Union leaders, MPs laud attention to upskilling workers in May Day Rally
The progressive wage model is a "classic example" of how to raise salaries to ensure people continue to have proper living standards, says one union leader.
SINGAPORE: Union leaders and members lauded the attention to helping workers to upskill and addressed concerns from businesses following Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong’s speech at the May Day Rally on Monday (May 1).
Assistant secretary-general of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and Member of Parliament Patrick Tay (PAP-Pioneer) said he was glad to hear about Mr Wong’s emphasis on skills upgrading to ensure equal opportunities and that no one is left behind.
“I warmly welcome this renewed focus and support … on helping Singaporeans embrace skills upgrading and lifelong learning. I think this is very important not just for the labour movement in Singapore, but that’s the constant agenda for labour movements around the globe,” he said.
However, the level of commitment to upskilling from workers could pose a challenge, said Muhammad Shariffudin, president of the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers left the industry due to uncertainties, and are now returning.
“Now, as we have become busier, I think they are more focused on their jobs, rather than to get a job and move on, and the training part will be a challenging part to bring them in,” he added.
“It’s not say not their priority … at the back of their head they still think that the skills are important, but the thing is they have to juggle both, the time and the space that is provided for them.
In his keynote speech, Mr Wong said that Singapore “cannot afford to outbid the big boys” to attract investments from multinational corporations, as major economies mobilise large sums of money to build up their own strategic industries.
Singapore is already feeling the impact as competition for investments becomes tougher, said the Deputy Prime Minister, as he laid out several challenges that Singapore faces in a world that is “in dire straits”.
“We won’t have enough money to match the competition but what we must have enough of are ingenuity and innovation, guts and gumption,” he said, addressing 1,400 labour movement leaders, workers and tripartite partners at the NTUC May Day Rally.
This is the first time Mr Wong, who is expected to be Singapore's next Prime Minister, delivered the keynote speech at the annual May Day Rally in place of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He spoke alongside Mr Lee at last year’s rally.
Mr Wong also spoke about the cost of living and the price of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats, assuring Singaporeans that housing is still affordable as prices have risen in tandem with incomes.
"When you think about affordability, please don't just look at the headline price of the BTO flat; also consider how the price relates to income, as well as the proportion of income that's needed to service the housing loan,” he said in his speech.
The typical household currently uses less than 25 per cent of their income to service their home loan, like in 1980, said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.
President of the Singapore National Employers Federation Robert Yap said: “In our tripartism, the basic compact, the basic fabric of all the workers, it’s very difficult even for businesses to prosper. So I think we need to get that right.”
Inflation and the shortage of labour are challenges faced by businesses in Singapore but also those around the world, he added.
“But this is a situation I think we know how to manage it … We manage it better … because of our secret recipe, like what he mentioned, tripartism that we have built over the last six decades,” said Dr Yap.
Several others lauded another initiative mentioned by Mr Wong - the Company Training Committee (CTC) - which supports workers in upskilling and achieving better work prospects through company training.
“We have our own CTC and that goes a long way towards training our officers,” said Mr Vignesha Naidu, executive council observer with the Union of Security Employees.
The progressive wage model for the security industry also helps to ensure that Singaporeans in the sector have a salary that is “acceptable given the cost of living in Singapore”, he added.
Mr Wong’s speech indicated that the government is “very actively” looking into managing the cost of living, as they know it is increasing, said Mr Naidu.
“They’ve done the necessary steps … the PWM is one classic example of how you raise the salaries of individuals to ensure they can continue to have the proper living standards,” he continued.
“And also when you raise the PWM, you increase the number of people to join our industry, not just solely relying on foreign labour. So that gives us an opportunity to give Singaporeans more job opportunities.”
Ms Yeo Wan Ling (PAP-Pasir Ris-Punggol) noted that the Deputy Prime Minister also touched on freelancers and self-employed workers in his speech, as well as how to uplift their livelihoods and protect them.
Ms Yeo is the director of U SME - an initiative that seeks to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in their business needs - and the Women & Family Unit under NTUC.
Adding that this is a very important segment of the workforce, Ms Yeo said: “It is something that many people in Singapore, because of the flexibility that such industries, such clusters allow us to go into, they are looking at such jobs.
“But I do think that as these jobs or the platforms that they practice with evolve, it’s important that our workers' rights, the protections for our workers are also looked after.”
Mr Wong’s keynote speech was an “unequivocal support” that tripartism would form an important cornerstone of his policies and government moving forward if he were to become prime minister, said assistant secretary-general of NTUC Desmond Choo (PAP-Tampines).
“I think he has also mentioned that the NTUC or the labour movement will be equal and important partners in shaping our workforce policies going ahead, and he even mentioned their imprint, on crafting national social policies that NTUC will play an important role,” he added.
“These are important developments because it reflects that workers will get stronger voices in the shaping and the outcome of policies.”