Sunday, 29 April 2012

NTUC aims to reduce social downside of economic growth

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Apr 2012

Singapore's labour movement is taking on a new challenge to reduce the social downside of economic growth, even as it pursues the upside of growth, Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Lim Swee Say said.

In his May Day message to workers, Mr Lim said Singapore wants to generate a virtuous cycle of economic gain and social gain.

He said with higher costs of living, it is imperative Singapore speeds up real wage increase and slows down the widening of the income gap.

But he cautioned there is no quick fix to increasing wages because investments, jobs and talent can go anywhere in a highly competitive world.

"Any country or economy trying to look for a quick and easy solution, the solution may work for one or two years in the long run [but there] will be more pain than gain," Mr Lim said.

"That is the reason the tripartite partners in Singapore, we always set our sights to ensure that the gains that we want to secure for our workers, for our business, economy must be something that is sustainable."

Mr Lim also said as Singapore slows down the increase of foreign manpower in the workforce, it must make better use of every worker at all levels, including lower-wage workers.

He stressed the workplace must be more age-friendly for mature workers to continue working in a fair and meaningful way.

It must also be more family-friendly for more women and working parents to strike a better work-life balance.

"Old and new, these are major challenges we must tackle head on. There is no easy way to sustain our economic growth and social progress," Mr Lim said.

"The best way to succeed is for the tripartite partners to work in unity and turn these challenges into opportunities for our people and businesses."

"Together, we can pursue a future of better jobs, better pay and better career prospects for all Singaporeans," Mr Lim added.

Mr Lim noted that while May Day is a day of celebration in Singapore, it is a day of protests in some countries over issues such as job shortage and wage stagnation.

He said for them, unemployment is high, while hopes of good job prospects are dim.

Mr Lim pointed out that Singapore's situation is not perfect but it is certainly better.

He said employment rates across all ages are going up, while the country's jobless rate remains one of the lowest in the world.

In addition, NTUC is monitoring economic activities and retrenchments closely and preparing for downturns.

Mr Lim said: "We expect the global economy, we expect the Singapore economy from time to time, to get into difficulties.

"We can be assured that there will be a downturn in the future. The question is when and how soon.

"For the tripartite partners, yes, we try to be prepared for every downturn but we also recognise that every downturn is different in terms of the depth of the downturn and duration of the downturn."

Mr Lim said May Day in Singapore is a time to reflect and re-affirm unity in tripartism.

Meanwhile, in her maiden May Day message as the new President of NTUC, Ms Diana Chia noted the global economic outlook remained volatile and uncertain.

She said the labour movement is monitoring economic activities and retrenchments on the ground closely.

And it stands ready to provide assistance to members and workers should the need arise.

She cited the pre-Budget dialogue with the labour movement this year as an example.

"Union leaders urged the government to increase the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for older workers.

"We gave feedback that many workers in their 50s today could be just as productive as younger workers," Ms Chia said.

"Moreover, there is an increasing need to build up their CPF funds in order to ensure that they could retire with financial support and dignity when they eventually stop working. The government considered and accepted our suggestion.

"The increase in the CPF contribution rates for our older workers was announced during the Budget Debate. This consultative approach exemplifies how tripartism has worked, and will continue to work in Singapore, for the benefit of our workers."

Ms Chia added NTUC's ability to effectively help its members to "Upturn the Downturn" two years ago gives it the confidence to take on the challenge again.

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