Tuesday, 2 May 2017

May Day Rally 2017: Jobs, jobs, jobs

PM Lee: Jobs must be a key focus for Singapore to thrive
Next generation of ministers to work as a team and lead drive to transform economy
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

Jobs must be a key focus for Singapore to stay relevant and thrive in a more challenging global economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the May Day Rally.

He outlined three key strategies yesterday: Creating new jobs, finding alternative jobs for displaced workers, and training workers to grow in their jobs to prepare for the future.

Leading the charge to implement plans to ensure key industries can transform and create jobs is the next generation of ministers.

Mr Lee announced that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will be chairman of a Future Economy Council. On it are ministers S. Iswaran, Chan Chun Sing, Ong Ye Kung and Lawrence Wong, and a number of younger ministers.

Their task is to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Future Economy, which in February released its report on how Singapore can prepare for the long term, including through Industry Transformation Maps.

Mr Lee said the council's work will take time, beyond the current Government's term. It is also a chance for younger ministers to work as a team, as their generation will be leading Singapore forward.

He noted that while the mood for Labour Day celebrations was better than last year's, risks remained, like that of a global trade war.

Singapore's unemployment rate may rise further as the country faces pressures similar to those in other developed countries - industries restructuring, the workforce ageing, and older workers who lose jobs taking longer to find new ones.

"We have got to understand this trend but, at the same time, we have to work hard to resist it, to keep our workers in jobs," he said.

The first strategy of creating new jobs entails bringing in new businesses and investments and upgrading existing companies. This has been Singapore's winning formula for 50 years, for without a business-friendly climate, there will be no new jobs, Mr Lee noted.

He cited recent projects like Google's new campus and its work to help train small and medium- sized enterprises to go digital.

Second, workers who lose their jobs, especially professionals, managers, executives and technicians, must be helped to find alternative ones. Various schemes have been expanded to match workers to jobs and help them switch, but workers should be open-minded and flexible, he said. Employers have to be open to hiring mature workers too.

Third, workers must get support to upgrade their skills and knowledge, as fellow workers elsewhere are catching up fast.

Mr Lee cited how union leaders on a visit to Chengdu, China, were struck by how driven workers there were. He said: "Unless we are as hungry as them and as determined as them to upgrade ourselves, and willing to put in as great an effort, our cheese will be stolen."

"We have to make that effort, we have to strive and we have to keep our position," he added.

Mr Chan, the labour chief, said the labour movement was reaching out to help a wider pool of workers beyond union members.

The strong three-way partnership between unions, employers and the Government is a key strength for Singapore, said Mr Lee, enabling it to transform its economy time and again to stay relevant.

"If we strengthen the tripartite system and remain united," he said, "we can overcome the challenges and emerge stronger."

Unemployment low but set to creep up: PM Lee
Singapore facing similar pressures as other developed countries, like restructuring and ageing workers
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

The unemployment rate in Singapore is much lower than that in other developed countries, but it is expected to increase, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Addressing over 1,500 union leaders and guests at the May Day Rally, he outlined how pressures faced by developed economies are being felt here too.

The unemployment rate in March was 2.3 per cent, up from 2.2 per cent in December.

"In other developed countries, typically, the unemployment rate is between 5 and 10 per cent," he said.

"Our unemployment rate will gradually tend to creep up."

"We are feeling the same pressures as the other developed countries," Mr Lee added. "The industries have to continue restructuring, our workforce is getting older. Older workers who lose jobs tend to take longer to find new jobs and to get back into the workforce."

Even as Singaporeans have to understand this trend, at the same time, "we have to work hard to resist it, to keep our workers in jobs".

Mr Lee noted that Singapore is in a situation where youth unemployment, like adult unemployment, is low too. The average unemployment rate for local workers below 30 years old was 5 per cent last year, down from 5.1 per cent in 2015.

Many countries' youth unemployment rate shot up and stayed high after the 2009 global financial crisis, causing serious social problems.

Mr Lee said that in Singapore, graduates from the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities do not take long to find jobs because the schools prepare students for the job market and work with employers to tailor the curriculum to what the industries need.

"It did not happen by accident," he said. "We prepare the workers even before they graduate."

But while unemployment and youth unemployment are low, Mr Lee noted that the Singapore economy faces challenges.

While global growth is looking up, there are risks for the country, he said.

Meanwhile, Singapore's gross domestic product grew 2 per cent last year and the official growth forecast for this year is 1 per cent to 3 per cent. "There is a good chance growth this year will exceed last year's 2 per cent," said Mr Lee.

Growth is uneven and not every sector is doing well, but overall the economy is improving, he added.

"Restructuring is a continuing process and it is not a painless one," he pointed out.

The number of workers made redundant rose last year. "This year, even with better growth, we expect a steady trickle of redundancies."

He also noted that it is inevitable that some workers will be displaced as companies restructure - hence the need for unions, employers and the Government to work together to help create and find jobs for displaced as well as future workers.

Responding to his speech, union leader Jessie Yeo said external factors that affect employment are beyond workers' control.

But how companies treat workers when they restructure can be managed, said the executive secretary of the Metal Industries Workers' Union and Singapore Port Workers Union.

