Monday, 2 May 2016

May Day 2016

In his May Day Rally speech, PM Lee called on workers to prepare themselves for a more challenging job landscape and urged companies to make adjustments and support their employees on this front.

Workers' training fund gets $200m May Day boost
Govt pledges $150 million to help workers learn new skills if NTUC raises $50 million
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

A fund to prepare workers to hone new skills for jobs of the future will get a $200 million boost.

The Government is pledging a contribution of $150 million to the NTUC Education and Training Fund if the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) raises $50 million.

NTUC will use the money to tie up with higher education institutes to help workers - among them professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) - learn new skills in growth areas, training about 30,000 workers each year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this initiative at the May Day Rally yesterday and said NTUC will partner Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to start 28 part-time courses in August in areas such as data analysis and digital electronics.

More courses are being planned.

"We celebrate May Day this year in a slightly cautious mood," said Mr Lee.

"Around the world, workers are feeling anxious and worried. If you look at other countries' May Days, it is not May Day celebrations, it is May Day demonstrations."

Sectors such as electronics and oil and gas have been hit by the global slowdown, while older workers and PMETs face retrenchment.

But Mr Lee pointed out that while other countries have a shortage of jobs, Singapore faces a shortage of workers. The Government is transforming the economy and will help companies and workers cope with the changes, he said.

"Employers and workers have to approach this (economic transformation) in the right spirit, work together and be adaptable."

The new business models of companies such as Taobao, Airbnb and Uber have disrupted existing players but benefited consumers.

The Government's approach, said Mr Lee, is to ensure that these businesses compete fairly with existing ones while helping existing players transform and compete.

His advice: "Be the disruptor. Don't just sit there and let people disrupt you."

Jobs are changing with the economy too.

"We have good jobs. The problem is not not enough jobs - the problem is to match the jobs to workers' skills, expectations with jobs that are available and what skills are in demand," said Mr Lee.

The Government will help workers as they switch jobs or sectors through initiatives such as the Career Support Programme.

This will benefit PMETs, who form 54 per cent of the workforce today and will be two-thirds of workers by 2030.

And employers must play their part. Mr Lee urged them to keep an open mind about hiring Singaporeans, saying: "Please give a chance to these workers, especially those who are changing jobs."

But he rejected calls for providing unemployment insurance to retrenched workers, saying workers would be paying for such an insurance scheme from their salaries and subsidised to stay unemployed.

"Our union leaders take a long- term view, we are professional and rational, and we understand how businesses are doing," he said, urging employers to work with unions.

Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap said Mr Lee's call for bosses to work with unions is timely.

"We are rallying all the employers to take this opportunity to transform," he said.

Govt going all out to help but workers have to step up too
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

The Government and the labour movement are doing their best to create jobs and offer skills upgrading, but workers need to step up to the plate to help themselves, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking at the May Day Rally yesterday, Mr Lee said: "We are going all out to help all workers upgrade and uplift themselves, get new jobs, and get better jobs.

"The unions are doing all (they can), the Government is working hard. What is necessary is the third thing: individuals, workers, you - please help yourselves."

Mr Lee noted that retrenchments are on the rise in spite of a tight job market, and that economic restructuring is making workers in more traditional jobs redundant.

"Every day, with new jobs in new industries, we are losing old jobs," he told 1,000 unionists and guests at Downtown East. "(They are) displaced by software, by robots, by offshoring, jobs moving elsewhere to countries with lower costs."

He pointed out that the problem is not that there are not enough jobs, but that workers' skills and expectations do not match what is needed in the market.

On the bright side, a steady flow of quality investments looks set to create more jobs here, he said, citing the example of solar power company Renewable Energy Corporation, as well as information and communications technology (ICT) giants Google, Facebook and Apple, which are all expanding here.

"We need programmers, coders, people who know about cyber security, people who design user experience," he said. This demand could create as many as 30,000 new jobs by 2020, which is why the Government has set up a skills development and job placement hub, the TechSkills Accelerator, to train Singaporeans - even those without ICT backgrounds - and match them to jobs.

Mr Lee added that while youth unemployment is not an issue here, those making mid-career switches experience struggles.

