SINGAPORE - Jobs are a core priority for Singapore, and labour MP Patrick Tay is encouraged by the calls from MPs as well as pledges from ministers over the past week to ensure that Singaporeans are treated fairly in a challenging economy, and that low-wage workers get the support they need.
In a speech wrapping up five days of robust debate, Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer), an assistant secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress, noted the many MPs who had argued that more had to be done to strengthen the Singaporean core.
"In fact, I was doing a count as we progressed through the speeches - and the phrase 'Singaporean core' has been mentioned over 40 times in the last four days alone," he said.
MPs had sought assurances that safeguarding jobs for Singaporeans would continue to be a key focus, even as they acknowledged that Singapore cannot fully look inwards.
Mr Tay was heartened that Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had said her ministry would be reviewing companies whose Singaporean core was weakening, while Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung had said the Monetary Authority of Singapore would ensure fair hiring practices while grooming Singaporeans to be leaders and specialists in the financial services sector.
Said the labour MP: "I take heart that every call to strengthen our Singaporean core made in these chambers has not been a call to divide, but one to unite."
Mr Tay also summed up what 74 MPs spoke on over the past five days.
The lively debate saw People's Action Party and opposition MPs cross swords on topics such as compassionate policymaking and a review of race-based policies while championing issues such as a safer online space, a more environmentally-friendly Singapore and greater support for persons with disabilities.
Other MPs had also brought up the importance of ensuring environmental and economic sustainability, as well as the need for transformation of businesses and the economy.
They highlighted that equipping the workforce with the right skills and mindset is crucial for driving this transformation, said Mr Tay.
"As we review and formulate strategies for industries to transform and diversify, we will need to create an even stronger linkage in the form of skills maps, job redesign, job retraining and reskilling of our workers to take on these jobs," he said.
Other topics raised included a strong call for a fair, just, inclusive and cohesive society.
Mr Tay noted that the new social compact must be practical while balancing the needs of Singaporeans in the areas of social security, affordable and quality housing, healthcare, education, public infrastructure and the environment with their aspirations and dreams.
Several MPs also spoke up for women, acknowledging the need for recognition of the trade-offs and sacrifices they make in their career, and the discrimination and struggles they face in re-entering the workforce after having children.
Mr Tay said he was "especially reminded" of the issue by Mr Louis Ng's example of Oasis Water Park in Nee Soon East, which Mr Ng had used to illustrate the issue of gender stereotypes. Mr Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said in his speech on Wednesday that when the park opened last year, the diaper-changing room was installed in only the women's toilet, and when asked why, the builders said women were the ones who changed diapers. The issue was subsequently resolved with a second diaper-changing room installed in the disabled-friendly toilet.
Said Mr Tay: "Related to gender and poverty is a larger conversation about discrimination in our society. We need to expand our empathy to our minority communities."
He added that deep trust and mutual respect is needed among Singaporeans, who have to respect Singapore's plurality. "Our first President Yusof Ishak did not see our diversity of race, language, religion as an obstacle to progress. He saw this as our strength. He saw this diversity as exactly what would make Singapore dynamic and progressive," said Mr Tay.
Singapore should continue in this direction, he added.
He urged Singaporeans to come together to build a liveable and sustainable society and country that is founded on mutual trust, with opportunities for all.
Mr Tay quoted the lyrics of a tribute song, Singapore, Unite As One, by Primary 6 Fairfield Methodist Primary School student Jacob Neo: "But we'll be together through thick and the thin, as one country we'll fight this virus and win. We'll fight with our hearts and our minds and our souls, protecting this island where we call our home."
Added the MP: "Let us continue to have faith and be of good courage, listen well, look out for one another. Stay strong, and communicate with grace and empathy."