Why is having a worker-centric Government essential to Singapore’s success?
Over the course of the Budget debate last week, the well-being of workers seemed to take center stage. From various Labour MPs from the NTUC to members of the opposition and the PAP government, the focus of the debate was on:
- “How would these Budget initiatives affect our workers?”
- “Would middle-income and lower-wage workers be able to keep up with the rising cost of living?”
Why do the Government and politicians give so many Fs about the workforce?
Workers remain at the heart of Singapore’s economy. If you were paying attention to your Social Studies class you would have heard that Singapore has no natural resources that we can rely on, and that our only resource is people – aka our workers.
Ensuring that we continue to co-create a workplace of the future for our evolving workforce is crucial to Singapore’s success.
Tripartism and symbiosis – it’s not a “secret ingredient” , is often misunderstood and taken for granted
In many countries, labour unions, the government and employers don’t see eye to eye. In Singapore, it’s almost unbelievable how these three entities work together in peace to come to favourable solutions and outcomes for the workforce and country.
Just think about the nurses strike in the UK just a few months ago — Imagine your hospitals and healthcare centres untended to because nurses weren’t happy with their employment terms.
What would happen to the bulk of Singapore’s aging population?
According to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong,
“Tripartism is the competitive advantage that sets Singapore apart and distinguishes us from other countries. Our model of tripartism has been the bedrock of Singapore’s growth and prosperity, and it has been critical in enabling us to rebuild from crises and emerge stronger.”
The strength of the symbiotic relationship was not built overnight and is not something that we should take for granted. It’s something that we must cherish and continuously perfect.
Over the course of the Budget debate, apart from the LMPs, many PAP MPs also came forward to voice out about their concerns on the workforce. Across the unions, PAP MPs and Ministers also act as advisors to the unions, getting their hands into the workforce so they can directly understand what’s happening in almost every sector of the workforce.
The unions have also expanded their representation, to what was traditionally for the Rank and File workers in the older days, have evolved into representation to cover almost every worker group in the workforce – Professionals, Managers,s and Executives, Freelancers, Self-Employed Workers, down to women in the workforce.
Members of Parliament (MPs) who have been consistently advocating for labour-related issues, includes excerpts of their speech from the Budget 2023 Debate
While growing Singapore’s economy is important, wellbeing and wellness for workers are important too – MP Carrie Tan
In the Budget 2023 debate, Nee Soon GRC MP Carrie Tan emphasised the importance of placing the wellness needs of our workers first.
In the spirit of tripartism and encouraging productivity for our workers, she implored DPM Wong to approach productivity in a slightly different approach – with a commitment and focus on our people’s wellness.
“If we just slow down a little bit, we may be able to harness more clarity and creativity in our people, when we are less stressed.”
On top of that, MP Carrie Tan also highlighted the trending issues faced by the workforce such as quiet-quitting and anxieties in the workforce. She highlighted that adopting work-from-home arrangements can address the issues of work-life balance. She also implored the Government to make work-from-home or flexible work arrangements the norm for the civil and public service sectors, and set an example for others to take heed from.
Extend the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to cover skilled tradesmen – MP Gam Thiam Poh
Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Gam Thiam Poh also appealed for the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to be extended to skilled tradesmen like plumbers, electricians and air-con technicians.
As Singaporeans place emphasis on their children to “fly high” and chase after that office job, the number of tradesmen might decrease drastically, leading to an increased dependence on foreign manpower. Mr Gam Thiam Poh also highlighted that many of our local skilled tradesmen are graduates from ITE or polytechnics, and that they should be recognised and valued for their expertise and experience. The extension of the PWM to this group of workers would ensure a sustainable supply of locals to meet national needs.
More support for platform workers as they enter transitionary CPF scheme – MP Saktiandi Supaat
Bishan Toa-Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat also rose in support of the new CPF support scheme for platform workers (eg your private hire drivers, delivery riders etc) which requires those below the age of 30 to contribute to their CPF Ordinary and Special Accounts from late 2024, while platform workers from older cohorts can choose to opt in.
Voicing out on behalf of those workers affected, MP Saktiandi asked if additional support will be given on top of the Platform Worker CPF Transition Support, and whether or not there are plans to bring in other groups such as self-employed workers under the CPF umbrella to enhance their participation.
MP Saktiandi is currently serving as an advisor on the Education Services Union (ESU). In his capacity as an advisor, he also brought up the concerns of freelance educators (eg those in student care, private education institutions and international schools). He suggested bringing in such workers under the same umbrella to enhance support for this group of educators, who are often overlooked.
Look out for our young workers who might fall through the cracks, not just university graduates – MP Ng Ling Ling
In her speech, Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Ng Ling Ling shared that while she was delighted to read that 87.5% of fresh graduates in full time or permanent roles received higher pay, she was concerned about the remaining 6.3% in freelance, part time or temporary employment, or the 3.6% who remain unemployed and are still job-seeking. She also asked how non-graduates from polytechnic or ITE are faring – whether or not the Government is keeping a close eye on this group or young workers eg their progression, whether or not any assistance will be rendered to them, etc.
She called on the government to consider rolling out more systematic reports that would provide a clearer picture on how SMEs are hiring, considering that they make up about 71% of employment in Singapore. She added that in light of Singapore’s ageing population, rendering the relevant support to the young workforce (not just university graduates) is vital in ensuring that they are prepared for the aging population of the future.
Unionist DNA in the PAP
PAP’s beginning were with the unions, with founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew representing the postal workers’ union as a lawyer and spokeman at its strike in 1953, winning against the then colonial government. When he went on to launch the PAP, many of its founding members were unionists.
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The strengths of the symbiotic relationship between the NTUC and PAP, forms the foundation of tripartism which is the cornerstone of Singapore’s economic success in ensuring that our workers continue to have better livelihoods.
Preserving the symbiotic relationship between the labour movement important for well-being of workers
According to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an article,
“The long withstanding ‘symbiotic relationship’ between the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the labour movement will become even more crucial as workers face economic disruption.”
He proceeded to add that the partnership must be nurtured at the leadership level, and he has asked “younger ministers to work more closely with the National Trades Union Congress.”
Fourth-gen ministers will also be required to take on a specific partnership with NTUC.
To quote Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong,
“We must treat everyone with dignity and respect, and value everyone for the work they do. And that is why we join our brothers and sisters in the NTUC to affirm that every worker matters. This is not just a slogan — it is a fundamental tenet undergirding our entire approach of nation-building.”
Editing is my work.