"We have to think of older workers who are at risk of losing their jobs," he said. "We have to help them make the transition by reskilling them and upskilling them. This is actually harder to do than preparing students to enter the job market, but we have to do it."

He singled out the work done on this front by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who left the labour movement last May and has since mooted the Career Support Programme for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) retrenched mid-career.

The programme, which defrays the cost of hiring these workers for a year, has reached out to 200 older PMETs in the last five months, with half securing employment.

Mr Lee also highlighted the Professional Conversion Programme, which helps job-seekers reskill themselves, and Place And Train, where trainees are hired and paid wages by an employer while they receive training for their new job.

These programmes, said Mr Lee, have supported more than 7,000 workers over eight years.

Get creative and 'be the disruptor'
By Lee Min Kok, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

Taobao, Airbnb, Uber. These are some of the companies that have come up in recent years, introducing new business models and disrupting existing ones but also improving the lives of consumers.

The Government's approach to them is twofold, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

First, ensure these businesses compete fairly with existing ones.

Second, help industries and companies compete better by supporting them as they transform.

"I don't think we can stop this phenomenon and I don't think we should try," he said. "Can we put up a Great Singapore Firewall to block Amazon and Taobao? Can we ban ride-sharing and taxi-booking apps, like some other cities have done?

"We would end up hurting ourselves, because... we are all consumers, we are all commuters, we are all using these businesses and services and they are improving our lives."

Mr Lee noted that industries are changing rapidly. Top online shopping site Taobao, owned by Alibaba, owns no shops and has no stock. Airbnb, which rents out homes for holidays, books more rooms than top hotel chains without owning a single property. And Uber has become the world's largest taxi company - while hardly owning cars.

"All these new ways of doing business have disrupted our old models and processes," he said.

Retail stores compete with online platforms like Taobao and Amazon, and taxi operators fight for passengers with Uber and Grab.

What the Government can do is to "make sure that these new businesses compete on fair terms with existing ones", he said. With Uber and Grab, Singapore has reviewed the rules for a more level playing field with traditional taxi operators, to make sure the newcomers are regulated, drivers are properly qualified and have clean records, and consumers protected.

More fundamentally, the Government is helping industries and companies to compete better. Mr Lee said this was why Budget 2016 set aside $4.5 billion over five years for the Industry Transformation Programme to help industries and firms use research and development and technology to "adapt, prosper and be competitive".

Businesses must be creative and bold. "Be the disruptor. Don't just sit there and let people disrupt you."

Bosses need to be bolder and work with unions
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on company bosses to be "bolder" in working with unions to improve staff welfare, and more "open-minded" in their hiring.

His remarks at the May Day Rally yesterday came as the labour movement strives to draw more professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) into its ranks.

Mr Lee pointed out that, while the unions are trying to negotiate collective agreements with companies to include PMETs, some employers remain cautious.

"I encourage employers to take courage and be bolder," he said, urging them to work more closely with the unions. "Don't believe that if you don't have the labour movement involved with the PMETs, you can deal with (them) one by one and you will have no problem."

He said that, as PMET numbers are large, problems are bound to arise from time to time. "If the PMETs feel isolated, bereft, adrift or not well represented, and they organise other movements in a chaotic way, I think you will have a much more difficult position."

Mr Lee noted the unique position that the Singapore labour movement occupies. Unlike in other countries, where it is "not so easy" to get unions and employers sitting in the same room, here, they work together, he said.

"We know we cannot just say, this year is good, I squeeze the employer; next year is bad, I expect the employer to squeeze me. We are partners together," he said.

Mr Lee also asked employers to be more "open-minded" towards hiring Singaporeans. He said: "So many towkays tell me, 'I have the business but I can't find the workers, please give me more workers'.

"But actually there are some more workers out there - what you need is the skills and the fit. And the Government is helping to train those workers to have those skills for the jobs which the companies have."

He asked bosses to take a chance on these workers, especially those who are older and changing jobs.

"Their knowledge may not be specific to the industry and company, but they have developed other useful skills," he said.

"Give them a chance, help your workers to upgrade. Then your business will do even better."

