PM Lee assures workers, businesses, of help as economy restructures

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, sitting between NTUC president Mary Liew and NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, speaking at a dialogue for labour leaders on Nov 1, 2016.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, sitting between NTUC president Mary Liew and NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, speaking at a dialogue for labour leaders on Nov 1, 2016.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday addressed concerns workers have about jobs, as he outlined what the Government was doing to help businesses upgrade and create good jobs, and help Singaporeans acquire skills for these jobs.

The labour movement and Manpower Ministry will make sure workers facing layoffs are treated fairly, and match them with available jobs, he added in a speech at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on Tuesday (Nov 1) night.

NTUC also announced the formation of a new unit that will identify future job trends, and match and train workers to take on these jobs.

The economy is slowing, Mr Lee noted, but Singapore is not in a crisis as it was when the 2008 global financial crisis hit.

The country has in place a longer-term strategy that is aimed at growing the economy and creating jobs, he told union leaders and representatives from various groups.

Mr Lee noted in 2008, the Government introduced measures that lowered business costs and protected jobs and the medicine worked. "We recovered swiftly."

But today, the problem is structural, he said, a situation largely brought on by technological disruptions to industries that is forcing major changes in the economy.

"What we need now is not an emergency package, but a consistent longer-term strategy to go for growth," he added.

"It is not an infection that can be cured with one course of antibiotics... but taking vitamins daily (and) following a rigorous exercise and training programme.''

Meanwhile, workers who lose their jobs amid these upheavals will get help.

He noted there are 63,000 jobs available at the National Jobs Bank and 13,000 workers have been placed this year, with more ready to be matched in 2017.

But workers need to do their part as well by adapting, he added. "(They) have to let old jobs go and get into new jobs."

Mr Lee later held a special dialogue for labour movement leaders and others, behind closed doors.

In his speech, he painted in broad strokes, a picture of preparedess with a strategy in place and what more needs to be done in the months and years ahead.

In this, workers, businesses and the Government each has a role to play, Mr Lee said as he spelt out what they need to do.

Workers can look to programmes like SkillsFuture to upgrade their skills.

Singling out professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), he said the Government is giving them special attention because they are most affected by the economic restructuring. They will get "personalised attention" in job matching because their skills are more specific.

Help for companies will cover 23 sectors representing about 80 per cent of the economy. They will get individual roadmaps that will transform them as well as help small and medium enterprises.

Mr Lee is confident the various measures will bear fruit and one reason is the strong tripartite relations between unions, employers and the Government.

"If any country can succeed, Singapore can," he said.