Saturday 25 November 2023

Tripartism can work in Singapore because the PAP Government is pro-growth and pro-worker: PM Lee Hsien Loong

NTUC National Delegates’ Conference 2023 on 22 November 2023
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2023

The pro-growth and pro-worker policies of the PAP Government are why tripartism can work in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Such policies include creating good jobs while training workers to be able to do them, and making sure every Singaporean benefits from good housing and healthcare that are heavily subsidised by the state, he added.

As a result of its focus on these twin priorities of growing the economy and enabling workers to benefit fully from such growth, the Republic has created a “Singapore premium” where workers doing the same job here earn significantly more than their peers in the region.

Companies and investors are also prepared to pay more to be in Singapore to take advantage of its harmonious industrial relations and business-friendly environment, said PM Lee at the opening of the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference at Orchid Country Club on Nov 22.

“They value being in a country that knows where it is heading, where everyone pulls together for the common good, everything works, and life can get better for all.”

With the Government leading the country in the right direction, it is thus much easier for the tripartite partners to work together to create prosperity and share the fruits of growth, he added.

Tripartism is the three-way relationship between employers, unions and the Government that is focused on long-term interests and sustainable win-win outcomes.

Beyond good governance and sound national policies, the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government has also done its best to give Singaporeans good value for their tax dollars even as standards of living and aspirations go up, said PM Lee, who is the party’s secretary-general.

It has done so by running a lean and efficient public system, where government spending and taxes are kept low so that workers can enjoy the fruits of their own labour directly.

Essential public services such as public transport and water are also run efficiently and cost-effectively, requiring reasonable charges for their use without putting the whole burden on taxpayers.

This approach means charges have to go up from time to time as the cost of providing services rises, but the Government will give households that are most in need extra help, he said.

Speaking to some 1,500 union leaders, tripartite partners and other guests at the four-yearly event, PM Lee noted that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had, at the watershed 1969 modernisation seminar, expressed his conviction that Singapore’s future depends on it having strong unions.

“I am convinced that in a vastly changed world – a world that is continuing to change rapidly, this is still true,” PM Lee said.

“The labour movement will play a vital role in Singapore for many years to come. And I know my successor Lawrence Wong thinks so too.”

Among the key outcomes of that seminar was the resolution for tripartite relations to be consensual instead of confrontational, and to develop a workers’ cooperative movement to provide essential goods and services while keeping prices low for members.

He noted that in the early days, PAP labour leaders such as the late Mr Devan Nair and Mr Ho See Beng formed the NTUC to rally the pro-PAP unions against the left-wing Barisan Sosialis, which organised multiple strikes and fomented mayhem to try and bring the Government down.

“I recall this history for a reason. As I told the PAP convention recently, the PAP was not born dominant and neither was the NTUC,” he said.

These baptisms of fire are why the symbiotic relationship between the PAP and NTUC is not merely an institutional arrangement, but rooted in history and forged in battle, he added.

PM Lee said that while many employers and governments elsewhere believe unions should play a smaller role in a rapidly changing world, the PAP rejects this view.

Its traditional roles of fighting for workers’ rights and ensuring good jobs will still be relevant, though the labour movement also has to reinvent and reimagine itself.

This includes guiding workers to keep up with a changing job market, working with the Government to provide all Singaporeans with a fair chance at success, and continuing to broaden its representation of different segments of the workforce, including gig workers and the migrant workforce, he said.

“We continue to strengthen our model of tripartism and keep it a lasting competitive advantage in an uncertain world,” he said.

“That way, we create a better future for our workers and for Singapore.”

Ensuring public services are efficiently run helps keep costs down for Singapore households: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2023

The Republic’s strategy for moderating the cost of living for all households is to make sure that essential public services are efficiently run and cost-effective, while ensuring the Government stays lean and efficient, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

This approach includes requiring public service providers to break even, which puts pressure on them to likewise be efficient and keep their costs down, he added at the opening of NTUC’s National Delegates’ Conference on Nov 22.

