PM Lee cautiously optimistic about S'pore economy despite uncertainty over Omicron, China

Mr Lee visiting Jurong Point to thank food delivery riders, taxi drivers and mall workers for providing essential services during the Chinese New Year period. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - While the wave of Omicron infections around the world remains an uncertainty, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he is cautiously optimistic about Singapore’s economic recovery in the year ahead.

The American economy is strong and growing well, he told reporters during a Chinese New Year's Eve visit to Jurong Point shopping mall on Monday (Jan 31).

Europe is growing as well, although the continent is more guarded about the new coronavirus variant, he added.

While the Omicron wave has seen infections go up quickly in the developed world, it looks like the numbers are coming down quite fast, he added. "Hopefully that means the economy can continue going without being disrupted too much."

An unknown is what will happen in China, which is still pursuing a zero-Covid-19 policy.

"I can understand the reasons but... it takes a great effort for them to sustain this and it may have an impact on their economy beyond what is expected, in which case, it could affect us too. So we have to watch that," Mr Lee said.

Meanwhile, in South-east Asia, Singapore's neighbours are "doing okay", he added.

With borders reopening progressively, Mr Lee said he is hopeful about the resumption of business and travel within the region.

Back home, the Prime Minister acknowledged there are some sectors that are still facing difficulties, especially the food and beverage, tourism and entertainment sectors.

But with the economy projected to grow 3 per cent to 5 per cent in 2022, overall, "we should be alright", he said.

He added in Mandarin that the momentum of Singapore's growth has been quite strong, with manufacturing, financial services and other sectors doing well. "I hope this year will be better than the last... We cannot let our guard down but we don't need to be too pessimistic."

Mr Lee was at Jurong Point to thank food delivery riders, taxi drivers and mall workers for providing essential services during the Chinese New Year period.

Visiting workers during the festive season is an annual tradition for the labour movement, and is usually held on the first day of Chinese New Year.

This year, the visit was held on the eve so that Mr Lee could speak with food delivery riders while most eateries were still open.

Mr Lee visiting Jurong Point on the eve of Chinese New Year, so he could speak with food delivery riders while most eateries are still open. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Gift bags containing red packets, mandarin oranges, hand towels, vacuum flasks and face masks were given out to these workers.

He was accompanied by Mrs Lee, Transport Minister S. Iswaran and Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor, as well as National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew and secretary-general Ng Chee Meng.

PM Lee said the income of taxi and private-hire drivers has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, mainly because of the lack of tourists, but that they have been coping with the disruption with the help of government support schemes and hope for a better year.

During his National Day Rally speech last year, PM Lee had announced that an advisory committee would be set up to explore ways to better protect platform workers - delivery workers, private-hire drivers and taxi drivers who work with platform companies to provide delivery and transport services.

This group of workers make up about 3 per cent of Singapore's resident workforce, or 79,000 people. They are considered self-employed, and do not receive employee benefits from the companies they work for.

Yet, these workers are for all intents and purposes "just like employees", PM Lee had said in his speech last year.

The committee is looking into concerns over workplace injury insurance, housing and retirement support, legal rights as well as union representation.

In November last year, it issued a public consultation paper to seek feedback and received more than 1,300 submissions within a month, including from platform companies and workers.

The committee seeks to complete its work by the second half of this year and present its recommendations to the authorities.

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