores, other countries in the region are also battling the virus and the economic fallout.
  • We face common challenges related to
    • the digital transformation of industries;
    • implementing safe workplace measures; and
    • adapting HR strategies to enable workers to fulfil their potential.
  1. Singapore will do our part to support the ASEAN labour community to answer the ILO’s call to “Work for a Brighter Future” for all our people. In particular, we see value in fostering social dialogue and conversations about how to prepare our nations for the Future of Work. 
  2. During the Singapore Conference on the Future of Work held last year, I had announced Singapore’s intention to do so through the setting up of a regional initiative.
  • Both the ILO and ASEAN Labour Ministers were supportive of our plans.
  1. For a start, we had intended to have three focus areas under this regional initiative:
  • Embracing technology for inclusive growth;
  • Workplace safety and health for decent and sustainable work; and
  • Tripartism, for businesses and workers to find win-win solutions and thrive collectively in the Future of Work.
  1. As it turns outs, these three focus areas have become even more relevant during this pandemic. 
  • First, COVID-19 has shown us that the workforce’s adoption of technology can be greatly accelerated if there is a strong enough impetus.
  • Second, there is a consensus on the growing importance of prioritising workplace safety and health including the fight against virus transmission.
    • In light of COVID-19, workplace safety and health has taken on a new paradigm.
    • Ensuring the safety and health of all workers is indispensable in our fight against the virus and our ability to return to our workplaces.
  • Third, in the face of a continuing economic crisis, tripartite collaboration in designing practical solutions to address emerging challenges is even more critical.
    • Whether it is creating new jobs and training opportunities, implementing cost-cutting measures, or managing excess manpower, 
    • Governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations must work together to ensure that business and workers can continue to thrive during this pandemic and beyond, especially those in lower-end and more precarious jobs.
  1. Therefore, I am happy to launch the Regional Centre for the Future of Work, an initiative to help each of our societies in ASEAN move forward as one.
  2. Last year, the ASEAN Labour Ministers had shown our collective resolve to prepare our businesses and workers for the Future of Work,
  • by coming together in Singapore to adopt the ASEAN Joint Statement on the Future of Work – the first regional statement of its kind.
  • The Regional Centre will support ASEAN to put this Statement into action.
  1. It will institutionalise our region’s collective effort to take advantage of emerging opportunities and tackle challenges, especially during this global pandemic.
  2. To do so, the Centre will bring together international experts and regional tripartite stakeholders to
  • foster social dialogue,
  • share knowledge and
  • build capabilities.
  1. We will organise a series of conferences and workshops over the next few years, together with our tripartite partners – the Singapore National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.
  • The Centre’s first initiative is in fact the “ASEAN Future of Work” track that is part of this event.
    • Over the next three days, this track will bring together tripartite panels and regional participants to exchange insights into labour market challenges resulting from COVID-19, and to discuss best practices that can support business transformation and human capital development for the Future of Work. 
  • The Centre has another two initiatives in the pipeline. 
    • To promote safe working conditions for all workers and instil a preventive culture that safeguards workers’ safety and health, the RCFW is working with the Workplace Safety and Health Council to organise this year’s Singapore Workplace Safety and Health e-Conference 2020 in November.
    • We also plan to organise a workshop titled “Leaders in Tripartism” early next year.
  1. To guide the work of the RCFW, we are convening a small group of distinguished global and ASEAN representatives and subject-matter experts to take on the role of advisors for the RCFW.
  • As advisors, we will enlist their expertise to help us
    • keep the RCFW updated and current in its focus areas; and
    • advise us on its strategy and activities to build regional capability in dealing with the Future of work. 
  • I am pleased to have advisors
    • Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN,
    • Dr Park Doo Yong, President of the Korean Occupational Safety and Health Agency; and
    • Ms Mary Liew who is a Deputy Member of the Workers’ Group of the ILO’s Governing Body.
  1. With everyone’s support, we hope that the Centre’s activities will help all of us realise our collective vision of a region that is ready for the Future of Work.
  • One that leverages a skilled workforce;
  • Provides safe and decent work for all; and
  • Is founded upon harmonious industrial relations.

Closing Remarks

  1. If there is one message that I hope you take away from my address, it is this.
  • COVID-19 has been a forceful reminder of the urgent need for Governments, businesses and workers to come together to prepare for the Future of Work.
  • Many shifts have been accelerated, and their impact sharpened.
  • Each of us has a part to play in embracing the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and in navigating the new era of HR and the workplace.
  1. Thank you all once again for attending this virtual conference. I wish you all a fruitful day ahead. 

FOOTNOTE

  1. International Labour Organization (2020). ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the World of Work. Fifth Edition. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_749399.pdf
  2. International Labour Organization (2020). ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the World of Work. Fifth Edition. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_749399.pdf