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Putting Workers' Future First: National Day 2002 Message by Lim Boon Heng, NTUC Secretary-General and Minister in the Prime Ministers Office

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01 Nov 2010
Model ID: cde38d93-f148-4725-9547-9d43141d538d Sitecore Context Id: cde38d93-f148-4725-9547-9d43141d538d;

The main theme of the National Day Parade (NDP) this year is "A Caring Nation" - a rallying call for Singaporeans to reach out to each other as we build our future. The theme is projected through a heart-shaped logo with the tagline "Together, a New Singapore." 

What do all these mean to workers? At a broader level, how should Singapore workers celebrate this National Day? To answer these questions, we have to look at the situation Singapore workers are in today.

We are still feeling the impact of the sharp economic downturn last year. Although the economy grew 3.2% in the second quarter this year, it is too early to say that we are firmly on the path of economic recovery. Unemployment could hit a high of about 5% to 5.5% by the second half of this year, because employment lags behind the recovery.

Helping workers cope with economic downturn

On the onset of the recession, the labour movement's top priority has been to help workers cope with the economic downturn. The first line of defence is stem the job loss by cutting costs, including wage costs. Then we stepped up our efforts to help workers upgrade their skills, find jobs for the unemployed and stretch the workers' hard-earned dollars through our co-operatives.

When the Economic Review Committee (ERC) was formed in October last year, many of our grassroots union leaders were invited to sit in the ERC and various sub-committees and working groups. Through such participation in the ERC, the labour movement was able to play a role in reviewing our development strategy and formulating a blueprint to restructure the economy. Participation in the ERC ensures that workers' voices are heard and workers' interests are not lost when policies are shaped.

Putting workers' future first

When our union leaders participate in the ERC meetings and discussions, they are principally driven by a fundamental consideration - what is in the best interest of our workers? This conviction acts as a compass to guide us. As a labour movement, we always put our workers' future first.

In the past two months, the ERC has recommended changes to the tax structure and CPF. Our union members and leaders ask: Why did NTUC support these changes? Because they are in the best interests of workers, even if they hurt in the short term.

If we don't make our tax system attractive to foreign investments, we will not be able to create jobs and our workers will suffer. We supported the tax changes because they will create jobs. When the GST is raised next year, our co-operatives will fulfil their social mission by providing relief to Singaporeans.

Our seniority-based wage system puts older workers at much higher risks during economic downturns. We have to make our wage structure more flexible so that we can help our workers, especially the older ones, remain employable and hold on to their jobs. This is why the NTUC supported the CPF changes.

The tax and CPF changes must be seen in the broader context of ERC's mission. Over the next few months, we will see the ERC rolling out its recommendations on entrepreneurship, human capital, wages and land policies. Once these recommendations are announced, we will be able to see the big picture. Meanwhile, the labour movement is not waiting and remaining still. We will continue our efforts to push workers to upgrade their skills. With better skills, they will be able to take on new and better-paying jobs in the future.

Let us celebrate our future 

Singapore will overcome this economic downturn. If external dangers pass, the recovery should be broad-based by next year. The ERC recommendations will set the basis of our future growth and development. With sound policies, strong leadership and social cohesion, we will continue to grow and thrive.

The NDP tagline "Together, a New Singapore" is meaningful and apt. Our workers have built Singapore in the past, they will continue to shape Singapore's future ahead. Our workers' future is Singapore's future. As a labour movement, as long as we continue to put workers' future first, we will remain firmly on the right track.

For this National Day, let our workers join hands with fellow Singaporeans to celebrate Singapore's future. I wish all workers a happy and joyous National Day.