Thursday 17 October 2019

Workers won't be alone as economy transforms: PM Lee Hsien Loong at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference 2019

Government will help them train for new roles to remain employable
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2019

As industries transform and Singapore charts an uncertain future, workers will not be left to fend for themselves, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He reiterated the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) promise to always stand with workers and do its best for them, just as it has since early independence.

Speaking at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference, PM Lee pointed to the challenges ahead as the economy enters a new phase.

Technology is transforming many industries, and established players are being disrupted.

Workers have to be ready for change, and the Government has to help them "to train for new roles, to cope with the rapid changes in their industries and to remain employable", said PM Lee. "It will not be easy, but rest assured, we will walk with you all the way."

PM Lee noted that elsewhere in the world, there has been widespread unhappiness as workers lose jobs or feel they have been left behind by progress.

The social compact has been fractured, and this has given rise overseas to populist movements which divide societies.

In Hong Kong, underlying factors behind the protests include the sense that serious economic and social concerns have not been addressed. This social division can befall Singapore if it is not careful, PM Lee said, noting that the country is not immune to such forces.

"If it happens to us... we will suffer the same consequences as the other countries," he told the audience at Orchid Country Club. "Only worse, because we are that much more vulnerable."

He said such circumstances would destroy confidence in the country. "Singapore will be finished," said PM Lee.

The "symbiotic relationship" between the PAP and NTUC is key to helping Singapore avoid the dire outcomes seen overseas, he added.

The PAP Government, which represents workers' interests, will always remain close to its roots in the labour movement, PM Lee said. That is why many of its MPs come from NTUC, and the labour chief sits as a full minister in the Cabinet.

In his speech, PM Lee traced how the PAP and NTUC forged close bonds, which have been renewed by successive generations.

He stressed that these bonds between the PAP and NTUC have to be sustained and strengthened.

The PAP's fundamental objective is to advance the well-being and future of workers, he said, pointing to how the Government has built affordable homes and delivered quality healthcare, education and public transport services.

Most of all, it creates jobs and opportunities for workers, to enable all citizens to improve their lives through their own efforts, he said.

"This is far better than having a populist government that gives vent to the frustrations of the population, or panders to short-term passions at the expense of long-term interests."

Meanwhile, NTUC has been an "equal and constructive" partner in creating prosperity and growth.

"Workers have enjoyed a fair share of the fruits of your efforts," PM Lee said. "You have influence and interests within the system. You do not have to go outside it, work around it, or worse, try to pull it down and replace it.

"This is your system. Make it succeed, and take pride in it."

Concluding, PM Lee said generations of PAP and union leaders have worked closely to keep Singaporean workers at the centre of the country's economic and social development efforts.

The PAP Government, he said, will "ensure that no Singaporean, regardless of family background or life circumstances, will ever be shut out from opportunities, or left behind".

In a Facebook post, labour chief Ng Chee Meng said the labour movement needs to rethink its role, to stay relevant to the changing needs of workers. He added that he will chart NTUC's plans for the next four years with other unionists at the conference.

Singapore has to resist divisive forces tearing at other countries: PM Lee
If nation is torn apart, it will be impossible to govern, make long-term plans, he says
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2019

In Hong Kong, the most vocal complaints arising out of the ongoing protests are political in nature and relate to how the "one country, two systems" policy is working out.

But underlying this is the sense that serious economic and social concerns have not been addressed, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted yesterday at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference.

"Housing is very expensive. It is very difficult to start families and have children," he said. "The younger generation are not optimistic about their future, no matter how hard they study or work."

And although Singapore is in quite a different situation, the same deep angst and social division can arise here as it has in Hong Kong and other places, PM Lee warned at the conference held at Orchid Country Club.

In his speech, he pointed out that workers in many countries are left to fend for themselves when they lose their jobs, or feel left behind by progress because their own lives do not seem to be improving.

"The masses are angry that the elites in their country, their leaders, seem disconnected and seem to be only looking after themselves," PM Lee said. "Worse, the people feel they have been looked down upon."

It is this that has led to the growth of populist movements in Hong Kong and elsewhere, he said.

In the United States, President Donald Trump sensed this mood and won the 2016 election by championing this group of voters.

When French President Emmanuel Macron raised diesel taxes last year, it triggered violent and sustained demonstrations by the "Yellow Vests", who were largely people who felt left behind.

And in Britain, the Brexit campaign mobilised people who felt left out by globalisation.

"This campaign has exacerbated the fault lines and deeply divided the British people," PM Lee said. "It will take them many years - more than a generation - to come back and become one nation."

Singapore is not immune to the underlying divisive forces that are tearing at these other countries, and has to resist it better than them, he added.

"If it happens to us, like what is happening elsewhere, we will suffer the same consequences as the other countries - only worse, because we are that much more vulnerable," he said.

It will then become impossible to govern Singapore, to make and carry out difficult decisions, or to plan for the long term, he added.

"Nobody will think about Tuas 2028, or Singapore in 2050, or your grandchildren, because next week, next month, even next year, will seem so far away. Confidence in Singapore will be destroyed. Singapore will be finished."

It is therefore critical for Singapore to help its workers train for new roles, cope with rapid changes in their industries and remain employable, PM Lee said.

He gave the example of the new Tuas Port, which will be the world's largest fully automated terminal when completed in 2040.

Port operator PSA is experimenting with new technology such as unmanned automated guided vehicles and quay cranes with remote operators.

"Our port workers will have to learn these new skills, new routines, different jobs," he said. "Once they do this, they, too, can become more productive and share the efficiency gains."

PM Lee added that other industries are going through a similar transition. "It will not be easy. But we will walk with you every step of the way," he said.