At the same time, the Government recognises that some households will need help, and it provides this in the form of cash or vouchers such as U-Save rebates, public transport vouchers and GST Vouchers. Some households will get up to $9,000 of direct help in this financial year, he noted.

Targeted help is the better way compared to other countries’ across-the-board subsidies for public services, said PM Lee.

Households that benefit the most from across-the-board subsidies are those that use the most water or electricity, and they are usually not the needy ones, he said.

“Also if I subsidised it across the board, then households will have no incentive to save, to conserve, because they don’t bear the proper cost.”

His remarks came amid recent fee hikes that will accentuate pocket concerns of Singaporeans.

National water agency PUB announced in September that the price of water will rise in two steps from April 2024, to cost 50 cents more per cubic m by April 2025.

Electricity tariffs have climbed from 27.74 cents per kWh to 28.7 cents per kWh for October to December, due to higher fuel and operating costs. Electricity prices are reviewed every quarter based on guidelines set by the Energy Market Authority.

On Nov 7, Parliament debated a motion filed by the Workers’ Party that urged the Government to relook its policies to help Singaporeans cope with rising costs.

While opposition MPs contended that the country is facing “a cost-of-living crisis” and needed to undertake structural reform, the ruling party emphasised that the Government has been renewing its policies, and that it has been doing more to cushion the impact of rising prices on Singaporeans.

MPs on both sides agreed that rising costs are a concern and that aid must be given to those who need it. People’s Action Party MPs voted in favour of an amended motion that acknowledged cost of living is a global concern, and which called on the Government to continue pursuing policies that lower such pressures on Singaporeans without undermining fiscal sustainability and burdening future generations.

During the debate, Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat refuted Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai’s charge that the Government’s model for public services is profit-seeking, citing how the Government greatly subsidises public transport operations.

On Nov 22, PM Lee said people sometimes argue that since such things are public services, they should not aim to earn a profit at all. But that would be the wrong approach, as public transport and utility providers would then have no pressure to run efficiently, he added.

“Just because a company is not making a profit does not mean it is giving you a cheap and good service. It may mean that it is running inefficiently, that you do not know that you are paying more, but it is not delivering value to you. You are just paying more and getting less.”

He said: “It is better to let these service providers earn a reasonable profit, so that they have the resources to reinvest and improve services, and also the incentive to do this. Because if they work harder, if they do better, they earn a little bit more.”

Singapore’s approach has worked well. Its public transport system is of a high standard while fares are among the lowest in the developed world. Utilities are reliable and affordable, and so is quality healthcare, he added.

But this way means that fees have to go up from time to time when the cost of providing services rises.

While the authorities will always strive to trim costs further and operate more efficiently, and not simply pass on higher expenses to consumers, price increases that are unavoidable should not be pushed to the future, he said.

“But we will also, if necessary, be more generous with the targeted support to households,” he added.

This was done with public transport fares, with the Government absorbing two-thirds of what the increase should be. This will cost public coffers $300 million for 2023.

This is also why the Assurance Package was enhanced several times in 2023 to provide households with more Community Development Council vouchers, Cost of Living Special Payments and additional U-Save vouchers, he noted.

PM Lee said this approach has worked. While in previous downturns, more residents had turned up at Meet-the-People Sessions seeking help with utility bills, the number of such appeals has dropped.

Noting that all the Government’s programmes are ultimately paid for by taxpayers, PM Lee said it has kept this burden as low as possible, and much lower than in most developed countries.

For instance, while Singapore’s government revenue from taxes and fees makes up about 15 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), Italy spends this proportion of GDP on state pensions alone.

While the Republic’s goods and services tax (GST) rate will rise to 9 per cent next year, Italy’s equivalent value-added tax rate is 22 per cent, while it is 25 per cent in Sweden and Denmark.

