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Opening Remarks at Tripartite Collective LKY100 Dialogue

Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower, National Gallery Singapore

Ms Mary Liew, President, NTUC
Mr Ng Chee Meng, Secretary General, NTUC
Mr John Ng, Vice-President, SNEF
Mr Stephen Lee, Chairman TAL
Special guests Mr Lim Boon Heng and Mr Lim Swee Say,
Tripartite brothers and sisters, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

1. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to today’s Tripartite Collective event – where we will be exploring the legacy of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and how he set our nation on the course for success through the tripartite model.

Mr Lee’s vision of Tripartism

2. This year marks Mr Lee’s 100th birth anniversary – in fact, today is just 10 days shy of his birthday on 16 September in 1923. Mr Lee was a great leader with extraordinary vision, with an unwavering dedication to Singapore and always had the best interests of our people at heart. I never had the privilege or the honour of meeting up with Mr Lee one-on-one when he was alive. But I’ve always been inspired by his speeches, always motivated and encouraged by his exhortation and his dedication to all of us. In fact, I always remember one of his memorable speeches where he said “and even from my sick bed, even if you’re going to lower me into the grave, and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up.” Such is the dedication of that man. I’ve always attended many of his speeches, most of the time on television or from afar. The only time that I came close to him was at the Parliament House when I had the chance to pay my last respects. But he has left such a huge and everlasting impact, not just on myself, but my entire cohort – those of us born in 1964 and after. Many amongst my cohort feel inspired to serve and give back to this country. Mr Lee spent his entire life building and transforming our accidental nation into one of the greatest economic and social miracle in modern history. His legacy and vision continue to inspire us to this very day.

3. Today we take industrial peace and harmony for granted. Our industrial relations model remains the envy of many countries around the world. This does not happen by chance but is the result of years of conscious, painstaking and determined effort by the tripartite partners coming together to solve common problems. And driven by the vision of one man, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In fact, I would even go further to say that you can see Mr Lee’s print on almost every facet of our policies; from the Singapore River clean-up, our water story, our energy security, the Marina Bay and many more. I’m sure many in the audience are familiar with this quote from Mr Lee, “Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine.”  Mr Lee holds firmly to his conviction that we must get industrial relations right because it concerns the lives and livelihoods of our fellow Singaporeans and our future generations. This is why the theme of today’s event is “Remembering LKY: Shaping Tripartism through Fire and Water”. It reminds us of the trials and challenges that our nation had to go through, and how the harmonious relations between the tripartite partners today is not by chance, nor is it the natural state of affairs. It was Mr Lee’s unwavering belief in the power of collaboration among the unions, employers and government, that brought us industrial peace, and set the bedrock for Singapore’s economic success.

4. Mr Lee started his political career as a legal advisor to many unions, fighting for fair wages and decent work conditions for the workers. In the landmark 1955 general election, he chose to stand in Tanjong Pagar because it was a working-class area which had the highest proportion of workers, wage-earners, small traders, and the lowest proportion of wealthy landlords. Believing that economic growth is the means to uplift the lives of workers, he actively advocated for tripartism. He played an instrumental role in shifting the employer-employee relations from a confrontational to cooperative approach.

5. Mr Lee also supported the establishment of tripartite platforms that continue to have a deep impact on Singapore today. This includes the National Wages Council in 1972 to formulate wage guidelines in line with long term economic growth, and the Industrial Arbitration Court with tripartite representation in 1960 for the peaceful and just resolution of trade disputes. Mr Lee’s ideals and vision for tripartism built the strong foundation for harmonious and progressive workplaces we have today and a favourable and stable environment for businesses to invest in.

6. As we reflect on our past and look ahead to the future, I hope that all of us will continue to harness the spirit of tripartism and work together to overcome the inevitable challenges ahead.  We must continue to strengthen our ties and invest in the next generation of tripartite leaders. I see a good number of promising youths here today. I hope that you will be inspired by the event today, and continue Mr Lee’s fire in forging a better Singapore.

The Tripartite Collective

7. Thank you to the Tripartite Collective for organising today’s event and putting together a panel involving senior tripartite leaders who knew Mr Lee personally and can share their precious experiences working with him.

8. I would like to thank our tripartite partners, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), as well as the Temasek Foundation for their continued support for the Tripartite Collective’s work. Together, we can build a stronger, more resilient Singapore, and continue to honour the legacy of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.


9. In conclusion, I would like to thank you all for being here today. I am sure you will enjoy the dialogue session and I encourage you to take this opportunity to network and build new friendships. This is what tripartism is about – connecting with others and building bonds to achieve win-win outcomes for our workers, businesses and Singapore. Let us keep the conversations going and continue to work together to build a better future for Singapore. Thank you and have a good rest of the afternoon.