His words struck a chord with Mr Low Cheong Kee, managing director of hardware chain Home-Fix, who backed Mr Lee's call to help workers pick up skills.

Said Mr Low: "Information and communications technology is disrupting the business flow in a very traditional sector like ours. We want our rank and file to be exposed to this kind of skillsets."

He added that he would encourage his staff of 160 to pursue courses under the NTUC and Nanyang Technological University's new partnership.

"I feel it will have a positive impact on our business," he said.

New NTU college to run 28 courses to boost workers' skills
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has set up a college to help adult workers upgrade their skills and take on new jobs in a rapidly changing economy.

The College of Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE) will work with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to develop courses for working adults, including professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

The new college will offer 28 undergraduate-level courses for part-time study starting in August, but NTU provost Freddy Boey said this will be ramped up significantly from next year onwards.

The classes will be held at NTU or on NTUC premises around the city.

Announcing the tie-up at the May Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "NTUC knows what workers need and how to get workers moving. NTU has the expertise in continuous education, training older people, and technology-enabled learning, reaching out to people who are physically not in the university." The venture aims to reach out to 30,000 people a year, he said.

This is the first time that NTUC is partnering an institute of higher learning, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing, who added that the labour movement hopes to work with more of these institutes to offer a wider range of courses to workers.

The three-month courses will be offered in key growth sectors, including digital electronics, molecular genetics and enterprise and innovation. Selected in consultation with employers and industry, courses are drawn from NTU's undergraduate degree programmes. Learners will get academic credits, which can be accumulated to qualify for a specialist certificate or degree.

NTU said PaCE will also offer personal development and enrichment courses in areas ranging from creative thinking to financial management. NTU and NTUC are also identifying more courses to meet the needs of groups such as business owners, as well as freelancers and the self-employed.

SkillsFuture credits can be used to offset course fees, and NTUC members will enjoy an additional subsidy of up to $250 a year under the Union Training Assistance Programme.

This means an NTUC member who is a Singaporean PME above 40 years old, for example, needs to pay only around $100 for a course with a $1,350 fee, after union and SkillsFuture subsidies.

With the Government giving a 1:3 matching grant of up to $150 million, NTUC is looking at injecting an additional $200 million into its Education and Training Fund to encourage workers to embrace continuous lifelong learning, Mr Chan said.

The PaCE courses will be taught online and offline, using the "flipped classroom pedagogy" where students study course material online before meeting their classmates and professors for discussions.

PM: What we have is better than unemployment insurance
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday addressed calls for some form of unemployment insurance by saying Singapore has something better.

It has schemes to help workers find jobs that are paid for not by workers or employers, but by the Government, he said.

Noting recent calls for some form of insurance for those out of work, Mr Lee said at the May Day Rally that MPs might raise the subject when searching for a topic to speak on because it is an "evergreen" one.

"I tell them: Actually, we have something even better than unemployment insurance, because (for) unemployment insurance the worker has to pay out of his salary," he said. "And then when he gets unemployed, you are subsidising him, helping him to stay unemployed while he looks for a job."

Instead, in Singapore, the Government funds programmes to support workers who are making an effort to get back into a job and who upgrade their skills to make themselves more valuable.

"The scheme is not paid (for) by the workers or the employers, it's paid (for) by the Government. And the scheme is used not to help you stay unemployed, but to help you get employed," Mr Lee told some 1,000 unionists and guests.

Last Friday, labour chief Chan Chun Sing also rejected calls for unemployment insurance in his speech at the May Day dinner.

The secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress said that it is better to focus instead on helping workers remain employable and relevant to the job market.

These messages come after a number of MPs called on the Government to look into retrenchment insurance to tide workers over in the current economic difficulties, during the debate on the Government's Budget last month.

Economists weighed in on how such a system could be worked out for the Singapore context.

Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan also repeated his call for retrenchment insurance yesterday.

Dr Chee said workers would pay a fee to be included and if retrenched, would get decreasing payouts for 11/2 years.

Union leaders 'must get workers to upgrade skills'
Labour chief says NTUC aims to build a pipeline of leaders, including from the ranks of PMEs
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

Union leaders must mobilise workers to upgrade skills, and union leadership must evolve to be more representative of the changing industry and workforce profile.

