SINGAPORE: Employers should make every effort to keep their workers and help them through the difficult COVID-19 outbreak period, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Apr 30) in his May Day message.
“They should not drop workers at the first sign of trouble,” said Mr Lee in the speech delivered ahead of Labour Day on May 1.
“This way, workers will remember and return the kindness, serve loyally and help their businesses survive. Companies will also be in a better position to rebuild, when the economy begins to recover.”
He urged both employers and workers to take a longer-term view: “Workers must accept wage sacrifices to keep businesses going and employers must make every effort to keep their workers and help them through this difficult period.”
Analysts have said that the labour market will continue to weaken during the COVID-19 crisis, although Singapore’s first quarter employment figures were better than expected.
READ: Retrenchments and withdrawn job offers: Singapore's labour market shows signs of COVID-19 strain
Coming in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and three weeks into Singapore’s “circuit breaker”, Mr Lee’s May Day message forewarned of changes that the coronavirus will bring to the global economy and how this might affect Singapore.
“The movement of goods and people will be less free. Countries will strive to rely less on imports for food and essential items like medicines and face masks,” he said. “This will have major implications for global trade and investments, and thus for Singapore.”
Significant structural changes to Singapore’s economy are likely, and some jobs will simply disappear, he said, adding that workers in these industries will have to reskill themselves and take up jobs in new sectors.
NEW WAYS OF DOING THINGS
Giving examples of how people have already adjusted during the circuit breaker, learning to telecommute, work with others virtually and getting used to online learning, he said: “We will not go back to status quo ante, after the circuit breaker ends; and that will mean opportunities in these new ways of doing things.”
Industries that are thriving include medical services, biotech, food production and delivery, and information technology, and many of these firms are seeing stronger demand and hiring more people.
“We will help companies adapt to this new operating environment, and retrain workers for the new jobs available,” he said, adding that the Government will also look into ways to protect freelance workers.
The National Trades Union Congress has set up a Job Security Council to help match and train displaced workers for new job opportunities, and authorities will scale up SkillsFuture programmes, he said.
“We will not be able to save every job, but we will look after every worker.”
“MORE THAN EQUAL TO THE TASK”
Mr Lee added that Singapore has experienced economic restructuring before and has done it more than once.
“We have the resources to support businesses, invest in our workforce and take care of our people,” he said.
And the country aims to protect its vulnerable and leave no one behind, Mr Lee promised.
“This is why when the virus started to spread in other countries, we brought overseas Singaporeans home. We did not leave them to fend for themselves,” he said.
“This is why we care for our migrant workers, who have done much for us, as we care for Singaporeans. This is why we have taken unprecedented steps to draw upon our reserves, in order to forestall retrenchments and support the low income.”
But he warned that the road to recovery will be “long and hard”.
“COVID-19 is this generation’s challenge. The virus is a tough enemy – invisible, but formidable. It is now our turn to prove that we are worthy of our forebears and up to the challenge before us. I have every confidence that we will prove more than equal to the task.”