/Economic outlook is brighter, but S’pore needs to do its best to avoid another Circuit Breaker: PM Lee – Mothership.SG – News from Singapore, Asia and around the world

Economic outlook is brighter, but S’pore needs to do its best to avoid another Circuit Breaker: PM Lee – Mothership.SG – News from Singapore, Asia and around the world

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the NTUC (National Trades Union Congress) remains a critical partner of the government to transform Singapore’s workforce, as it forges ahead in an uncertain world post-Covid-19.

First physical rally after pandemic started

PM Lee delivered his annual May Day Rally speech in person for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic at D’Marquee at Downtown East, Pasir Ris with safe distancing measures and swab tests in place.

This year marks NTUC’s 60th anniversary, and PM Lee spoke at length about NTUC’s founding, which came about from 12 unions who broke away to stand with the People’s Action Party in 1961.

As the NTUC evolved and changed its mission to be one based on collaboration, PM Lee mentioned that Singapore’s unique tripartite model – a close collaboration between labour, the government and businesses – has seen Singapore through “many rough spots”.

The tripartite partners “has supported decades of sustained, rapid economic growth” and overcame many major recessions and crises together.

However, Singapore is now facing Covid-19, which PM Lee calls a “crisis not of a decade, but of a generation”.

S’pore needs to avoid another CB

PM Lee said that the global recession has been less protracted than initially feared, pointing out that the U.S. is expected to make a strong recovery, with China’s economy performing strongly as well.

There is a good chance for Singapore to record six per cent GDP growth this year, if our domestic Covid-19 situation remains stable.

However, he cautioned that sectors like tourism and aviation will not recover soon, with new strains of virus emerging that could potentially worsen the situation.

PM Lee touched on the new community clusters linked to a nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and an Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer who was deployed at Changi Airport.

He urged Singaporeans to not let down their guard, as another lockdown would be a major setback.

“The government is doing everything we can to prevent these clusters from spreading into the community. And we will have to be agile and decisive with our response, and tighten measures promptly where it is necessary, to clamp down on the spread and avoid going into a second circuit breaker.”

He told Singaporeans not to make the mistake that “other countries have done”, namely to celebrate too early and “relax too fast”. Another wave could come, possibly worse than the first, and another circuit breaker would be a “major setback” for the economic recovery.

On Covid-19’s impact on workers

PM Lee highlighted the efforts and sacrifices of workers to keep the pandemic under control. He thanked healthcare workers for their dedication to test, vaccinate and treat patients.

He also mentioned that while aviation workers are severely impacted, they adapted to the situation by manning cargo flights, or becoming patient care ambassadors and contract tracers.

PM Lee said, however, that Singapore is “catching glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel” with steady progress in vaccinating all Singapore residents – almost all frontline workers have been vaccinated, he said.

On migrant workers, PM Lee emphasised that Singapore must continue to ensure their wellbeing, health and safety, whether in dorms or travelling to and from worksites.

The manpower crunch – worsened by the recent tightened border measures – has added to its problems which include delays in projects, increases in costs.

Singapore must “find a way to fully recover”

But PM Lee assured that help is on the way.

“We are working on emergency legislation to address this severe disruption, and to share the burden more fairly between the different parties – the contractors, the developers, and the buyers.”

However, as the economy recovers, PM Lee stressed that the government needs to “recalibrate our support to a more sustainable level”.

He pointed out that more than S$50 billion from Singapore’s past reserves went to support businesses and workers, unprecedented in Singapore history.

He pointed out that schemes like the Jobs Support Scheme is “artificial life support” and “cannot last forever.”

“It keeps us breathing for a while, but it doesn’t cure us and it doesn’t last forever. We must find a way to fully recover, to get back on our feet, to build new muscles. To move Singapore forward again,” he said.

Preparing for post-Covid-19 life

PM Lee maintained that we must prepare for life after Covid-19.

He noted several trends that were accelerated by the pandemic that would likely continue into the future – citing specifically digitalisation, automation, and sustainability, such as online delivery by hawkers.

PM Lee emphasised the need to get ahead of these trends and seize emerging opportunities.

In order to have the right skills to benefit from these opportunities, he urged Singaporeans to utilise SkillsFuture that the government will invest about S$1.4 billion over the next few years.

In that vein, PM Lee highlighted NTUC’s critical role in transforming the workforce.

In addition to building up the training ecosystem with e2i, NTUC has recently formed over 600 Company Training Committees (CTCs), which helps to identify capability gaps, create new competencies, and train workers for companies.

NTUC to continue support vulnerable groups in the workforce

PM Lee underlined the government’s priority to protect vulnerable groups in society through various means.

In the last three years, gig workers have more than doubled to 70,000, and the population of older workers has also grown significantly.

NTUC has been reaching out to these different groups to understand their needs and support them.

Low-income workers will also be supported by NTUC through the S$250 million NTUC Foundation, earlier announced by Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, that will help sustain NTUC Care initiatives.

He added that the government’s collaboration with tripartite partners to extend the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to more sectors like food services and retail is a practical, effective strategy to improve the lives of lower-wage workers.

PM Lee also said the government planned to double the number of workers covered under the PWM in the next few years and other plans to support lower-income workers, which he will speak more about at the upcoming National Day Rally.

NTUC will continue to be an important partner in S’pore’s progress

PM Lee reiterated the need to maintain a symbiotic relationship between the PAP and the NTUC, and keep it “strong and vibrant”.

Party activists work closely with unionists to engage workers directly through more joint activities between Young PAP and Young NTUC, the deployment of MPs as union advisers, and joint initiatives between PAP branches and unionists.

Such joint activities ensure that the concerns and aspirations of workers are learnt quickly and accurately to work out solutions and improve their lives.

In his conclusion, PM Lee said that a strong Labour movement has been “an essential partner in Singapore’s progress”, and the pandemic has shown how important it is to have a strong labour movement.

PM Lee reaffirmed that the People’s Action Party will “always stand solidly by the NTUC and by workers”.

“On your 60th birthday, I not only wish you happy birthday but I ask you to remain steadfast in NTUC’s mission, and strengthen your close partnership with the government to improve the lives of Singapore workers.

Whatever storms that come our way, and we can be sure this is not the last one, let’s make sure that Singapore continues to grow and to prosper, united and strong, for many years to come.”

Top image via NTUC