Singapore has yet to celebrate its 49th birthday this August, but that has not stopped the labour movement from starting its celebrations for the country's 50th birthday next year.
Yesterday, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) got low- wage workers and their families to colour birthday cards and pen well-wishes at a carnival in the union-linked Downtown East resort.
It is the first major organisation to start celebrating the SG50 birthday. Starting early will drum up "the sense of pride and belonging" among low-wage workers, said NTUC assistant secretary- general Zainal Sapari.
Details of the union's year- long celebration were not immediately available, but Mr Zainal said it will end with a mass display next year.
NTUC held a free fun fair for poor families yesterday. It handed out free theme park tickets, food vouchers and arcade game coupons to 12,000 low-income union members and their families.
The carnival was the first of six one-day fun fairs that NTUC is holding this year, so that 60,000 union members and their family members can enjoy themselves. The six fairs will cost a total of $1.5 million.
Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was guest of honour at the event yesterday, said the fair will encourage families to bond.
"Otherwise, all we do is spend time working and studying, and we have no time for one another, said DPM Teo.
"I hope that you will have time to spend with your family... so that the family unit can also be stronger."
In his speech, he also spelt out how the Government and NTUC have helped low-wage workers through schemes like Workfare and skills upgrading.
The 63,000 workers NTUC trained last year can expect their pay to grow by 15 per cent, and the wage ladders in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors will benefit 80,000 Singaporeans, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Zainal said low-wage workers do not have to worry about MediShield Life premiums.
"The Health Minister has assured that the 1 percentage point increase in Medisave contribution next year will enable them to cope with the increase in premiums," he said.
He also urged workers not to ditch their current private Medisave health insurance plans until more details of MediShield Life are announced next year.
Several families gave the carnival the thumbs-up yesterday.
Store assistant Saffri Alias, 28, plans to visit Wild Wild Wet water park in Downtown East with his wife and three children, aged five to eight, next week too.
"The free tickets are still valid next week so we can enjoy ourselves again," he said.
But a handful suggested improvements.
Airport baggage handler Ng Seow Beng, 49, was disappointed that his six-year-old daughter could not colour the SG50 birthday card because they were all given out around noon.
"There should be more cards so that more people can take part," he said.