Labour chief Chan Chun Sing issued this call to unionists at yesterday's May Day Rally, his first since becoming secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) last year.

"It is not about asking people to give us extra salaries and extra benefits just because we ask," he said.

"(It) has to do with a lot of work behind the scenes in trying to lift the productivity of our workers so that they can enjoy a good salary to take care of their families."

In a speech to 1,000 unionists and guests, Mr Chan said NTUC will work with post-secondary education institutions and private service providers to increase the number of training modules accessible to workers. Union leaders must also persuade workers to tap resources like the $1 billion worth of SkillsFuture credits to upgrade their skills and help themselves.

"There is no point in the Government putting $1 billion in the kitty if we are unable to mobilise each and every worker to go and do what's right," he said. The Government is also contributing through schemes such as the Inclusive Growth Programme, which has been extended "a few more years", he announced.

The $100 million fund supports the adoption of technology and redesign of work processes, such as centralised dishwashing in the cleaning sector, which help low-wage workers earn more as they take on higher-skilled roles.

Besides focusing on training and productivity in the year ahead, NTUC will work on providing a safe environment for local and foreign workers as well as fair avenues for dispute management. It will study best practices from around the world on issues like medical benefits and retirement systems to see what can be tailored to Singapore.

NTUC is also growing its network to represent workers in more industries and job levels, and trying to improve communication between leaders and members. Said Mr Chan: "The bigger we are, the tighter we must be."

To facilitate this, a new leadership council has been set up, led by NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How. It also aims to build a pipeline of leaders, including from the ranks of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs). Mr Heng told reporters: "This takes very careful, systematic, purposeful investing, you cannot leave it to chance."


In the past, people thought that the labour movement was only about the rank and file. Today, when we talk about working people, we include more than the rank and file.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked me this trick question. He said: 'How do you define working people?' I thought I gave him a smart-alec answer. I said: 'Sir, anybody that collects a pay cheque is a working person.'

Then he asked me the next question: 'So can I join the union?'

I thought about it.

'Well, Prime Minister, we'll most certainly welcome you to join the union. But I don't think we can provide you with collective agreement and bargaining.'

We asked ourselves, just as we have tiered services for different types of working people, what services can we provide our PM?

Career development - that's a bit tough. We probably also don't want to develop your career too much because we want you to stay in your current job.

Then we thought, ah, the new generation needs networking opportunities. That we can provide you.

So networking, we can definitely provide you, but not collective agreement and bargaining... Just in case your Cabinet, our Cabinet, starts to have collective agreement and bargaining with you.

- MR CHAN CHUN SING, sharing PM Lee's recent question to him and his response at the May Day Rally.

Union leader prepares for own retrenchment
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

Mr Effendy Mohd Shariff has seen numerous workers laid off in his 24 years as a union leader, but he never thought he would have to handle his own retrenchment. He is about to.

The 50-year-old senior technician was told in March by Panasonic Industrial Devices Materials Singapore - where he has worked more than half his life - that it was shutting down next year.

Some 77 workers here, from production operators to management staff, will lose their jobs when production work for its chemical moulding materials moves to China and Thailand. Mr Effendy, who is the president of the Chemical Industries Employees Union, has to keep his personal worries in check while he helps his union members cope with the looming retrenchment.

"It is the first time I am retrenched," he said.

But he is more concerned about other workers who, unlike him, do not have a polytechnic diploma and may find it harder to find new jobs with similar pay.

In his May Day Rally speech yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited Mr Effendy and his colleagues as an example of workers losing jobs when companies move out of Singapore to countries with lower costs. "When the economy is growing, when the job market is still tight and expanding, we are still seeing companies retrenching people and some workers getting retrenched," said Mr Lee. "And the numbers are going up."

Layoffs climbed 20 per cent to 15,580 last year, with more expected this year. About 4,600 workers lost their jobs in the first three months of this year, more than the 3,500 during the same period last year.

