The longstanding "symbiotic relationship" between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the labour movement will become even more crucial as workers face economic disruption, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
This partnership must be nurtured at the leadership level, which is why PM Lee said he has asked younger ministers to work more closely with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).
Each fourth-generation minister will take on a specific partnership with NTUC, and younger MPs will also be involved, he said.
"This will be a key testing ground for us to identify and develop future leaders, and to maintain the close partnership between the party and unions for succeeding generations," he said at the PAP convention in Jurong.
The party's beginnings were with the unions, said PM Lee, the PAP secretary-general.
Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was lawyer and spokesman for the postal workers' union during a strike in 1953, winning its case against the colonial government. When he launched the PAP in 1954, many founding members were unionists.
The unionists carried the PAP into power, and many stood for election on the PAP ticket - a practice that continues today, he said.
Since independence, the PAP Government, unions and employers have worked together to make harmonious labour relations a lasting competitive advantage for Singapore, attracting investments and creating jobs, said PM Lee.
NTUC reaches out to workers at difficult times. On its part, the PAP makes policies with the workers' interests at heart, he said.
In the coming years, union leaders must work with the PAP to help workers cope with disruption and job losses, he added.
Later, PM Lee missed a step when going down the stairs after his speech and the party pledge. His near-trip prompted a gasp, then relieved applause from party members as he steadied himself and then waved to show all was well.
NTUC sent a larger than usual contingent to this year's convention. One of the 240 who attended was Mr David Tay of the Creative Media and Publishing Union, who said in a speech that unionists and party activists can work more closely together. "Coming together to strategise on joint projects may allow us to better understand the concerns and aspirations of all Singaporeans," he said.
Mr Tay, a journalist with The Straits Times schools team, suggested that NTUC and the PAP participate in each other's work plan seminars, hold joint dialogues and have unionists help out at Meet-the-People Sessions, while PAP activists help out at NTUC events.