Do not take tripartism for granted, urges labour chief in National Day message

Mr Chan points to the SkillsFuture initiative as an "important opportunity" for junior members of the labour movement to work together with the Government and employers.
Mr Chan points to the SkillsFuture initiative as an "important opportunity" for junior members of the labour movement to work together with the Government and employers. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - The importance of tripartism has been repeated ad nauseam, but it is a local "winning advantage" that should not be taken for granted, said Mr Chan Chun Sing in his first National Day message as labour chief.

"With many years of peace, we are concerned that a new generation take (tripartism)... as natural," said Mr Chan at a media briefing last Wednesday.

Previous generations have understood the importance of harmonious industrial relations "very well" through crises, he added.

In his speech on Saturday, Mr Chan recounts a "sobering" trip to the International Labour Conference in June. "Many (countries) could not build up a strong tripartite culture because of the lack of trust and continuity in their government and its policies," he said.

"Many of these policies were dictated by short-term political considerations... In some countries, companies would actively avoid working with unions.

"Ultimately, it is the workers that suffer, as the economy stagnates and the number of quality, available jobs decline."

Singapore, however, adopts a different approach, and that has become its competitive advantage, he noted. Thus, it is important to groom a new generation of leaders to "continually strengthen" tripartite relationships.

Mr Chan points to the SkillsFuture initiative as an "important opportunity" for junior members of the labour movement to work together with the Government and employers. There will also be more programmes to "systemically" allow possible tripartite leaders to meet and talk through issues.

"To make a boring statement (on tripartism) into a competitive advantage is not easy, which is why... programmes will be put in place to make sure that the new generation of union leaders understand the other part of the tripartite equation," he said.

"Similarly, there will be programmes to help the other parts to understand the union."

This is done to make sure that the next generation "are familiar with three parts of the system".

"Trust and continuity will not come within one day or a year," he said. "Without that deep understanding and culture of collaboration.. tripartism is an empty slogan."

"When I wake up and I don't see (media reports about local) strikes or industrial disputes flaring up, it means yesterday was a good day for me."

awcw@sph.com.sg