Mr Effendy said his employer has done the right thing by informing workers and the Manpower Ministry about the retrenchment early to allow workers to pick up new skills for new jobs, and by agreeing to pay retrenchment benefits according to the collective agreement.

He is considering courses on workplace safety and has also signed up to take a taxi driver vocational licence course.

"I am prepared to do anything," said the family's sole breadwinner with a wry laugh. His wife is a homemaker and two of his four children aged 13 to 23 are in school.

He is worried that the prospect of being retrenched has not sunk in among some of his colleagues, most of whom are over 50 years old, who keep putting off going for training.

"I just have to keep persuading them that it is not too early to attend training courses," he added. "For us, what is certain is that in March next year, we will lose our jobs. There are still 10 months, but it will come."

Workers around the world stage May Day protests
The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

SEOUL • Fears of eroding workers' rights sparked May Day protests across the globe from Seoul to Paris yesterday.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested against labour reforms pushed by the government, and called for a higher minimum wage. Labour activists say a Bill being pushed by President Park Geun Hye and her conservative Saenuri Party will make it easier for companies to sack workers.

"Let's fight together against the evil Bill!" activists and unionised workers chanted in unison during a protest in Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall yesterday. About 30,000 workers took part, said the Federation of Korean Trade Unions.

The protesters waved banners and chanted: "Fight against Park's administration that suppresses labour rights!" Many also waved giant flags demanding "Minimum wage of 10,000 won!" The current rate is 6,030 won (S$7.10) per hour.

South Korea has some of the world's longest working hours at 2,124 a year, far higher than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 1,770 hours.

The Park administration argues that its reform plan would introduce flexibility to a rigid labour market by making it easier for businesses to hire as well as to fire.

Elsewhere in the region, about 300 protesters in Kuala Lumpur called for the minimum wage to be raised from RM900 (S$308) a month to RM1,500. The government said last year that the minimum wage in Peninsular Malaysia will go up to RM1,000 from July 1.

In Phnom Penh, about 1,000 Cambodian workers, mostly from the garment and footwear industry, marched to the National Assembly with a petition calling for the government to raise their minimum wage to US$207 (S$280) per month, from US$140. Cambodia's garment and footwear industry is its largest foreign currency earner.

France was braced for violence after protests against planned labour reforms this week descended into chaos, with scenes of burning cars and stone-throwing protesters who injured dozens of policemen in Paris. While the government hopes the reforms will reduce unemployment, critics believe they will make it easier to lay off people in lean times.


Right skills for right jobs 'key in future economy': PM Lee's May Day message
Government will remain on side of workers amid economic transformation, PM Lee says
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent and Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 1 May 2016

Singapore must press on with the urgent task of transforming its economy so that there will be more opportunities for workers and their families to improve their lives, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Preparing workers to take on good jobs will remain at the heart of this transformation journey, Mr Lee said in his May Day message, ahead of his May Day Rally today.

"At the heart of our economic transformation is the need to ensure that Singapore continues to offer the right jobs, our workers have the right skills, and there is a good match between the two," he added.

Mr Lee said the process will entail many changes, but gave the assurance that one thing will not change: "This Government remains on the side of workers."

Singapore's economy grew by 2.1 per cent last year, the slowest since the 2009 global financial crisis.

In his message, Mr Lee noted that the ageing population and tight labour market will pose challenges, as will slowing growth in China and strong global competition.

He said: "Due to these factors, we expect growth to remain at 1 to 3 per cent in 2016."

Amid these conditions, the Government is committed to economic transformation and to supporting those "ready and willing to make the effort", Mr Lee said.

He cited the recent Budget measures to boost the economy and investments in research and development as examples of resources being pumped in to assist the process.

A Committee on the Future Economy is also coming up with strategies to better position Singapore for this more challenging future.

While these measures are not targeted narrowly at workers, Mr Lee said they will benefit workers when good jobs are created and the economy is strong.

He urged workers to upgrade their skills through SkillsFuture, and be ready to take on the new jobs created.

Mid-career and retrenched workers are also getting help to adapt to changing market demands and to renew their skills to meet them.

The Government, employers and workers all have a role in transforming the economy, Mr Lee added.