"Companies and unions can work together to help minimise the pain to workers during (economic) transition," she said. But employers must take the lead, she added.

PM Lee accepts Donald Trump's invitation to visit Washington
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has accepted an invitation from United States President Donald Trump to visit Washington, and hopes to make the trip this year.

Mr Lee said at the May Day Rally: "I just had a good phone call with President Trump last night. He invited me to go to Washington. I have agreed, and I hope to do it some time this year."

The White House, in a statement on the call, said both leaders affirmed their commitment to the close partnership between the US and Singapore. "This partnership is marked by thriving trade and investment, robust security cooperation, and close collaboration on regional and global challenges," it said, adding that Mr Trump invited PM Lee to the White House to further strengthen ties.

In his rally speech, Mr Lee noted confidence in the US economy had picked up. But he also outlined how the US' tougher stance on trade - forgoing a multilateral, win-win approach to embrace a win-lose view instead - posed a risk to global trade.

Mr Lee said the US is focusing on bilateral trade balances, targeting countries it has a deficit with.

He told his audience that as unionists, they would understand this was negotiation. "If you talk tough and you win a better deal, that is good. But if you talk too tough and as a result, you sour the trust, relationship, and cooperation, then that is a lose-lose outcome."

Other countries and their leaders have for now said they want to stay open to trade, Mr Lee said, citing China, Germany and Japan.

But if this harder US line leads to countries getting into a tit-for-tat on trade, "then things can turn sour very quickly", cautioned Mr Lee.

"The US has a big trade surplus with Singapore. Therefore, our relations with the US are fine. Because we don't look at it as win-lose, we look at it as win-win," he said.

"We continue to be very good friends with the US. But because our economy is so dependent on trade, if a trade war breaks out, even if we are not directly involved, it's going to hurt our economy," he said. "And we have to be prepared for this."


Looking for jobs? Unions will help, but be flexible
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

The unions will help workers keep their jobs and assist retrenched workers to find new jobs.

But workers looking for jobs have to be open-minded and flexible too, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

They have to be willing to try something new, not just new jobs with new employers, but also new careers in different industries, Mr Lee said in his May Day Rally speech.

"Take up courses, reskill and if you get a job offer, consider it carefully," he said. "It will not be an easy process, but the labour movement is with you."

Mr Lee pointed out that unions and the Government are creating opportunities for workers of various age groups. "Whatever age you are, do not stop trying," he said.

Besides workers, Mr Lee also urged employers to come on board. "Work with us. Unions are doing their part, so must you," he said.

He urged employers not to just recruit new graduates but to give older workers a second chance as well. "Older workers bring with them maturity and experience. Grey hair is quite good," said Mr Lee, drawing laughter from the crowd. The public sector is taking the lead in hiring mature workers, he noted.

On its part, the Ministry of Manpower will develop professional conversion programmes for both entry-level and mid-level jobs.

The Government will also support employers with reskilling programmes, said Mr Lee.

A "good portion" of the wages of workers who undergo work trial with companies will be borne by the Government, Mr Lee noted.

"We help to pay the wages. So give it a try," said Mr Lee to employers.

"If the tripartite partners work together, we will transform together, adapt together and grow together," he added.

Grey hair is good - more firms urged to hire mature workers
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

Grey hair is good, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday as he encouraged more employers to hire mature workers.

The public service is leading by example, he added.

Almost one in two civil servants hired by ministries last year was a mid-career professional, manager, engineer or technician, fresh statistics from the Public Service Division (PSD) show.

Of these, 21 per cent, or 1,653 people, were aged 40 and above.

Statutory boards are doing likewise, the PSD added in a statement.

For instance, the Land Transport Authority hired 285 mid-career PMETs aged 40 and older in the last two years - a fifth of their hires.

Older PMETs are particularly vulnerable to being laid off as the economy restructures, or to losing their jobs to technology and cheaper and more competitive workers abroad.

The national Adapt and Grow programmes help these workers switch sectors and find new jobs, Mr Lee said. Throwing its weight behind the programme as Singapore's largest employer, the public service said it values mid-career PMETs for their maturity and experience.

It also outlined what it was doing to help workers switch industries.

New mid-career hires go through professional training by the respective public agencies, or by the Civil Service College.

For instance, the Ministry of Education's kindergarten teachers undergo conversion training at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and get a relevant diploma before starting work.

Additionally, Workforce Singapore (WSG) works with other agencies to facilitate the hiring of suitable mid-career PMETs to meet the needs of the public sector, for instance, its current shortage of engineers. WSG will also create professional conversion programmes together with public agencies.

Last year, a third of the 1,000 Singaporeans who found new jobs through these programmes were in areas related to the public sector.

They include social workers, healthcare employees, and early childhood educators.

Heng Swee Keat to lead Future Economy Council with younger ministers
Future Economy Council's transformative task a chance for 4G leaders to work as a team: PM
The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will take over the helm of a national council overseeing skills and innovation from Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the change in his May Day Rally yesterday. The Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity (CSIP) will also be renamed the Future Economy Council.

Also on the council are Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, Minister for National Development and Second Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, and other ministers and ministers of state - especially the younger ones.

