Singapore's economy must grow for pay to go up: PM Lee

Salaries remain a key issue for workers, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, recounting conversations he has been having with union leaders in the lead-up to Labour Day.

But for incomes to rise, the economy must grow, Mr Lee said, making clear the centrality of economic growth which has been disputed by some who are worried about foreign workers and inequality. "Everyone would like their lives to become better and one important way of doing that is to make sure your pay goes up, especially with low-income workers. And for the pay to go up, the economy has to grow," Mr Lee said in an interview with reporters on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Brunei.

The Prime Minister traditionally delivers his May Day Rally on May 1 each year.

Singapore has entered a new phase of economic development in which growth will come from qualitative upgrading, Mr Lee said yesterday.

"It is not going to come as fast as before but it is still important that we work together and we achieve that. There are many things which we can do which can make things better," he added.

The other issues on workers' minds include their concerns about older and lower-income workers, medical costs and benefits, and safeguards for the group of white-collar workers known as professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). These are the concerns that have been highlighted in Mr Lee's discussions with union leaders.

The Manpower Ministry is in the midst of reviewing the Employment Pass framework, to better safeguard the interests of Singaporean PMETs who face competition from foreigners hired on such passes, some of whom are willing to work for lower pay.

LYDIA LIM