Employers must work with unions to redesign jobs and nurture their workers, while workers have to partner employers and stay relevant for the future. "We can succeed if we all work together and each one does his part," he said.

"This is not the first time that we have had to reinvent our economy," Mr Lee noted. Economic transformations in the past succeeded because the Government, employers and labour movement worked together to realise a shared vision of improving workers' lives, he added.

"I am confident that we will succeed again if we stay united, and work resolutely and patiently at this goal," Mr Lee concluded.

Unionists shouldn't sugarcoat problems or pursue policies not beneficial to workers: Labour chief Chan Chun Sing
Labour chief says they shouldn't sugarcoat problems or pursue policies not beneficial to workers
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2016

Union leaders should not be afraid to strike out on their own and defy conventional wisdom as they seek solutions to problems, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing.

They also should not sugarcoat the problems for workers or take the easy way out by pursuing policies that do not benefit workers in the long run, he added at a May Day dinner last night. "We need leaders with the correct attitude," he said.

Mr Chan, who is the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general, cited minimum wage as an example of a policy that the labour movement rejected.

Instead, it came up with its own progressive wage model for low-wage workers like cleaners and security guards, that sets a wage ladder where workers can get higher pay as they upgrade their skills.

In his speech, Mr Chan also rejected calls for unemployment insurance for those who lose their jobs. The best insurance for workers is to ensure that their skills are relevant and they remain employable, he said.

Turning to tripartism, Mr Chan noted that the three-way partnership between the Government, NTUC and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) is strong and the partners will "step up the gear" in several areas. These include drawing up manpower plans for 25 sectors, and helping workers plan their careers and settle disputes.

"The NTUC is like a three-pin plug, plugged into the tripartite government ministries," said Mr Chan, referring to the Manpower Ministry that is headed by former labour chief Lim Swee Say, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Education. NTUC's relationship with the ministries ensures it has the resources to implement its programmes.

Union leaders agreed that when it comes to explaining policy decisions to workers, it is important to help them see the long-term benefits, even if it is a hard pill to swallow in the short term. "We should not sugarcoat and let them feel that it is a good medicine. As the Chinese believe, bitter medicine will allow a person to recover faster," said Mr Andy Lim, deputy secretary- general of the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers' Union, which has some 96,000 members.

United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries general secretary Tan Richard said he works with branch officials to communicate initiatives to around 66,000 members. "As long as we can put it across and make it clear to members and workers, once they understand and capture what the labour movement is doing, we can work it out together," he said.

In a separate speech, NTUC president Mary Liew said the NTUC will continue to help workers grow by enhancing their employability and working with employers to ensure there is fairness at workplaces.

The May Day dinner last night, attended by some 1,600 union leaders, business leaders and government officials, kicked off the annual May Day celebrations. NTUC also gave awards to 91 individuals and organisations that contributed to the labour movement. Topping this year's list is Ms Diana Chia, NTUC's first woman president, who held the post from 2011 to last year. She received the Distinguished Service (Star) Award.

Mr Chan said: "There is much that we can learn from her and she is a powerful testimony to what we union leaders should all aspire to."

Tomorrow, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will speak at the annual May Day Rally.

Diana Chia: For nurse and unionist, serving others is in her blood
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2016

When former NTUC president Diana Chia received one of the labour movement's highest awards yesterday, the person who first set her on this path was not there to see it.

Her father, a former unionist with an insurance firm, died of a brain haemorrhage in 1990, aged 60.

He would never see his eldest daughter become the National Trades Union Congress' first female president in 2011, or accept the Distinguished Service award at yesterday's May Day dinner.

Ms Chia, who has just turned 60 herself, teared up at his memory. She said: "I think he would have been damned proud."

She is single and has two sisters. Their mother, a retired nurse, is 88.

Ms Chia followed in the footsteps of her parents, taking up nursing as her profession and union work as her calling. She said: "From my father, I learnt integrity. My mother taught me tenacity. They're the two most important people in my life."

She became a union leader more than 25 years ago, when she was part of a core team that set up a union in 1989 to represent 2,000 workers in restructured hospitals.