"I am putting them in charge of this strategic effort. It is a deep transformation. It will take time. It will extend beyond this term of government," Mr Lee said.

"It is an opportunity for the younger ministers to work closely together as a team, strengthen their bonds with employers and unions, and with each other, and show Singaporeans what they can do. It is their generation of leadership who will have to work with Singaporeans to take the country to new heights."

Observers said the team of 4G or fourth-generation ministers that Mr Lee has put in charge of Singapore's economic transformation - a hot-button issue amid slowing growth and concerns over jobs - will be key members of the next leadership.

Mr Heng was the intuitive choice for council chairman, said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan. Having chaired the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), Mr Heng is familiar with its recommendations which outlined strategies to acquire skills, innovate and transform in a more challenging economic landscape.

Associate Professor Tan added: "Mr Heng can be regarded as the economic czar in the 4G leadership and so he's best placed for the task of engineering the transformation."

Observers said the appointment also signals that Mr Heng, who suffered a stroke in May last year, is back in the thick of things.

The Future Economy Council is also expected to be a valuable platform for younger leaders to cut their teeth on economic matters.

ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Norshahril Saat said the council and the latest Cabinet changes, are "the strongest indication yet of leadership renewal picking up pace".

He noted that finance and trade and industry are among the most important portfolios, and that both Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee have overseen these areas.

Mr Lee is also signalling that the future economy endeavour is one where Singapore cannot fail in - hence the strong team of ministers to get the job done, said Prof Tan. "It's an attempt to enhance confidence of employers, unions, and investors that Singapore is determined to be the economy of choice," he said.

The tripartite CSIP was set up last year to lead efforts to develop skills for the future, and boost productivity and innovation. The CFE, co-chaired by Mr Iswaran in Mr Heng's absence, has also consulted widely and released its report.

Mr Lee said the CFE's recommendations, including Industry Transformation Maps for how businesses and workers in 23 key sectors can thrive, need to be implemented to take Singapore's economy forward.

Mr Heng told reporters yesterday that the council will look at how the ideas in the CFE report can best be implemented. More details will be announced when ready.

He said the council will focus on two areas: tackling issues that can uplift the entire economy, such as in the areas of skills and productivity, and innovation and internalisation; and tailoring responses to the needs of each industry.

"To transform the economy, we will need everyone - workers, employers, Government - to work closely together," he said.

NTUC training fund for skills upgrading hits $100m mark
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

A total of $25 million has been raised for a National Trades Union Congress training fund to help workers upgrade their skills, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing.

As the Government will match each dollar raised by three dollars, this means the NTUC Education and Training Fund has $100 million to date. This is halfway to its $200 million target.

Investment income from the fund will be used to subsidise course fees for union members for more than 3,200 training courses, capped at $250 a year.

Mr Chan said yesterday that such skills upgrading is crucial to help workers cope with structural changes like technological disruptions, which can mean that "career transitions will become the norm".

Speaking at the May Day Rally, he said the fund will also be used to develop quicker ways of creating courses to keep workers up to date with current trends.

Today, it can take a year or more to roll out a module. This includes three to six months to figure out market demand, another three to six months to curate a syllabus, and a few months more to get workers to go for training.

But this speed at which the courses reach people is "just too slow for the new economy", said Mr Chan, who is a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

He painted a picture of workers having apps through which they could download "bite-sized" modules a day or two after an event.

Referring to mobile games, he said: "If you can imagine Pokemon Go, Candy Crush, when a new module is launched every few days, can you imagine the same kind of gamification for learning?"

NTUC will work with 14 institutes of higher learning to offer such bite-sized, modular courses.

He also stressed that NTUC must continue to reinvent itself, and unions cannot be the only way the labour movement reaches workers.

Unions are one of five prongs of the labour movement, said Mr Chan as he illustrated this strategy with a picture of a starfish with five arms. The four other groups the NTUC wants to reach are:

• Professions and professionals, managers and executives;

• Small and medium-sized firms;

• Freelancers and the self-employed; and

• Migrant workers and foreign domestic workers.

Freelancers are not recognised as employees in many other countries or entitled to enjoy the labour movement's benefits, he noted. "We do not let semantics stop us in Singapore. As long as they collect a pay cheque, we will reach them."

The NTUC has embarked on a drive to stay relevant by representing more workers and reaching a wider range of Singaporeans.

To this end, NTUC's social enterprises are exploring an integrated set of services such as healthcare and eldercare for Singaporeans from cradle to casket.

For instance, insurance provider Income and supermarket chain FairPrice can help with a baby's needs. "We want that relationship to continue as they grow up," said Mr Chan, adding that NTUC's social enterprises could also serve young children, working adults and seniors.

PM Lee's May Day message: Economy picking up but jobs remain a concern
Workers, businesses and Government have to work together to ensure jobs for all, he says
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 May 2017

Singapore's economy is picking up and may do better than it did last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Total employment - the number of workers in jobs - is expanding, he noted in his annual May Day message to workers.

However, there are more retrenchments and unemployment is also creeping up, he said.

This mixed picture shows an economy in transition, and workers, businesses and the Government have to do their part and work together to ensure jobs for all, he said, as he gave an overview of global conditions.