Role of PAP-union partnership in Singapore's development
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2019

Fifty years ago, the labour movement and the People's Action Party (PAP) forged a new social compact that laid the foundations for tripartism in Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set out this history in a speech at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference at Orchid Country Club yesterday, highlighting how the unions came to partner the PAP Government in Singapore's development.

Before Singapore became independent, the PAP had already made common cause with the unions, PM Lee said. Later on, the non-communists formed the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and stood with the PAP against the pro-communists.

In 1967, the British announced that they would withdraw all troops east of the Suez. This was a daunting prospect for the newly independent Singapore, which would then face the loss of jobs and economic prospects.

In 1969, at the NTUC's Modernisation Seminar, PAP leaders spoke to unionists and argued that unions had to take a broader perspective on workers' interests.

The role of unions should not be restricted to bargaining for short-term wage increases or improving job security, they said. Instead, unions should be geared towards the more holistic goal of helping workers achieve a better standard of living.

"It was a very challenging agenda. But by the end of the seminar, a new compact had been forged between the leaderships on both sides - between the political leaders and the union leaders," PM Lee said.

He added: "The NTUC was no longer just an institution for collective bargaining. It saw itself as a partner in Singapore's economic and social transformation."

As a response, the NTUC expanded into the social sphere, setting up cooperatives such as Income and FairPrice to provide services such as insurance and affordable groceries to workers.

In his speech, PM Lee highlighted economic downturns - including the 1997 Asian financial crisis and 2008 global financial crisis - as instances when tripartite relations were severely tested.

Each time, the Government had to take "difficult and painful decisions" such as cutting Central Provident Fund rates.

"Harder still, ministers had to convince union leaders that these steps were unavoidable," PM Lee said.

"Hardest of all, PAP and union leaders then had to persuade Singaporeans and workers to accept the bitter medicine." It was through these crises that younger leaders were battle-tested and earned credibility and trust, he added.

"And so, we renewed the close bonds between the PAP and NTUC from the first generation into succeeding generations," he said, adding that these bonds must be sustained and strengthened as Singapore sails once again into uncharted waters.

NTUC sets target of 1.5 million members by 2030
Labour chief says it must innovate to stay relevant, raise mindshare among young
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

The labour movement has set what its chief calls a "bold, ambitious" target of reaching 1.5 million members by 2030, even though it has yet to meet its previous target of one million members.

Union membership here has grown over the past four years, but it has tapered recently, and the labour movement must innovate and digitalise to stay relevant to workers, said NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng.

"In representation and relevance, the strategic performance indicator is membership numbers," he said at a media briefing yesterday after the close of the National Delegates' Conference (NDC).

"If unions don't have that kind of strength and presence, workers don't have that kind of protection."

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has an "aspirational timeline" of reaching the target of 1.5 million members by 2025, but will be happy to reach it by 2030, given the uncertain environment, Mr Ng added.

The NDC is held once every four years for union leaders to discuss the NTUC's plans for the next four years and to elect a new central committee.

About 400 union leaders at the NDC unanimously agreed on the strategy and membership target.

There were 943,000 NTUC members last year, up from 896,200 in 2015. Though this is still shy of the target of one million members which NTUC had aimed to reach by 2015, it is about 30 per cent of the workforce here.

In comparison, the average rate of unionisation in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries has fallen to about 16 per cent, down from about 30 per cent in 1985, Mr Ng said in a speech during the NDC opening ceremony on Tuesday.

In the United States, the rate is around 10 per cent, while in Malaysia, the rate is around 7 per cent, he said.

Mr Ng, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said the labour movement has to raise its "mindshare" among younger workers.

He outlined how as the workforce ages, new technologies take root and a greater share of workers become professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), the labour movement must innovate in the way it runs three key areas: union business, membership and training.

First, it is trying out new union models, such as representing both rank-and-file and PME staff together, as in the Banking and Financial Services Union and the Supply Chain Employees' Union.

But beyond this, there could be digital unions, where most of the interactions between unions and workers are done virtually.

Also, although the number of retrenchments here is still low, workers' anxieties are high, said Mr Ng.

NTUC is therefore studying how to start a "work security task force" to reduce the window between retrenchments and placements, while helping companies to reduce the costs of hiring and firing.

Employment and Employability Institute chief executive Gilbert Tan will oversee this, said Mr Ng.

Second, NTUC will look at family memberships to better meet workers' needs throughout different life stages, said Mr Ng. More details will be revealed later.

NTUC must continue to see how to partner the Government "to ease the issues of an ageing population, ease the burdens of the double-sandwiched Singaporeans, and hopefully encourage more babies as well", he said.

For example, a one-stop hub has been piloted in Kampung Admiralty, which includes childcare, eldercare, hawker centre and supermarket facilities run by NTUC's social enterprises. NTUC hopes to replicate this model elsewhere.

Third, NTUC wants to use data to better meet workers' training needs. It wants to develop an artificial intelligence engine to crunch data to push learning suggestions to workers, such as if there are changes in their industries and they have not gone for training for some time.

Mr Ng called on union leaders to nudge workers to take action and responsibility for their own learning.

Union of Security Employees general secretary Raymond Chin, 37, said options debated for the membership target ranged from 1.2 million to two million. Each union was asked to commit to a target, which was how the total was derived.

His union wants to attract more young people by changing the image of the security sector. "We want to show the youth that security work... uses technology too."

Mr Timothy Lim, 35, an executive committee member in the Air Transport Executive Staff Union, said one possible way to attract more young people to join NTUC is to engage them through apps.

"We could collaborate with companies to have a union presence on their internal platforms," he said.

His union is also working on its own app to let members check their collective agreements or upcoming events such as health roadshows in their companies.

No comments:

Post a Comment