Tough economic conditions ahead, workers and business will get help, says PM Lee at Cabinet's swearing-in

The Government's four Budgets have kept companies afloat and minimised retrenchments so far. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - While economic conditions will remain difficult amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government will do its best to keep Singaporeans employed and give businesses the help they need, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In a speech on Monday (July 27) after the new Cabinet was sworn in, Mr Lee outlined the challenges facing Singapore, including the "enormous task" of getting the country's economy going again.

The global coronavirus situation has worsened, he said, with cities that initially brought the virus under control - such as Hong Kong and Seoul - suffering repeated outbreaks after easing restrictions and reopening their economies.

That is why Singapore is building up its testing and contact tracing capacities, to identify and stamp out new Covid-19 outbreaks quickly as it gradually restores economic activity and reopens its borders.

He noted that Singapore's economy shrank a record 12.6 per cent year on year in the second quarter this year.

The Government's four Budgets this year - to the tune of nearly $100 billion - have kept companies afloat and minimised retrenchments so far.

"But economic conditions will continue to be difficult, and we must expect to lose many more jobs. We will do our best to save as many as we can, and help workers who still lose their jobs to find new work," said Mr Lee.

The National Jobs Council, chaired by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, is "urgently working with the unions, business associations and government agencies" on the vital task of creating jobs and opportunities for those out of work, he said.

The Government will also help businesses that have been shut down by Covid-19 to start up again, he said, pointing to how it will "lighten the burden" of foreign worker levies and fees on companies in the construction sector, which have been badly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in migrant worker dormitories.

He added that the Government is almost done testing all the workers for the coronavirus, and clearing the dorms of it.

All is being done to make sure that living and working conditions are safe for these workers so that they can get back to work as soon as possible while keeping the virus in check, he said.

"But it is a very complicated task and, despite our best efforts, will take a few weeks more to complete."

Other sectors hard hit by the pandemic are those that depend on travel such as tourism and aviation.

These sectors rely heavily on the international market, without a large domestic market to prop up demand.

"We are determined to help these sectors pull through, as they are linked to many other parts of our economy," Mr Lee said, noting that almost $2 billion has been set aside in the four Budgets to help them.

Both the Government and businesses will face difficult choices ahead, he said, noting that some industries will not return to how they were before the pandemic.

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"We cannot afford to prop up failing industries indefinitely, or trap workers in jobs that are no longer viable," he said.

"The better, long-term solution is to invest our resources to develop new capabilities, grow new industries and create new jobs. Then we can help firms in the declining industries to reinvent themselves or pivot to other fields of business."

The Government will help workers in these industries reskill for the new jobs created, he added.

Singapore has to press on with transforming its economy and skills upgrading, Mr Lee said, so that Singaporeans can make the most of new opportunities, cope with new uncertainties and improve their lives.

"One day, the pandemic will be over, and the economic crisis will pass. When that day comes, we have to be ready for the post-Covid-19 world," he said.

"Our aim is not just to survive the storm, but also to set the long-term direction for our country. We must keep on improving Singapore, year after year, generation after generation."

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