Singapore's economy grew 2 per cent last year, and the United States, Europe, Japan and emerging economies are seeing an upswing.

But Mr Lee said prospects for international trade remain uncertain as the US' attitude has changed. He cited how when Group of Twenty finance ministers met recently, they could not renew their standard pledge to keep global trade free and open as the US objected.

"We will have to watch how other countries react to this US stance. If they, too, adopt win-lose approaches to trade, the result will be more protectionism, which will hurt everybody," he added.

Mr Lee's message comes as the Ministry of Manpower said last Friday that unemployment rose to 2.3 per cent in March, up from 2.2 per cent in December.

"As the economy matures, I expect that to creep up," Mr Lee said of the unemployment rate, noting that other developed countries have unemployment rates of 5 per cent or higher.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say warned in a May Day message last Friday that unemployment here has risen and could rise further.

This is because some sectors in the economy are still struggling with structural changes, a concern that union leaders shared with PM Lee when they met last month.

Mr Lee said businesses are restructuring to adapt to changing conditions. "Some existing jobs are being lost even while we are creating more new jobs," he said, as he outlined steps that need to be taken.

"Our response should be to work hard to keep up our growth. Our economy can no longer grow at 5 to 7 per cent, but we can still achieve 2 to 3 per cent growth by improving our productivity," he said. "Two to 3 per cent is a good growth rate for our current stage of development. It will mean we can continue creating new jobs and improving our lives."

He added: "We must also work harder to help workers stay employed and find replacement jobs if they become unemployed."

This task of helping workers cope with an economy in transition and find jobs is a tripartite effort, he said, referring to the three-way partnership between unions, employers and the Government.

Mr Lee said businesses must be willing to change, adopt new technologies, expand overseas and seize opportunities out there.

"Our workers must be adaptable, keen to upgrade and reskill themselves, when necessary, changing careers to secure good jobs," he added.

The Government will take the lead and give full support to employers and workers, Mr Lee pledged.

He cited schemes such as SkillsFuture, job-matching and professional conversion programmes for workers and those retrenched.

The Government is also paying close attention to PMEs - professionals, managers and executives - worried about losing jobs, he said. PMEs have borne the brunt of recent retrenchments.

"The Government is always on the side of workers, but we make sure we are business-friendly and support our businesses to grow so that we have jobs for all," he said, wishing all a happy May Day.

Mr Lee will deliver his annual May Day Rally speech today.

PM Lee Hsien Loong's conversation with union leaders

Unions helping laid-off workers switch industries
They are being retrained for sectors that are still hiring, say union leaders
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 May 2017

As some sectors of the economy go through difficulties, jobs are being lost. But other sectors are growing, resulting in uneven job prospects.

Amid this uncertainty, union leaders are helping retrenched workers to switch sectors, the leaders said at a recent dialogue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

For example, retrenched workers in the battered offshore marine, oil and gas sector are being retrained for jobs in the aerospace sector, which is still hiring.

"Some of the skills from the offshore marine (sector) are still portable," said Ms Sylvia Choo, executive secretary of the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union, which represents aerospace workers.

She was among eight National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) union leaders who took part in the April 18 dialogue at Mediacorp with PM Lee.

A video and a transcript of the closed-door session were released by the Prime Minister's Office yesterday, ahead of May Day today.

At the session, the union leaders from sectors such as marine, port and financial services shared their worries and hopes concerning job prospects in their sectors.

The most downbeat was the offshore marine, oil and gas sector. It is in a "very painful situation", with about 1,500 workers retrenched from unionised companies in the last two years, said Mr Mah Cheong Fatt, executive secretary of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees' Union.

"For the first three months (this year), unionised companies retrenched about 200 workers... We are looking at another few hundred," he added, saying the union has been trying to arrange job fairs to introduce them to other sectors.

Responding, Mr Lee said: "Our first priority should be to help them find another job."

Companies in the aerospace sector are still hiring, noted Ms Choo. One, GE Aviation, recently started a professional conversion programme for mid-career hires, and among the 15 participants was a man in his early 50s, she said.

And while jobs in the offshore marine sector are dwindling, the ports sector saw a turnaround.

"Things are looking a lot brighter (now) than in the last one to two years," said Ms Jessie Yeo, executive secretary of the Singapore Port Workers Union. "Barring unforeseen circumstances, the next six months, we ought to be very busy."

She added that the union is working with PSA to keep up productivity and stay ahead of competition.

"We are always reminded that people are waiting to eat our lunch," she quipped, to which Mr Lee replied: "You must make sure you steal someone else's lunch."

Mr Toh Hock Poh, NTUC's secretary for financial affairs and president of the Metal Industries Workers' Union, recounted his recent visit to a factory in Chengdu, China.

It was fully automated and workers are hired not to operate machines but to maintain them. It has 12,000 workers, its own dormitory, shops, a police station and even certification for workers issued by a local institute, showing how far manufacturing has advanced in China, he noted.

Said Mr Lee: "Our firms need to be able to go in this direction. You cannot have such huge firms in Singapore, but you need to be able to be as flexible, as spry and adaptable."