This approach of keeping government spending and taxes low means that workers enjoy the fruits of their labour and have more autonomy to decide how to spend their income, said PM Lee.

“We are keeping our public services financially sustainable and of a high standard in the long term, while in the short term giving households extra help according to their needs and sharing the burden fairly with everybody,” he added.

“This is how the PAP Government keeps faith with workers. We do right by them, through good times and bad. And we will always do that.”

NTUC to push for more PMEs as members, bring unions closer as it lays out plans for next 4 years
By Tay Hong Yi, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2023

The labour movement will push to represent more professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) and groom them for union leadership alongside rank-and-file workers, as it responds to changes in the make-up of Singapore’s workforce.

It will also get unions in the same industry to work closer together in clusters in the next four years as it moves to advocate wage, welfare and job prospects of more members innovatively, said labour chief Ng Chee Meng on Nov 22.

These changes are needed so unions stay relevant, as the share of PMEs plus technicians that make up Singapore’s workforce has already grown to 60 per cent, said Mr Ng, while presenting his report of NTUC’s work in the last four years at the National Delegates’ Conference. This is up from 30 per cent in the early 1990s.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) elects a new central committee and charts out the direction the committee will take in its four-year term during the quadrennial conference. The 2023 conference is under way from Nov 22 to Nov 23 at Orchid Country Club.

Mr Ng said: “Our traditional union turf boundaries have served the labour movement well, with clear delineation of union boundaries so that we can operate in the allocated spaces.”

However, these boundaries also “silo our efforts to serve workers” and prevent innovations that could allow the labour movement to “create value, (increase) our relevance and capture value”, he said.

He added that working as industry clusters could allow unions to form broader networks, share resources and “hunt together as a pack” to bring in new members beyond the current reach of individual unions.

He also said clusters could partner with employers and the Government to explore unified training programmes and broader collective agreements.

To cement a culture of innovation, he said NTUC will set up an Innovation Lab that will survey ideas from elsewhere globally to apply to NTUC’s context. This includes partnerships with academia, the Government, employers and expert agencies such as the Institute for Human Resource Professionals, among others, to think of and test potential solutions to both immediate and longer-term problems.

“This will be an important capability that, if developed well, can not only allow NTUC to respond to challenges, but, importantly, proactively anticipate and seize new opportunities that will positively impact our workers,” said Mr Ng.

He then spoke on leadership renewal, which he deemed NTUC’s most important task from 2023 to 2027. He said leaders in the movement are ageing, while fewer younger members are stepping forward for leadership roles.

To counter this and appoint the right blend of younger leaders with dynamism and fresh ideas alongside veteran leaders with experience and practical wisdom, the labour movement will have to redouble its efforts to recruit, develop and groom leaders, he added.

Moreover, leaders need to be equipped with knowledge beyond the traditional scope of industrial relations and collective bargaining to encompass other areas such as personal data protection, workplace safety and health, and workplace fairness.

Mr Ng also provided other updates in his presentation, including on the labour movement’s membership growth.

He noted that NTUC’s membership is expected to reach 1.27 million by the end of 2023, marking a 30 per cent growth since the previous conference in 2019, and putting it in good stead to reach the 2030 goal of 1.5 million members the labour movement has set for itself.

He also said a total of 120 business transformation projects from 94 companies have been approved to receive the Company Training Committee Grant in its first year of implementation.

Companies can apply to NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute for the grant to cover up to 70 per cent of qualifying cost of projects to raise productivity, redesign jobs and upskill workers.

Mr Ng previously said on Nov 16, ahead of the conference, that 84 grant recipients pledged additional pay rises, averaging 5.2 per cent for almost 1,500 workers, on top of the workers’ annual increment.

The $100 million scheme was launched in August 2022.

Mr Ng also thanked the outgoing central committee for its work, including NTUC president Mary Liew and vice-president Ong Hwee Liang, who will step down from their roles.

No comments:

Post a Comment