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PM Lee lauds unions' role in helping workers during COVID-19 crisis in May Day message

SINGAPORE: Unions ensured retrenchments were carried out "fairly and responsibly" when job losses became unavoidable during the COVID-19 crisis, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his May Day message on Friday (Apr 30)

"In an overwhelming crisis like COVID-19, your mission to protect workers comes to the fore. Last year, when job losses became unavoidable, the unions ensured that retrenchments were carried out fairly and responsibly," said Mr Lee.

The National Trades Union Congress's (NTUC) Job Security Council directly helped more than 28,000 find new jobs, he said. It also provided financial support through the NTUC Care Fund (COVID-19) and partnered with the Government to implement the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS)

Mr Lee said the labour movement maintained its "collaborative stance" through the crisis. 

"It persuaded workers to sacrifice today for the promise of a better tomorrow. 

"Without this spirit of fighting COVID-19 together and never-say-die, we would not have come through our worst downturn since independence so lightly," he said. 


Singapore's outlook has brightened considerably compared to 2020, said Mr Lee, adding that the global recession is turning out to be less protracted than initially feared. 

He adds that while Europe is still struggling with the pandemic, the US is expecting to make a strong recovery in 2021, as with China's economy and lack of cases in the country. 

"These external trends support our own economic recovery, and justify confidence in our prospects," said Mr Lee. 

READ: NTUC eyes new taskforce to protect workers at ‘pre-retrenchment’ phase, sets 1.5 million membership goal

READ: Singapore economy may grow more than 6% this year, but recovery will be ‘disparate’ across sectors: MAS

He said that Singapore's unemployment rate is going down, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) had earlier forecast a 4 to 6 per cent GDP growth. Barring a setback to the global economy, growth in 2021 is "likely to exceed" 6 per cent. 

"This will bring us back to where we were before COVID-19 struck," he said. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trends such as digitalisation, automation and sustainability across all sectors, said Mr Lee, adding that new opportunities are opening up. 

"To seize them, we need to transform our economy for a different, post-COVID-19 world," said Mr Lee. "The Emerging Stronger Taskforce is busy working on this transformation, and I am happy that the labour movement is actively involved."

Singapore's workforce is becoming more diverse, with freelancers, entrepreneurs, mature workers and fresh graduates all facing different employment challenges. And each group requires "customised" policies and solutions, he said. 

The NTUC has formed more than 600 Company Training Committees (CTC), which work with firms to identify capability gaps, co-create new jobs and train workers for them. 

READ: Unfair clauses in employment contracts: How can employees be better protected? 

READ: MOM, NTUC, employers federation issue new advisory on mental well-being at workplaces 

"The CTCs show how NTUC is making itself relevant, and finding new solutions to secure better jobs for workers," said Mr Lee. 

Mr Lee added that Singapore's model of trade unionism and tripartism has been criticised, especially in the West. 

"Trade union membership has steadily declined in most western societies. By contrast, union membership has risen consistently in Singapore, by dint of deliberate policy and unremitting effort," he said. 

He added that although labour movements in the West are a "pale shadow of what they were in the 1960s", the labour movement in Singapore has grown. 

"The verdict of history is clear: Tripartism and cooperation have been far more effective in securing workers’ welfare and livelihoods than militancy and conflict," said Mr Lee. 

With each crisis that Singapore has faced, from the Asian financial crisis, the SARS pandemic and the global financial crisis, Mr Lee said Singapore's tripartite model "saw us through". 

READ: Total employment grows for first time since COVID-19 pandemic: Advance estimates

READ: Bond between PAP, NTUC must be sustained and strengthened, says PM Lee

"By working together, practising give-and-take, and focusing on the long term, the tripartite partners found ways forward in difficult circumstances, and strengthened their trust and cooperation in readiness for the next storm," he said. 

Mr Lee added that the guiding principle of tripartism has always been to "stay united and progress together".

"This May Day, let us recommit ourselves to strengthening this partnership, and building a brighter future for Singapore for the next 60 years and beyond."

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Source: CNA/lk(rw)


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