In response to a comment from Young NTUC's Ms Zuhaina Ahmad that young people's expectations need to be managed, Mr Lee said this was something that had to be worked on. "You must always want to do better but you cannot always want to hope for the sky, and that is the challenge," he said.

May Day weekend of fun and games for migrant workers
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 1 May 2017

Migrant worker Govindasamy Sakthivel, 28, batted, hurled and fielded balls for 10 straight hours on a field in Soon Lee Road yesterday.

Never mind that he had to put in long hours as a construction worker in the past week. "I'm not tired at all. I'm very happy because we get to play against others only once a year," said Mr Sakthivel from India, captain of his cricket team from construction firm Dragages Singapore.

They faced a team from steel recycler NatSteel Holdings in the finals of the annual Cricket Challenge, organised by the Singapore Contractors Association yesterday. It was a close match but Mr Sakthivel's team emerged champions.

It was one of several events held by companies and non-profit groups over the long May Day weekend to recognise the contributions of Singapore's migrant workers.

Over at the Westlite Papan dormitory in Jalan Papan, a group of 5,000 migrant workers was treated to a feast of local delights such as curry chicken and satay yesterday. Organised by accommodation provider Centurion and non-profit groups Project Chulia Street and HealthServe, the event included games, free check-ups and a health talk.

This morning, a group of Bangladeshi workers will launch a poetry book on the experiences of foreigners in Singapore, at a book fair at Jurong Penjuru 2. The Singapore Bangladesh Society and dormitory operator MES & JPD Housing are behind the event, which includes a comedy show.

Yesterday, advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics issued a statement appealing to the authorities, companies and unions not to overlook low-wage migrant workers who may be victims of the economic downturn. It put out some recommendations on how migrant workers could be protected.

"We should allow workers who have not been paid because their companies are insolvent to be compensated their full salaries from foreign worker levies or from forfeited security bonds," said its acting executive director Jolovan Wham.

"We also need to ensure that employers have considered hiring retrenched migrant workers before approving new work permits from those abroad."

What Singapore is doing about jobs, jobs, jobs
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed many Singaporeans' top concern in his May Day Rally yesterday - jobs. As companies restructure, some workers will be displaced. The unemployment rate, which has crept up to 2.3 per cent, is likely to rise further, but workers will get help to find replacement jobs and upgrade their skills, he said. Below is an edited excerpt of his speech.
The Straits Times, 2 May 2017

Today, I would like to explain some of what we are doing to continue to prosper.

It comes down to three things - jobs, jobs and jobs. Three different ways of thinking about jobs. One, creating new jobs by bringing in new businesses and investments, and expanding existing businesses. Two, finding replacement jobs for workers who have lost their jobs or are out of work, and need work. Thirdly, jobs for future workers. Training students and training workers to grow in their jobs. To do something different, bigger, and more productive in the future.

First of all, we are helping businesses to create new jobs, new companies, new investments; upgrading and expansion of existing companies. That has been our winning formula for 50 years because if we do not have the new companies, if we do not have a business-friendly environment where people want to come, there will be no new jobs. The Economic Development Board has been working hard to get multinational corporations to invest in Singapore. Let me give you a sample of projects we have opened recently.

In electronics, Micron invested $5.4 billion and expanded its fabrication plant at North Coast Drive - 500 jobs.

In IT, Google opened a new campus in Mapletree Business City: 1,000 Googlers there. Google is also training 1,000 small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) business leaders on how SMEs can go digital, so helping to transform the economy.

In chemicals, it is a mixed picture. Some plants consolidating but others expanding, investing and we are still getting new projects. Evonik broke ground for their second plant on Jurong Island to provide methionine, an amino acid for animal feed - an $800 million investment, 150 jobs.

At the same time, we are helping SMEs upgrade themselves, go overseas, expand, and build new capabilities; not just the high-tech companies, but also traditional companies. At one National Day Rally, I talked about bak kwa in Ginza. Today, let me tell you about a Singaporean company called Grandluxe.

It was started 75 years ago - in 1942 - as a bookbinding workshop along Mohamed Sultan Road. People used to send reports and papers to such workshops to be bound into volumes, with hard covers or even leather bound. Workers would do this by hand. Grandluxe expanded into the printing business, set up a factory in Jurong, printing stationery, notebooks; but now with the Internet, reports are published online. Nobody binds old reports anymore. And with smartphones, people buy fewer diaries and notebooks. The old business was shrinking. The company decided to change their business model. They turned bookbinding into a premium craft and started a new company called Bynd Artisan - no longer a printing and binding factory but a retail experience.

A customer goes to the shop, picks his materials, and skilled bookbinders will personalise a beautiful leather-bound notebook for you. You can watch them working, and admire their skills. Bynd Artisan is now doing well, selling to the world. This has given long-time employees like Ms Tan Buay Heng a new lease of life. Forty years ago, she started as a production operator, manually binding books. Today, she is a craftsman, personalising leather notebooks for customers, conducting workshops and training younger craftsmen. And she is now also managing a retail branch!

What Bynd Artisan has accomplished, Spring Singapore and IE Singapore are helping other SMEs to do, to reinvent themselves and find new niches where they can grow. Ms Tan Buay Heng's story - from production operator to retail branch manager - can become the story of other workers.


