Friday, 1 May 2015

Industry committees to identify and boost key skills: DPM Tharman

Tripartism will go sector-specific to tailor programmes for workers
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent And Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

THE three-way partnership between the Government, unions and employers will be replicated at the industry level to help drive the national effort to boost skills among workers and productivity at firms.

Companies, together with government agencies and educational institutions, will put out tailored programmes in sectors such as finance and the marine industry to train workers and help them get ahead in their careers.

These industry committees will also identify skills of the future and help design training and education programmes for Singaporeans, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Speaking at the May Day Dinner last night, Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said the global economy remained tepid and that Singapore could expect to grow by just 3 per cent on average a year for the next five years.

The path will be made more challenging by the fact that manpower resources will be scarce, with labour force growth likely to be flat from 2020 onwards.

One way to overcome this is to ensure that the country's manpower is equipped with the best skills to cope with the changing landscape through the new SkillsFuture initiative.

Under the move to form mini tripartite committees, a lead government agency will work with the relevant trade association and the labour unions to develop the programmes under SkillsFuture.

"Government, unions and businesses must come together to collaborate in new ways to identify the skills needed for the future, work with our tertiary educational institutions and training providers to design courses to equip Singaporeans with these skills, and make it convenient and fulfilling for everyone to learn at any age," Mr Tharman also said.

He cited some examples of how such committees can help workers and companies.

The Maritime and Port Authority is leading two task forces to draw up and implement career plans of workers in the marine sector.

In the financial services sector, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will jointly lead a committee to be set up in September to help companies cope with the changing job landscape in the sector.

"We have to make early investments in new technologies and innovations and skills, help individuals, help Singaporeans to acquire the new skill sets required for the financial sector jobs in the future. New skills will create new opportunities for us," said Mr Tharman.

Committees will also be set up for the air transport and hotel sectors, led by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Singapore Tourism Board respectively.

Mr Robert Yap, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), said an immediate challenge is to organise industry associations into these committees, which are "less well-organised compared with unions".

The May Day Dinner at Orchid Country Club was attended by about 1,600 guests, including union leaders, company bosses and civil servants.

At the dinner, a total of 96 May Day awards were given by the NTUC to unionists, employers and government officials.

NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say presented the Distinguished Comrade of Labour award to former SNEF president Stephen Lee, who topped the annual May Day honours list this year.

S'pore 'cannot count on global demand to drive economy'
Restructuring will be more vital in productivity, income push: Tharman
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

SINGAPORE has to become more efficient as it cannot count on a pickup in global growth to drive the economy, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last night.

He noted that economic restructuring and innovation will become more important in the push to raise productivity and incomes.

Mr Tharman said at the labour movement's May Day dinner: "We cannot count on global demand to pull ourselves along... Increasingly, in the years to come, we will have to grow by raising productivity." Growth in the advanced world may remain sluggish, he added, noting that some major economies have yet to see solid recovery six years after the global financial crisis.

The slowing labour force growth here means it will be more challenging to achieve even 3 per cent growth - within the 2 per cent to 4 per cent GDP growth range projected by the Government - said Mr Tharman. He was addressing about 1,600 guests, including government ministers, union leaders and company management at Orchid Country Club.

Foreign workforce inflows slowed from about 80,000 in 2011 to 26,000 last year. Although this was offset by more locals in employment, the trend may not continue as baby boomers retire and new cohorts entering the workforce shrink. Resident labour force growth rate is expected to be negligible beyond 2020.

To raise productivity, Mr Tharman said Singapore must restructure the domestic sector. It has seen only 0.8 per cent productivity growth per year from 2009 to 2014, compared with 5.3 per cent for export-oriented sectors.

"We cannot continue with this two-track economy indefinitely," he added. "It will otherwise mean that businesses in the domestic sector get squeezed year by year as costs go up faster than productivity.

"Or that wages get squeezed in a sector that in total still employs 60 per cent of our workers. We must avoid this."

Not every business will survive the restructuring. While the Government has been enhancing support for businesses and helping workers upgrade skills, letting market forces play out is the most important way the economy can become more productive, he said.

This means allowing more innovative and efficient businesses to gain market share, while others lose out.

But the slowdown is not necessarily a bad thing as it gives firms and workers time to focus on gaining relevant skills, Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap told reporters.

96 award winners recognised at NTUC's May Day Dinner
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2015

A total of 96 individuals and companies were recognised by the labour movement on Wednesday night for their support of workers in areas such as skills upgrading and workers' welfare.

The May Day Awards were presented during a dinner at Orchid Country Club, as the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) kicked off its May Day celebrations.

The highest award, Distinguished Comrade of Labour, went to Mr Stephen Lee, the immediate past-president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, who was lauded by the labour movement for strengthening the strong partnership between the Government, employers and unions.

"While he represented the business community, he always understood workers' issues so as to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for employers and workers," the National Trades Union Congress wrote in the citation for Mr Lee.

NTUC president Diana Chia said in her speech at the event that Singapore's unique model of tripartism has been key to the nation's progress and must not be taken for granted.

"We recognise and honour not only outstanding unionists, but also supportive and enlightened management partners and tripartite leaders who have demonstrated a strong commitment to work together," she told some 1,600 guests.

