Economic recovery taskforce looks at ways to empower Singaporeans and protect workers amid industry shifts, says Desmond Lee

The impact of the pandemic is global, and some of the changes may be permanent. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE -A new taskforce, looking at ways to deal with the longer-term economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, is assessing what can be done to empower Singaporeans to ride the quickening pace of change in various industries.

This requires the Emerging Stronger Taskforce to understand the evolving situation and its impact as well as to anticipate and position the people to seize opportunities as "the long tail of the pandemic and its economic fallout runs its course", said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.

Mr Lee, who co-chairs the task force, made the point during an interview on Friday (May 22) with Money FM 89.3 radio's Claressa Monteiro.

The impact of the pandemic is global, he said, describing its consequent shift as"significant" and "once in a generation".

Some of the changes may be permanent and a few are already felt, he noted, citing especially the impact of the circuit breaker measures on the hospitality, travel, aviation, food and beverage as well as the retail sectors.

The nature of these sectors have to change very quickly and as industries adapt, workers will have to do the same "because we want to protect workers, we want to protect Singaporeans", said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.

As the sectors transform, jobs may change or disappear, but "we need to empower Singaporeans to be able to ride this very rapidly-accelerating change".

The 17-member task force, which he co-chairs with PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng, has held two meetings this month.

Mr Lee said that even as the task force focuses on addressing the economic challenges, it is intent on helping workers, businesses and the economy to tap on new offerings from things such as digitisation, virtual reality and changes in supply chains.

"Our commitment is to speak to Singaporeans from all walks of life as well as big companies plus small and medium-sized enterprises...who care about the future of Singapore," he added.

At the same time, Singapore needs to bolster the social aspect, he said, noting that this is being done by the Singapore Together movement which he co-leads with Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah.

He said: "As much as we want to transform our economy and position Singaporeans for changes... we also need to make sure that our society, our homes, our families, our communities are resilient and strong, and can adapt to the kinds of challenges that the pandemic will throw at us now and in the long term."

During the interview, Mr Lee also spoke on the initiatives for helping the underprivileged and these include Comcare, the Temporary Relief Fund and the Covid-19 Support Grant.

There are many helping hands in Singapore, from government agencies to secular and religious organisations and charities that run programmes and provide support and funds to the vulnerable, he said.

Amid the pandemic, many families, who would ordinarily be doing all right, would have suddenly felt the full brunt of the economic impact, which is why the new initiatives were rolled out to help them, said Mr Lee.

He also said that Singaporeans and businesses have been generous in helping the vulnerable in the community.

"No one is ever too young or too old to contribute, and I think it's very encouraging. Every little bit helps, because the impact when brought together can really make a difference," Mr Lee said.

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