In 1994, she was one of two women elected to NTUC's central committee, its top decision-making body. She was president of NTUC from 2011 to last year.

During her term, she served on various tripartite boards such as the National Wages Council and championed quantitative guidelines recommending built-in wage rises for low-wage workers.

She also urged the Government to allow the Employment Act to cover more professionals, managers and executives.

In her award citation, NTUC described her as "resolute in her efforts to improve workers' lives".

She downplayed her status as a trailblazer for women in the movement. "Somebody had to be the first," she said. "I'm just an ordinary person, paving the way for others to have these opportunities."

She spoke passionately, however, about the rights of working mothers and the importance of flexi-work arrangements. "Working women have a right to a decent job. And as more women go to work, men need to play a bigger role in family upbringing and employers need to make that possible."

She stepped down as president last October, deciding not to seek re-election because of her age. She was succeeded by another woman, former Nominated MP Mary Liew.

Ms Chia remains active in the movement, dashing between renovations at the hospital and union events. She remains general secretary of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union.

She believes the labour movement's greatest challenges ahead are grooming the future leadership and preparing an increasing number of retrenched workers to seek their next job.

"We don't want to wait for the problem to happen. When it does, we want the whole engine of the labour movement to be already there, ready to lift them up."

NTUC brings SMEs, professionals into fold
It is taking partners and associate members in 'fundamental shift' to serve wider range of workers
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent and Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

The labour movement is changing the way it recruits and provides services to its members.

Currently, its members are from the 61 affiliated unions and an association of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). It will now be adding associate members and partners to its fold.

These include 200,000 members of 31 professional bodies such as the Institution of Engineers Singapore and about 70,000 workers in 3,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) such as Home-Fix.

The professional bodies and SMEs have inked membership and partnership agreements with the NTUC in the last few years and their numbers will grow, said NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

While associate members do not pay union dues in the traditional "pay per month" model, they will still enjoy union services such as training on a "pay per use" basis, Mr Chan said.

These members add to the existing pool of some 900,000 NTUC members that include workers, retirees and students.

Describing the latest move as a "fundamental shift", Mr Chan said it will allow the NTUC to serve a wider range of workers.

"Some workers may not be union members but they still need services," he said. "If we have other operating models where we can serve them, they can still benefit from the programmes under the NTUC umbrella."

The move was among several new initiatives announced by the NTUC yesterday at a briefing on May Day events.

The NTUC is also planning to draw freelancers such as Uber drivers into its fold. These freelancers will get help in two areas: understanding their legal rights and in financial planning.

To help workers plan their careers, the NTUC will expand its pool of career counsellors from about 50 full-time staff today to include about 500 part-time "adjunct career coaches" in five years' time.

The number of training places that it supports will also grow from 14,000 today to 44,000 in five to eight years. More details on the NTUC's training plans are expected to be announced on May Day.

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan called the NTUC's move to expand its services "very timely and relevant".

"Singapore's demographics are changing. People are better educated, there are more PMEs than blue-collar workers and the population is ageing," said Mr Tan. "NTUC's shift is a responsible move towards society's needs."

An area that the NTUC can focus on is helping workers make mid- career switches. "Somebody has to provide the support for them and help them stay relevant," he added.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said it is in discussions with the NTUC on "some kind of collaborative framework".

"The NTUC has a slew of benefit programmes and we would like to find a way in which we could extend these benefits to workforces under SMEs," said Mr Wee.

"Traditionally, SMEs may not have been so enthusiastic about being part of unions. But, increasingly, there are SMEs that recognise the success of tripartism and are less and less closed to these ideas."

The May Day celebrations begin today with the annual May Day Dinner at the Orchid Country Club, where the NTUC will present May Day Awards to 91 individuals and companies that have contributed to the labour movement.

On Sunday, it will hold the annual May Day Rally at Downtown East. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will deliver his May Day speech.

Labour movement to expand services to PMEs
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

The labour movement will expand its services to professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) in a move to draw more white-collar workers into its ranks, said its leaders yesterday in a combined May Day message.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Chan Chun Sing and president Mary Liew said this would necessitate an increased focus on career guidance, training, networking and job placement.

