Tuesday 2 May 2023

May Day Rally 2023

‘We will always have your back’: 4G team will look after workers in these dark times, says DPM Lawrence Wong
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 May 2023

Amid global economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said that he and his 4G team are fully committed to looking after workers and helping them earn a better living.

They will do so by working closely with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the labour movement, to ensure sustained growth and good jobs for all, he said.

“In these dark times, this is my promise to you,” said Mr Wong at the May Day Rally on Monday where he was the main speaker.

Come what may, we will always be there with you, for you, and we will always have your back,” he said, addressing about 1,400 labour movement leaders, workers and tripartite partners at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre.

In his speech, Mr Wong elaborated on points made in April by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the multiple global storms ahead. He also spoke on how the nationwide engagement Forward Singapore exercise will help workers.

“As we grow the economy, we will also fight the ills of inequality,” he said.

“Singapore must never succumb to the kind of harsh inequality we see in so many other countries. However treacherous the terrain ahead, so long as Singapore continues to progress, all Singaporeans must continue to progress – no one must be left behind.”

This is why the Government is undertaking the Forward Singapore exercise, he said. The exercise, launched in June 2022, will culminate in a report in the second half of 2023.

Mr Wong said that in its Forward Singapore review, the Government is studying how it can invest more in every worker – to help them take ownership of their own careers, continuously reskill and upskill, and take up better jobs and opportunities throughout their working lives.

One way is by shifting SkillsFuture to a “higher gear”, he said, and making skills training and lifelong learning a key pillar of the refreshed social compact with every worker.

Another is by paying special attention to those in vocational and technical roles, as well as Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic graduates.

“We will help them deepen their skills through different pathways, so they can secure better salaries and career paths in the professions they have trained for and have the aptitude for,” said Mr Wong.

He added that professionals, managers and executives will also have to reskill and upskill themselves – given the rapid technological advancements such as in artificial intelligence, which suggest that more human tasks could be taken over by machines.

Noting that it can be hard to juggle work and family responsibilities while studying, Mr Wong said the Government will reduce costs and lower barriers to training.

The Government is also looking at how to further uplift lower-wage workers and professionalise skilled trades, provide more support for those who lose their jobs and enable all workers to meet their retirement needs. It is working closely with the NTUC on the possible solutions, he said.

Acknowledging that workers are concerned about other things apart from jobs, such as the cost of living, Mr Wong said he had implemented comprehensive support measures, including those in Budget 2023.

“We have done everything we can to lessen the stresses and strains that people feel on the ground, and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Another concern is public housing, where the Government has been ramping up the supply of Build-to-Order flats, but there are still worries about affordability.

Mr Wong asked Singaporeans not to look just at the headline price of a Build-To-Order flat, but to also consider how prices relate to income and the proportion of income needed to service the housing loan.

For example, a four-room BTO flat in a new town cost about $40,000 in 1980. Median household income then was around $900, and a typical household would use about a quarter of its income to service the loan.

Today, the price of a four-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate like Bukit Batok costs about $350,000, said Mr Wong.

While the price of the flat has risen nearly 10 times, so has median household income from $900 to $9,000, he added.

In addition, there are housing grants of up to $80,000 for first-timers, said Mr Wong.

“Affordable and accessible public housing – like access to first-rate education and healthcare – will always be a key part of our social compact in Singapore,” he said.

“As long as the PAP (People’s Action Party) remains in charge, we will ensure quality public housing that is affordable and accessible for our children and future generations.”

In his speech, Mr Wong also noted the global storms ahead that PM Lee had warned of – the Russia-Ukraine war, US-China tensions, and increasing protectionism undermining the multilateral global trade system.

These developments will make it harder for Singapore to compete, grow its economy, create jobs and earn a living. But what it must have enough of are “ingenuity and innovation; guts and gumption”, he said.

“That’s the only way we can and will prevail, even when the odds are stacked against us.”

He said that tripartism is one of Singapore’s greatest and most sustainable competitive advantages.

Noting how other First World countries have seen industrial relations break down, Mr Wong said Singapore must not allow that to happen.

“Businesses and governments will push back, further fuelling deep divisions in society. Then it becomes a vicious cycle, because once trust is lost, it’s very hard to recover,” he said.

“Fortunately, Singapore is on the right track. We have a lot going for us, and our tripartite approach ensures that Team Singapore has the best chance of overcoming challenges and seizing new opportunities.”

Mr Wong said this was not the first time Singapore has had to respond to grave challenges.

“Each time we were pushed to the limit, we did not fold and crumble. Instead, we gritted our teeth, worked even harder to defy the odds, and bounced back stronger. That’s how we built today’s Singapore, and that’s how we will keep on making it better.”