Second, we are helping workers who lose their jobs find alternative jobs, especially professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

Because businesses have to restructure to survive, and because technology is disrupting everything, we have redundancies even as our economy grows. We are particularly concerned about sectors which are not doing so well. We have expanded several schemes under Adapt and Grow - professional conversion programme (PCP), career support programme for our PMETs, and enhanced work trial support for the rank and file. An alphabet soup of programmes. Brother (Lim) Swee Say is trying all sorts of things.

Let me illustrate what we are doing with actual examples, told to me by union leaders and U Associates.

Brother Mah Cheong Fatt (executive secretary of Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees' Union) is from the offshore and marine industry. The industry is experiencing tough times now.

For the last two years, no new orders. From the last peak, offshore and marine have lost about 30,000 jobs. Foreign workers were the first to be let go, so our own workers did not bear the brunt of the redundancies. But some local workers have also been affected; last year, about 1,000; this year, we are looking at another few hundred.

Foreign workers who lose jobs can go back to their home countries. For local workers, this is home. What do we do for our brothers and sisters? Our first priority is to help them find another job. With the offshore and marine industry as it is, it is difficult to find replacement jobs in the same sector, but other sectors like transport and aviation are growing, and need workers with similar skills. They can take the engineers from offshore and marine, with some retraining.

So sister Sylvia Choo, who is the executive secretary of Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union, and brother Edwin Khew, who is the president of the Institute of Engineers Singapore, are working with brother Cheong Fatt to organise job fairs to help offshore and marine workers find new jobs in aerospace and transport engineering. It is a bold move for workers to switch to a new industry but some are willing to try and have succeeded. This is not just about schemes and programmes, but walking with workers every step of the way.

We organise job fairs, set up stalls, and give out pamphlets. But we also go beyond that. Brother Desmond Choo told me about a recent job fair he organised at Our Tampines Hub - very successful, 750 showed up. At the fair, he noticed one person walking around the stalls for some time, seemingly lost. He went three rounds, but didn't talk to anyone. So Desmond went up to him and asked: what is the matter? You have not stopped anywhere. The man said he was lost and did not know what job will fit him. So Desmond counselled him, found out he was a shipyard material handler and matched him with a laundry operator. What Desmond did, is what we want to do for every displaced worker. Each one is an individual, our brother or sister, not a statistic.

And this is what the labour movement is about - why brother (Chan) Chun Sing calls NTUC an "unusual labour movement". NTUC takes care of those who have jobs, and helps them keep their jobs. For those who have lost their jobs, NTUC helps them get replacement jobs. For those who are still in school, NTUC works with the Government and business to keep this economy going so they will have jobs when they graduate.

Unions elsewhere don't think about the jobless, and especially the young who have yet to enter the job market. In many countries, youth unemployment rose after the financial crisis, and has stayed stubbornly high. And among those who are working, many are underemployed. Even in South Korea and Taiwan, with economies similar to ours, many young people have either given up looking for jobs or taken on part-time work. Yet, in Singapore our youth unemployment rate remains low. Once you graduate, whether from Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnics or universities, you can find a job quite easily. That did not happen by accident. It is because we make sure our schools prepare our young properly for the job market.

ITE, polytechnics and universities emphasise on-the-job training, and work with employers to tailor the curriculum and internship programmes. NTUC is also engaging new graduates to set them on the right path. It has set up the NTUC Youth Career Network which mentors youth by offering career guidance and prepares them for job applications. In fact, we have a NTUC-PA Youth Career Network Skills Marketplace here, which I hope you will visit after the rally.

The network has attracted many passionate volunteers. Sister Zuhaina is one of them. She has been coaching mentees, polishing up their CVs, preparing them for interviews, giving them confidence to pursue their interests. I thank volunteers like Zuhaina - she embodies the spirit of helping each other succeed.

Similarly, we are creating many opportunities for all our workers, young and not-so-young, so do not stop looking and trying! But please - be open-minded and flexible. Be willing to try something new - not just new jobs with new employers, but also new careers in different industries. Take up courses, reskill. If you receive a job offer, please consider it. It will not be an easy process but we are walking this journey with you.

We also need employers to come on board - do not just recruit new graduates, give mature workers a second chance. Older workers bring with them maturity and experience.

The public sector is leading by example. We are expanding our Adapt and Grow scheme. Many government agencies - Land Transport Authority, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health - have been hiring mid-career PMETs, including mature workers. We have launched several PCPs to convert mid-career workers and we will do more, especially for the mature ones. So I urge employers: work with us. Unions are doing their part; so must you.

The Ministry of Manpower can develop PCPs for both entry-level and mid-level jobs, and support employers with reskilling programmes. The Government will pay a good portion of the wages of the workers you take on during the conversion period.

If the tripartite partners pull together, we will transform together, adapt together and grow together.


Third, we are supporting all our workers to grow in their jobs, that is, upgrading them. We must take worker upgrading very seriously. Workers in other countries know they need to keep on learning to keep their rice bowls; they are hungry. Brothers Hock Poh and Arasu, and sister Jessie recently discovered how hungry they are when they went to Chengdu to visit smart factories.