NTUC will expand these services to cater to young workers seeking their first jobs, those who make mid-career switches, and older workers looking to extend their career lifespans.

The joint message said: "We must also work with more partners to widen the training options for our workers to maintain and improve their market currency."

Older workers and PMEs continue to be hardest hit as layoffs increase. Among the 9,090 residents who lost their jobs last year, out of a resident labour force of 2,232,300, 65 per cent were aged 40 and above, and 71 per cent were professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

The May Day message highlighted the trying economic situation, with Singapore experiencing its weakest annual growth since 2009, in the midst of structural shifts such as shorter product life cycles and ever faster technological changes.

NTUC will continue to provide traditional services such as protection and representation for rank-and-file workers.

It will keep building on services for workers and their families through NTUC Social Enterprises, which cover areas such as healthcare, eldercare and childcare.

The movement is also planning to strengthen its network of unions, guilds and partners through programmes such as U Associate and U SME (small and medium-sized enterprises).

Said Mr Chan and Ms Liew: "Our associates and partners find value in leveraging our network - interacting with fellow associates and unions, cross-pollinating ideas, sharing best practices and more.

"These efforts must and will continue as we strive to reach out, advocate for and represent workers in every sector of our economy."

Call to make the most of limited labour supply
Lim Swee Say, SNEF stress need to raise productivity in May Day messages; latter highlights three challenges
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2016

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) have both stressed the need to make the most of limited labour supply, in their May Day messages ahead of Sunday.

In their messages yesterday, both stressed the need for productivity growth, which averaged only 0.4 per cent per year between 2010 and 2015.

"Manpower could become the bottleneck of our future growth unless we speed up efforts to become a more manpower-lean economy and a more productive workforce," said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, in his first May Day message since taking on the portfolio. He was previously labour chief for eight years.

"This is the only way to ensure that businesses can continue to grow (and) unemployment can stay low while wages... keep moving up," he said.

"We can succeed if every employer learns to value every worker more, and every worker likewise learns to value every job better."

Good people will always be in short supply, so tripartite partners - employers, unions and the Government - should work together to harness that resource, said Mr Lim.

Companies and unions should do their part to help workers develop their skills to their fullest potential. The Government will also strengthen policies for companies and workers, as well as beef up resources to support them.

Addressing the economic uncertainty, he said: "Working in unity, our tripartite partners have led the economy and labour force through downturns and emerged stronger and more vibrant each time, every time. I believe we can do it again."

Singapore's slower economic, employment and productivity growth were also highlighted by SNEF president Robert Yap in his May Day message.

Calling the need to raise productivity "urgent", he said employers and unions must tackle three workforce demographic challenges in order to do so.

First, businesses must change their processes, use more automation and upgrade workers' skills to counter the slowing of workforce growth to 1 per cent per year and plateauing from 2020 onwards.

Second, human resource practices should change to account for an ageing workforce - the proportion of the resident workforce aged 55 years and above rose from 13.4 per cent in 2006 to 22.3 per cent last year. Older workers should also be prepared to pick up new skills and roles.

Third, rising education levels in Singapore underline the need for better quality jobs for Singaporean professionals, managers and executives, who must also take ownership of their skills development, he said.

Dr Yap said bosses and workers will also have to contend with rapid technological advancements and new business models.

"Companies must be alert and nimble so that they can adapt to these changes and new competitive pressures.

"They must also invest in their workforce so that their workers have the capabilities to respond quickly to changing business requirements," he said.

Calling the need to raise productivity "urgent", Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Robert Yap in his May Day message said employers and unions must tackle three workforce demographic challenges in order to do so.

1. Businesses must change their processes, use more automation and upgrade workers' skills to counter the slowing of workforce growth to 1 per cent per year and plateauing from 2020 onwards.

2. Human resource practices should change to account for an ageing workforce - the proportion of the resident workforce aged 55 years and above rose from 13.4 per cent in 2006 to 22.3 per cent last year. Older workers should also be prepared to pick up new skills and roles.

3. Rising education levels in Singapore underline the need for better quality jobs for Singaporean professionals, managers and executives, who must also take ownership of their skills development.

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