'Downturn should be treated as structural'

In his maiden blog post yesterday, labour chief Chan Chun Sing warned that the economic "downturn" Singapore is facing should not be treated as a cyclical one, but as a permanent structural one.

Mr Chan, who joined the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) about a year ago, wrote: "In every downturn, it is better to assume there are deeper structural changes needed than assume that the downturn is cyclical and we will soon be back to business as usual." In what he said would be the first of many posts on the NTUC blog (www.labourbeat.org), he addressed the current economic outlook, which he called "particularly challenging".

The Singapore economy grew by a modest 2.1 per cent last year, the weakest rate of growth since the financial crisis of 2009. The slowdown in China is also expected to hit Singapore hard.

Mr Chan observed how technology shifts, such as the rise of digital news or online shopping, have thrown traditional industries into turmoil. "Technology has similarly changed many other consumer habits, creating new demand and destroying old ones."

He pondered how jobs could be created for older workers who cannot acquire skills for these new industries. He also asked: "Are our companies bold enough to invest in new technology and markets in the face of an impending cyclical slowdown? If they don't invest now, can we survive larger structural shifts?"

To face the challenges ahead, he wrote, Singapore has to create a conducive business environment underpinned by tripartite relations. "Our competition is not with one another but with the competition out there."

He added that Singapore must keep ensuring that workers strengthen their skills to boost the economy, through initiatives such as SkillsFuture, and shun complacency, instead constantly questioning how we can keep our companies competitive and our costs low.

He said he decided to set up the blog "as a platform to regularly share the labour movement's thoughts on how we can work together to overcome these hurdles", and increase shared understanding between the movement and the workers it is meant to help.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline ''Downturn should be treated as structural''. Print Edition | Subscribe