SINGAPORE: While Singapore's economy is not doing badly this year, some sectors are doing better while others are undergoing more restructuring and difficulties, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a discussion with union leaders ahead of Labour Day.
A video recording and transcript of the discussion, titled "A conversation on the future of our jobs", was released by the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday (Apr 30).
In the dialogue session, which took place at Mediacorp on Apr 18, the union leaders spoke of how their industries have been adapting and helping equip or retrain workers in the face of disruption and competition.
Mr Lee noted that the offshore and marine industry was currently in a downturn. "This is an industry where you may have 12 months' bonus or you may have no bonus – and right now, it is lean time," he said.
In the last two years, the industry as a whole shed about 30,000 to 40,000 jobs overseas and locally, including sub-contractors, said Mah Cheong Fatt, executive secretary of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees' Union. "(The) offshore marine, oil and gas sector has been in a very painful situation."
Mr Mah added that in the first three months of 2017 alone, unionised companies retrenched about 200 employees. "Even repair jobs are hard to come by," he said. "We are looking at another few hundred (who) will be retrenched."
He said the union has been trying to arrange job fairs to introduce the workers to other sectors such as the aerospace and railway sectors, which are still hiring, and which require similar skills. However, he noted that some of the workers found the change "very difficult to cope" with, on account of their age.
"Our first priority should be to help them to find another job," said Mr Lee.
"The schemes are in fact there but we have to get people to know about them and to take advantage of them."
The Prime Minister cited the port industry as one which has seen "some very tough times". "You have seen it bounce back," he said. "A lot of hard work has gone into that restructuring over the years."
Jessie Yeo, executive secretary of the Metal Industries Workers' Union and Singapore Port Workers Union, spoke of how the port industry took the opportunity to consolidate its staff members during the slowdown.
"We transferred 520 staff to all the other terminals, away from the city terminals. So we consolidated. Now we are doing better. Hopefully we will be at the end of the tunnel by the end of the year.
"So the workers are a lot happier now. It is a different set of problems now – it is a happy problem now," she said. "They are worried about being so busy; (whether) fatigue (would) set in later on."
Mr Lee noted the growing competition in the port sector, particularly coming from Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) and Port Klang.
"You must make sure you steal somebody else's lunch," he quipped.
Mr Lee wrapped up the session on a pragmatic note. "You must always want to do better but you cannot always want to hope for the sky, and that is the challenge," he said.
"Because if you are not hungry, you would not try, but if you are unrealistic, you would be disappointed.
"I think we have to work hard and with NTUC’s help and the tripartite partners, we can do that."