More money will be available for companies to upgrade, innovate and venture overseas, if they work with unions to make sure their transformation efforts benefit workers.
From April 1 next year, companies will be able to tap an extra 10 per cent in funding support through the Enterprise Development Grant, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday. The grant currently provides up to 70 per cent of project costs for such efforts.
The extra funding is from the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and applies to unionised companies and partners of the Employment and Employability Institute which set up company training committees (CTCs). They must also commit themselves to positive worker outcomes, such as raising salaries of low-wage workers or reskilling, said Mr Heng, adding that union leaders had told him they wanted more support for unionised workers.
Addressing more than 1,600 unionists, workers, employers and Cabinet ministers at the May Day Rally, Mr Heng said that in economic transformation, the labour movement plays a critical role by helping to communicate changes and to rally workers to be on board with the shifts.
"The relationship between companies and workers is a mutually reinforcing one. More competitive companies provide better jobs and higher pay for workers, and highly skilled workers make companies stronger, more productive, and more competitive. Unions are well positioned to strengthen both," said Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.
Transforming the economy is one of three key strategies he outlined to take Singapore forward amid the challenges of rapid technological advances, the changing workforce profile and sharper global competition, which may cause some workers to feel left behind.
He said through CTCs, unions will work with employers to identify courses and customise training.
NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng had said in his May Day message last week that NTUC will set up 1,000 CTCs over the next three years, an initiative Mr Heng called "far-sighted" and "a game changer".
CTCs reflect how the "unusual" labour movement is deepening partnerships with employers, rather than leaving training and skills upgrading to the private sector or the Government to initiate, said Mr Heng.
"That is the remarkable capacity of our labour movement - to be the co-agents of economic and social transformation. And this capacity is something we must continue to strengthen," he added.
In his speech yesterday at the rally, Mr Ng said that through CTCs, companies can shorten the time between having new technology and reaping its benefits. Mr Ng, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, added that with firms earning better profits, workers can also enjoy better wages and jobs.
Employers and union leaders cheered the focus on skills training through the CTCs.
"If our workers are always employable, relevant and disciplined, and always on top of change, businesses will be able to flourish even better," said Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap.
Labour MP Zainal Sapari, who is executive secretary of the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union, said that Mr Heng "gives the assurance to many union leaders that the ruling government of the day is behind them, is willing to give the support that we need to make sure that our workers continue to remain relevant through training".