In 2020, during the Enhanced Covid-19 Circuit Breaker, the May Day Rally was broadcast online instead of a on-site Rally like in previous years.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave a 17-minute speech that addressed workers’ concerns about jobs and livelihoods as the Covid-19 pandemic hit our economy hard.
Here are 11 takeaways from PM Lee’s speech that bring workers positivity on May Day.
1. May Day celebrates all workers
May Day is a day of celebration for all workers, including migrant workers. I too send my thanks and good wishes to all migrant workers in Singapore, for what you have built and contributed here.
2. You have been resilient
I know the circuit breaker period has been hard for everyone. The restrictions have disrupted businesses and jobs, and created considerable inconvenience.
But you have been resilient, and you have taken this in your stride.
3. Kudos to all workers, especially those in essential services
I am especially grateful to our brothers and sisters working in essential services, who have kept Singapore going.
Our healthcare professionals, Home Team, SAF and Ministry of Manpower officers.
Our public transport workers, security guards, cleaners, social service professionals, delivery riders and taxi drivers.
Our teachers, who have worked hard to implement home-based learning, and preschool teachers too.
All of you have made sacrifices and exceeded the call of duty. Your families too have stood by your side, supporting you.
To all of you, I want to say a big thank you.
4. Singapore government will spend money to help the people of Singapore
Governments all over the world are spending large sums to prevent their economies from collapsing, and to take care of their peoples.
The Singapore Government has done so too, through the Unity, Resilience, and Solidarity Budgets, S$60 billions all together.
5. Singapore will not have to borrow from future generations, because our forefathers were disciplined and prudent
But unlike other governments, we will not have to borrow to do so. We are drawing on our national reserves, with the President’s permission.
Our reserves are a blessing, for which we must thank our forefathers’ values, discipline and foresight.
This crisis is indeed a reminder for us to be prudent and frugal, to build up our reserves in peacetime, so that in truly difficult times, we will have something extra to fall back on.
6. The Job Support Scheme has saved local jobs
We have used the reserves to save jobs, reduce costs for companies, and tide Singaporeans over this crisis.
We enhanced the Job Support Scheme in successive Budgets. For now, the Government is paying three-quarters of the first S$4,600 of wages in all sectors. This has enabled companies to retain their local employees.
7. SIA will survive
The government is determined that SIA will see through this crisis. SIA has always flown Singapore’s flag high all over the world, and made us proud. We will spare no effort to enable it to do so again.
8. There are new opportunities and new jobs created
But there will also be new opportunities, and new jobs created too. For instance, during the circuit breaker, people have adjusted. We have learnt to telecommute, and work with others virtually.
For instance, during the circuit breaker, people have adjusted. We have learnt to telecommute, and work with others virtually. Students are getting used to online learning. And more people are buying things online, and making e-payments.
We will not go back to status quo ante, after the circuit breaker ends. And that will mean opportunities in these new ways of doing things.
Other industries like medical services, biotech, food production and delivery, and IT – They are also growing. Even today, many of these firms are seeing stronger demand and hiring more people. We have capabilities in some of these new and growing sectors.
Other industries will be new to us, and we will have to build up our expertise and workforce.
9. We will look after every worker.
We will help companies adapt to this new operating environment, and retrain workers for the new jobs available. We will scale up SkillsFuture programmes to train workers on a large scale.
NTUC has set up a Job Security Council to help match and train displaced workers for new job opportunities. We will also find ways to buffer freelancers in the gig economy against economic volatility.
We will not be able to save every job. But we will look after every worker.
10. We can succeed — we have tripartism
Most importantly, we have what it takes to succeed. We have experienced economic restructuring before, having done it more than once to get here.
We have the resources to support businesses, invest in our workforce, and take care of our people.
And we have our tripartite partnership, forged over the decades. Employers, the Labour Movement and NTUC, and the Government work closely together, in good times and bad. We are bound by ties of loyalty and trust, the comradeship of past battles fought and won together.
The tripartite partnership is one important example of how we work together as one nation, protect our vulnerable and leave no one behind.
This is why when the virus started to spread in other countries, we brought overseas Singaporeans home. We did not leave them to fend for themselves.
This is why we care for our migrant workers, who have done much for us, as we care for Singaporeans.
This is why we have taken unprecedented steps to draw upon our reserves, in order to forestall retrenchments and support the low income.
11. As our forefathers prevailed, so shall we
But we are not a people who will shrink from struggle. It took us blood, sweat and tears to get here.
In the fight for independence, at moments of crisis, the Pioneer Generation showed their grit and mettle. They decided to give it their all, to secure a future for themselves and their children.
The Merdeka Generation worked with them, and took us from Third World to First. Because they braved the odds, and prevailed, we have today’s Singapore.
Covid-19 is this generation’s challenge. The virus is a tough enemy – invisible, but formidable.
It is now our turn to prove that we are worthy of our forebears, and up to the challenge before us. I have every confidence that we will prove more than equal to the task.
Watch his full speech here.
Editing is my work.