These were highly automated plants, not sweatshops, no shop floors full of workers operating machines. Now, one worker oversees 20 machines, troubleshooting when necessary. However, it was not the machines, but the workers who left a deeper impression on them. The Chinese workers work hard and train hard; they live in dorms, and at night in their spare time, they log on to their accounts and do e-learning.

So workers in other countries are constantly upgrading. We had better put in as great an effort or more. If we think that we do not have to push ourselves further, that we do not have to work hard, we are kidding ourselves.

That is why we have been working so hard on SkillsFuture. The good news is we have a good head start. The International Monetary Fund considers SkillsFuture one of the most comprehensive skills development programmes it has seen.

Last year, I had a dialogue with Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) students, and met several mature students who have been upgrading. One of them was Adelene Teck. She worked as an occupational therapist for 20 years and decided to upgrade herself at SIT. As a mature student, she told me her classmates are like her children!

I asked SIT how she is doing. They tell me Adelene is about to finish her one-year programme, and looking forward to going back to work to apply her new skills. That is what all of us need to do - we are never too old to learn!

These are our plans to transform our economy and grow our jobs. At the centre of this effort are our Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). They were a major Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) recommendation. We are going industry by industry, focusing on specific things we can do in each industry, coming up with well-thought-out plans to upgrade and improve. Through ITMs, businesses can stay viable and thrive - and keep the jobs they have and create new ones.

For example, the logistics industry. It is a big contributor to our economy; together with transport, it employs nearly 250,000 workers. The prospects are bright because of technology, robotics and data analytics. NTUC is in this too, through FairPrice. FairPrice's new distribution centre is equipped with an Automated Storage and Caddy Pick System, the first such system in the Asia-Pacific.

Many other logistics companies are expanding. We intend to create another 2,000 PMET jobs in logistics in the next five years! But to do that, everyone will have to play his part. Employers must invest in technology, train up workers, unions must work with employers, identify where the new jobs will be, and help workers get new skills. And the Government will support companies to adopt new technology and workers to get training. This is tripartism in action.

And it is not just logistics which will have an ITM. We are doing this for many different sectors, 23 in all, covering a large part of our economy, 80 per cent!

We are going to take this one step further. Last year we set up a tripartite council, the Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity. The council was chaired by brother Tharman (Shanmugaratnam), who was leading the SkillsFuture effort. Since then the CFE, led by brothers (Heng) Swee Keat and (S.) Iswaran, has completed its report. It is a comprehensive plan to take our economy the next step forward. Now we need to implement the CFE's recommendations, including the ITMs, to make the transformation happen. I have asked brother Swee Keat to take over from Deputy Prime Minister Tharman as chair of council. We will rename it the Future Economy Council.

Swee Keat will work with brothers Iswaran, Chun Sing, (Ong) Ye Kung, Lawrence (Wong), and other ministers and ministers of state, especially the younger ones. I am putting them in charge of this strategic effort. It is a deep transformation which will extend beyond this term of government. It is an opportunity for them to work closely together as a team, strengthen their bonds with employers and unions, and with each other, and show Singaporeans what they can do. It is their generation of leadership who will have to work with you to take this country to new heights.

Our unique tripartite partnership is the secret to why we have been able to transform our economy over and over again. Starting from our nation-building years when we had to industrialise, through the British withdrawal from their bases here in 1971, when we were faced with the prospect of tens of thousands of Singaporeans losing their jobs; through our first major recession in 1985, when workers had to accept deep Central Provident Fund cuts to reduce business costs; through the Asian Financial Crisis, Sars, the dot.com bubble bust, the global financial crisis.

Each time the challenges we faced seemed daunting, sometimes even overwhelming. But each time we pulled together, adjusted course, made sacrifices, helped each other, and forged ahead. We will no doubt face further challenges ahead, even severe ones but if we strengthen our tripartite system, and remain united, if the labour movement remains strong, to take care of our workers and give them a sense that they are co-owners in our system, if all segments of society - workers as well as employers, managers and professionals as well as foremen and the rank and file - sacrifice equally when sacrifice is called for, and share in the fruits of success when we do well, I am confident we will overcome the challenges and emerge stronger.

Each one of us, with one another for one another, for Singapore. That is the way we make sure that every May Day we will have good reason to celebrate. That is the way we can make good things happen and create a bright future for our children.

Top labour award for DPM Tharman
Tharman puts workers' interests first: NTUC
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam received the labour movement's highest award for his contributions in improving the lives of Singapore workers.

He received the Medal of Honour from labour chief Chan Chun Sing and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) president Mary Liew yesterday at the annual May Day Awards ceremony at the Orchid Country Club.

Whether he was developing and launching new policies, chairing committees tasked to improve productivity, or advising unions, Mr Tharman has always prioritised the interests of workers, the NTUC said.

In the award citation, the NTUC credited Mr Tharman for his wide and varied contributions to the labour movement, "from deepening tripartism to driving national initiatives to better the lives of workers".

In particular, the NTUC said, Mr Tharman was behind several national schemes to support workers.

It pinpointed three: the Jobs Credit Scheme which subsidised the wages of workers during the global financial crisis to encourage employers to preserve jobs; the progressive wage model which sets the minimum wages of low-wage workers in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors; and the Special Employment Credit scheme which subsidises the salaries of older workers to encourage employers to hire them.