Ex-SNEF president gets top May Day award
Stephen Lee urged companies to save jobs, rehire older workers
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

WHILE the global economy was staring into the abyss during the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, Singapore's Government, employers and unions dug in and worked together to figure out a way out of the mess.

It was this willingness to work together to develop a quick response that allowed Singapore to recover strongly from the recession just two years later, said former Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Stephen Lee.

He said that the training programmes and cash grants for employers to preserve jobs were rolled out just four months after the crisis hit.

"These were not new ideas. Other countries like Japan and Korea had these ideas too," Mr Lee, 68, said.

"But Sinfgapore's economy rebounded strongly because of the swift action by tripartite partners. We built up the capabilities in companies in the recession to respond to an upturn."

In 2010, Singapore's economy grew by 14.5 per cent, a sharp reversal from the contraction of 0.8 per cent in 2009.

Mr Lee, who helmed SNEF from 1988 to last year, was recognised for his sterling contributions by the labour movement, which gave him one of its highest awards last night: the Distinguished Comrade of Labour Award.

The National Trades Union Congress said Mr Lee made significant contributions, from urging companies to cut costs to save jobs during tough times to pushing for the re-employment of older workers.

Mr Lee also warned that the future will be increasingly difficult to navigate.

The employers, unions and Government will face increasingly complex problems brought about by rapid technological advancements, an ageing workforce and a tight labour market.

But Mr Lee remained confident that Singapore will continue to be successful.

"We need leaders who will not lose sight of the longer-term objectives and continue to embark on this process of building trust among the tripartite partners," he said.

Former NWC chief helps low-wage workers
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

FOR years during his tenure as National Wages Council (NWC) chairman, Professor Lim Pin worried about the welfare of low-wage workers.

But it was not until 2012 that the NWC pushed for employers to give a fixed increment of $50 to those with a basic monthly pay of up to $1,000 instead of the usual percentage-based increase.

It was the first time in nearly three decades that the council had spelt out a pay rise, and it continued to push for a minimum $60 increase for low-wage workers in 2013 and last year.

Prof Lim said he took so long to act because timing was an issue, with the economy going through starts and stops for the better part of the past decade.

"I always felt uncomfortable about recommending a percentage salary increase for workers with a very low salary. It is really nothing for them," he said.

"We persuaded employers that the $50, what you call 'cash upfront', in addition to your percentage salary increases, is more meaningful.

His efforts in protecting the interests of workers and spurring Singapore's economic growth were recognised when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the labour movement last night.

The 79-year-old said that being in a position to help poor Singaporeans get a leg up motivated him throughout his tenure as NWC chairman from 2001 to last year.

Prof Lim said he is honoured to be recognised for his efforts.

"The NWC works in the background. Nobody is going to pat you on the back and say you helped Singapore's economy grow," he said.

"But the work has been meaningful. That was what kept me going."

Champion for bus drivers' rights
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

FOR the past 18 years, Mr Fang Chin Poh has worked seven days a week improving the welfare of bus drivers.

On weekdays, he carries out his duties as general secretary of the National Transport Workers' Union, while on weekends, he drives buses for SBS Transit so that he does not "lose touch" with what goes on on the ground.

"When that happens, I cannot fight for their welfare better," he said.

Yesterday, the National Trades Union Congress commended the 54-year-old and gave him the Comrade of Labour (Star) Award for May Day. The labour movement praised him, saying he constantly visits bus depots, interchanges and terminals to talk to workers.

Mr Fang joined the union in 1981 because he saw how some drivers were "favoured by the management" and given easier routes with fewer passengers and nicer views. "That was not right because others who did not enjoy such good relations were unfairly penalised," he said. "We managed to stamp out the practice, and that was how I started to believe in the power of numbers."

Over three decades, he has pushed for initiatives such as wage growth and improved welfare at depots. He is working on improving the image of bus drivers, a profession which he believes is regarded as low-skilled.

"With a more professional image, we hope to attract more young locals to (be bus captains)," he said.

Medal for improving cleaning industry
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

AS FAR back as 2009, Mr Milton Ng was already pushing for the professionalisation of the cleaning sector and he wrote a paper on it during his first term as the president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore.

His efforts paid off when a national move to raise the basic wages of cleaners was pushed through last year.

Cleaning companies now have to adopt a wage and training ladder with baseline pay at each level in order to be licensed.

Basic pay for cleaners went up from around $850 a month to $1,000 a month as a result.

Mr Ng, 52, does not take credit for the success, pointing instead to the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners as a platform through which the Government, unions and employers came to a consensus.

"There must be buy-in from all the stakeholders," he said.

The director of Ramky Cleantech Services, who has not been afraid to lose contracts because of what he believes in, was recognised yesterday by the labour movement with a Medal of Commendation Award.

The Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union, which nominated him for the award, credits him with giving "direct and practical inputs" on improving the cleaning industry and for supporting his workers in joining the union.

He has also sent half of his company's cleaners for at least two cleaning modules under the national training framework, Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications.

Now that the new wage model is in place, Mr Ng has his sights set on improving the softer side of workers' jobs, starting with proper rest areas wherever they work.

"You pay a good salary, does that mean they still have to eat their meals at the staircases?" he said.

"As responsible employers, we must have a moral obligation to our staff."

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