Govt to work with unions to keep retrenchments to minimum

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (left), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen observing the packing of masks by SAF servicemen at Safti Military Institute, on Jan 31, 2020.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (left), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen observing the packing of masks by SAF servicemen at Safti Military Institute, on Jan 31, 2020.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

As Singapore's economy is hit by the coronavirus crisis, the Government will ensure that retrenchments are kept to a minimum, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

"Even as we deal with the viral outbreak, we must ensure that our economy can function to keep jobs and livelihoods for Singapore," he said in his Total Defence Day message yesterday.

"The Government will work with companies and unions to ensure that retrenchments are kept to a minimum, if at all."

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had said earlier that the Government will unveil a support package at Budget 2020 to help businesses affected by the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, known as Covid-19.

In his message, Dr Ng recounted how, in 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) had caused sickness and death. The fear of being infected gripped citizens everywhere, tourists stopped travelling and people stayed home, he said.

As a result, jobs were lost and retrenchments went up.

"In some countries, this fear created distrust and divided people. But in Singapore, we rallied through Total Defence, stayed united, overcame the Sars crisis to emerge intact and stronger," he said.

The national defence framework has to come into action again against the coronavirus, Dr Ng said.

As part of social defence, everyone has to practise good hygiene and stay away from others if sick, he urged. "At the same time, we must show empathy and compassion to help those who are infected or under quarantine."

Psychological defence has to be strengthened to withstand the ups and downs from the virus outbreak, he added.

Daily life can go on with sensible precautions, such as washing one's hands and keeping them away from the face, he said.

 
 

Singaporeans also have to guard against digital threats such as false information during this period, he added.

The minister said digital defence, the latest pillar of Total Defence, was a timely and necessary addition as dealing with the virus outbreak has shown.

False information about the disease or messages to incite hatred against any group do much harm, he noted. "We must never let these 'drums' - distortions, rumours, untruths, misinformation and smears - be heard, lest they sow discord, divide our people and ultimately weaken our will to defeat the outbreak and defend Singapore."

Total Defence Day is commemorated on Feb 15 every year - the day Singapore fell to Japan in 1942, which was followed by 31/2 years of Japanese Occupation.

Digital defence was added last year as the sixth pillar of Total Defence. Economic, social, psychological, military and civil defence make up the other five pillars of Total Defence.

Dr Ng also said the country's civil and military defences are "in good working order".

He offered his condolences to families of victims who have suffered, and saluted front-line staff, such as doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who treat patients daily.

 
 

As Singapore marks Total Defence Day, he said he has every confidence Singaporeans will again rally and win the fight against the coronavirus. "If we maintain that resolve, with each Singaporean committed to doing their part, then Singapore can continue to be a shining example for many years to come."

In a Facebook post yesterday, President Halimah Yacob said this year's Total Defence has a poignant significance, as Singapore is currently dealing with a national and global health crisis.

"It is a timely reminder on the importance of strengthening our social and psychological defence to rally our nation together in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak," she wrote.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2020, with the headline 'Govt to work with unions to keep retrenchments to minimum'. Print Edition | Subscribe