As chairman of several committees charting Singapore's economic growth and productivity drives - the Economic Strategies Committee in 2009, SkillsFuture Council, National Productivity Council and subsequently the tripartite Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity - Mr Tharman had also always made sure that workers would benefit.

The NTUC singled out Mr Tharman's role in overseeing the development of industry-transformation plans and tripartite committees of unionists, employers and government officials to draw up career plans for workers in more than 20 sectors.

It added that he had pushed for Singapore to achieve quality growth through tightening the inflow of foreign workers and raising productivity, and had opened up lifelong learning opportunities for workers.

"In all these initiatives, DPM Tharman has taken a keen interest in ensuring that workers benefit from economic transformation," said the NTUC.

The citation also spelt out Mr Tharman's direct involvement with the labour movement.

Under his watch as chairman, the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute has doubled its training places since 2002.

The Chemical Industries Employees' Union and Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union (SISEU) had also benefited from Mr Tharman's advice. As adviser to both unions in the past he had helped to grow the membership of the unions significantly, the NTUC said.

SISEU is now the second-largest union in Singapore with more than 82,000 members.

Mr Tharman also had a friendly manner, that endeared him to unionists. "Among unionists, DPM Tharman has always been known to be unassuming and approachable. During dialogue sessions with our management partners, he has made a genuine effort to understand and address their business concerns," the NTUC said.

It added: "Over the years, he has fortified labour-management relations, and strengthened our collective will to build a fair and inclusive workplace and society."

The Medal of Honour was last given out by the NTUC in 2014 to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Other Cabinet ministers who have received the award include Mr George Yeo (2004), Mr Lee Yock Suan (2002), Mr Lee Hsien Loong (1999), Mr Wong Kan Seng (1998), Mr Lee Boon Yang (1996), Mr Mah Bow Tan (1993), Mr S. Dhanabalan (1992), Professor S. Jayakumar (1991) and Mr Goh Chok Tong (1987).

Olympic high jumper shows the way for economic leap
Tharman refers to Olympian's technique to illustrate a game changer that spurs economy
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

Known for his love of sport, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam dug into the annals of sport to explain the complexity of getting Singapore's two-speed economy to do better all round.

Like other countries, the slow domestic sector's workers earn less, while those in the bigger, outward-focused sector do better.

The challenge is to ensure a large part of the economy does not get stuck in low gear, he said, turning to the Fosbury Flop to illustrate how a bold and disruptive leap can be a game changer and set new highs.

High jumper Dick Fosbury pioneered the technique at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where he ran in a curving loop towards the bar before leaping backwards, head first, with his legs coming over last.

He broke the Olympic record by 6cm to win the gold medal.

Others refined and improved on it and, in the next 30 years, the record went up a further 15cm.

"That's how it must be in the economy, and especially in the industries that have been stuck in low gear. We have to allow and encourage disruptive change," Mr Tharman said.

One example is how e-commerce is already transforming retail.

Mr Tharman, who is Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, made these remarks in an interview with the NTUC This Week publication.

His office released the transcript yesterday, when he was awarded NTUC's Medal of Honour, its highest May Day award, for his contributions to the labour movement and to the working people of Singapore.

Mr Tharman noted that it is natural for some companies to be at a slower pace. They may be content on low gear as long as they can just survive.

"But if a large part of the economy is stuck in low gear, then overall wages too will see little growth, and lower-wage workers especially will see little improvement," he said.

What is needed are bold, disruptive changes, introduced by firms that want to transform industries, he added.

"We also need more of the copying, tweaking and improving by other firms, so that each new innovation isn't just a big leap forward for one firm or one cluster of firms, but spreads throughout the industry," said Mr Tharman.

"We need both - the bold breakthroughs as well as the constant copying and tweaking that spread change throughout an economy."

SkillsFuture, the Industry Transformation Maps, and directions set by the Committee on the Future Economy will help, he noted.

"But bold innovations will usually put firms and people doing the traditional jobs out of work, so we have to help them get into new and good jobs as quickly as possible," Mr Tharman said.

"If we can achieve this - both the bold, disruptive changes and the constant improvements that are part of an innovative economy - we can keep growing wages for the majority of Singaporeans.

"If we don't, then wages get stuck and the living standards stagnate. So innovation is critical, not just for firms, but for inclusive growth."

Lower-skilled workers will not be left out as the economy transforms, said Mr Tharman.

Lifelong learning enables Singaporeans to pick up new skills when an industry is disrupted and jobs are lost, and also allows workers to keep on deepening skills so they stay relevant and get satisfaction on the job, he added.

Mr Tharman also said companies had to "take more responsibility" on this front. "We still don't have a widespread management culture in Singapore of wanting to invest in developing each and every individual in the team," he said.

He credited the NTUC for "nudging and pushing" employers to invest in workers' training.

"This inclusive culture of learning is really the future. It's about collective bargaining not just over wages, which is, of course, important, but negotiating over the effort and investment that companies must make in workers' learning," he said.

"That's what is going to determine our success - whether we can help everyone to keep learning."

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