SINGAPORE: Despite slowing economic growth, Singapore is "not in a crisis", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Nov 1), calling instead for a longer-term strategy to continue growing and creating good jobs.
Mr Lee outlined the strategy in his speech at a dialogue with labour movement leaders, noting that Singapore's growth is still positive despite difficult external conditions like slowing trade and sinking oil prices.
He observed that global demand in several industries is down, but that Singapore can aim for 2 to 3 per cent growth on average when demand recovers. He pointed to bright spots in sectors like information and communications technology, education and health and social services, noting that Singapore is attracting substantial investments and creating many new jobs.
Mr Lee also drew attention to the need for a consistent longer-term strategy to go for growth, rather than an emergency package.
"Growth has slowed, yes. In a way, this is a new normal," he told labour movement leaders. "It's not a crisis; there are still bright spots in the economy, and what we need to do is we need to work hard in order to grow, in order to upgrade ourselves.
"The prescription is upgrading and restructuring."
GOVERNMENT PAYING SPECIAL ATTENTION TO NEEDS OF PMETs: PM LEE
In outlining Singapore's strategy to continue growing and creating good jobs, Mr Lee singled out professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) as a group the Government is paying special attention to.
He noted that PMETs now make up more than half of Singapore's workforce. "When a company retrenches, it's impossible for PMETs not to be affected," he said.
Mr Lee highlighted existing programmes and schemes to help PMETs move into growing industries. However, he observed that their skills are more specific to the companies they work for, and that more personalised attention is needed to retrain PMETs and match them to new jobs.
The Prime Minister said that for those who are facing retrenchment, NTUC and the Manpower Ministry will make sure they are compensated and treated fairly.
He also pointed to a new unit set up by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to identify trends, start job matching services and training programmes.
And in light of the changing workforce, Mr Lee called on the labour movement to not only rally the workers, but to widen its reach to cover not only PMETs but also new economy jobs.
"If we keep the labour movement to the old formulation, which is the bargainable blue-collar workers mainly, I think we are just going to represent fewer and fewer people, and that's bad for the labour movement; that's bad for Singapore.
"We need you to be representative, to be strong, to have a vibrant base, to be able to do good things," Mr Lee said.
"And that means you have to widen, you have to expand, from the union movement, to the labour movement, to cover the professionals, to cover the new economy jobs, even Uber drivers, even those who are doing freelancing. We have to find ways to bring them in."
Mr Lee also noted that programmes to help businesses and workers will be scaled up. "We expect to do up to 50 per cent more on these programmes over the next two years," said Mr Lee. "We've got the resources, we've allocated the money; what we need to do is get the programmes working - which we will."
NO MAGIC PILL
However, Mr Lee cautioned that the measures would not solve problems overnight. "It is not something which is a magic pill," he said. "It will not solve our problem overnight but it is something which will work, given time.
"My analogy is this: In 2008, 2009, it was a crisis. We were sick; we needed medicine. We took an antibiotic, one course of powerful medicine; we recovered. Luckily the germs also stopped coming and so we were ok.
"But this is not a kind of an infection which we can take a quick medicine to cure. This one, you see the doctor, the doctor says: 'No, you don't need me. You need to see a physical trainer; you need to build up your muscles; you need to build up your skills; you need to strengthen yourself; you need to keep at it.' In a few months, you will see a difference, few years, you will be a different person - and I think we are heading in the right direction," Mr Lee said.
"Let's keep going at it and make it work."