Protecting workers, not jobs key to economic transformation: Heng Swee Keat

Protecting workers, not jobs key to economic transformation: Heng Swee Keat

It is "critical" that political leaders put people at the centre of what they do, because they are not pursuing economic growth for the sake of it, but to improve the lives of the people, said DPM Heng Swee Keat, citing the collaborative approach of Singapore unions. Jeremy Koh reports from the 49th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland.

ZURICH: Singapore believes in globalisation and that economic transformation has to continue despite the uncertainty amid significant changes caused by globalisation, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the 49th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland on Thursday (May 9).

The key, said Mr Heng, is to protect workers, not jobs.

"(There is) the sense that globalisation has left people behind (and) therefore they're not benefiting (from it)," said Mr Heng. "(There is) a sense of growing inequality, that it's an unfair system and of course, in many places you have unemployment.

"It's particularly difficult and painful, and the world is also undergoing very significant demographic transition."

Mr Heng said that on top of that, technological transformations are making some jobs obsolete.   

Significant demographic transitions are happening across the globe, both in countries with ageing populations and others with youthful populations, where the education system has yet to catch up, he said. 

"As political leaders, it's critical that we put people at the centre of what we do because at the end of it, we're not pursuing economic growth or innovation for the sake of it, but rather to see how we can improve the lives of the people, improve the lives of workers. 

"So in that regard, it's key that we protect workers and not jobs," said Mr Heng. 

Singapore's unions play an important role in this as they have chosen a collaborative approach rather than a confrontational one, he added. 

The minister also highlighted Singapore's year-long Our Singapore Conversation initiative, which he hopes to take to another level.

"Our Singapore Conversation was 'let's talk'. So the students said, beyond talk, 'let's do'. So what we're hoping to do is this. In the next round of our conversation, we focus on 'let's do, and let's do it together'," he said.

Mr Heng's session at the St Gallen Symposium was part of his five-day visit to Switzerland. It is his first overseas trip as Deputy Prime Minister.  

As part of the visit, Mr Heng and his delegation visited several Swiss businesses, including ABB, a global leader in electrification, robotics and automation technologies with which Singapore has "enjoyed a longstanding relationship". 

The group also met with Swissmem, an association of more than 1,000 SMEs in electrical and mechanical engineering. 

"We were impressed to see how Swiss SMEs have overcome the limitations of Switzerland's small market by expanding their businesses internationally and drawing on the deep pool of talent and research in Swiss universities," wrote the minister on his Facebook page. 

Source: CNA/hs

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