SINGAPORE - The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on jobs would have been worse if not for the strong three-way partnership between the government, unions and employers, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in her May Day Message on Tuesday (April 27).
The tripartite partnership allowed the swift implementation of measures to cut costs and save jobs, she added.
In particular, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) exemplified the value of "constructive unionism" as it had in past crises, calling on employers and workers to rally together to sustain businesses and save jobs, said Mrs Teo.
"Where employers have exhausted ways of cutting business costs in other areas, the unions worked with employers on necessary measures to manage excess manpower, including wage cuts necessary to avoid retrenchments," she noted.
"Employers too helped to preserve jobs and maintain a strong Singaporean core even if they had to restructure."
Mrs Teo said NTUC also launched the NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19) to provide a one-off $300 financial assistance to distressed union members.
For self-employed persons, NTUC launched a training fund to provide them with an allowance while they underwent skills courses. It also administered the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme.
"These initiatives, together with NTUC's ability to work closely with unions, workers, employers and the Government to implement changes quickly, helped cushion the impact of the crisis," added Mrs Teo.
Singapore is fortunate that this "strong spirit of tripartism" complemented the Government's efforts to cushion the impact of the pandemic, she said.
"We have seen how it was not straightforward for countries to get tripartite consensus on crisis measures," said the minister.
"For instance, in France, unions called for a nationwide strike to denounce the French government's pandemic response, disrupting essential services for many citizens."
Going forward, Mrs Teo said the Government must always seek to be pro-worker and pro-business at the same time, to strengthen Singapore's tripartism.
It is also in everyone's interest to identify opportunities that will help both businesses and workers emerge stronger from the crisis, such as expanding the coverage of the Progressive Wage Model for more essential workers, she added.
NTUC, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, has continued to champion worker causes through updated approaches, said Mrs Teo.
For example, its Job Security Council leverages on the labour movement's networks to help those displaced from work to find new jobs quickly. NTUC's Company Training Committees have also helped bridge reskilling efforts for workers and business transformation plans, she added.
"Together with employers and the Government, NTUC is building a more resilient workforce that is ready for the future," she said.
Keep workplace safety a priority: SNEF
Employers must continue to stay vigilant and keep workplace safety and health as one of their priorities, amid a spike in workplace incidents earlier this year, said Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Robert Yap.
In his May Day message, Dr Yap said workplace safety and health are an integral part of the safe reopening of the Singapore economy.
He also urged employers take the opportunity to transform their business, as the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies.
To do so, employers must identify new capabilities that will be needed for future jobs, while engaging their employees and unions to prepare them for changes.
"Employers should proactively invest in the training of their employees to meet their skills demand," said Dr Yap.
Meanwhile, workers must also adopt a growth mindset by embracing lifelong learning, being resilient amid constant changes and taking ownership of their career development, he added.
"Workers must continue to upskill and reskill so that they can remain relevant and grow in their career," he said.
Dr Yap also noted that SNEF has been working with the Ministry of Manpower and NTUC to enable employers to implement progressive and inclusive employment practices.
For example, NTUC and SNEF formed a PME (Professionals, Managers and Executives) Taskforce last October to enhance the employability of PMEs and build a strong Singaporean core.
SNEF is also part of the Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers, which is coming up with recommendations on improving the wages and working conditions of lower-wage workers.
"SNEF looks forward to strengthen and deepen this strong tripartite partnership to prepare both employers and workers for the post-Covid-19 economy to emerge stronger together," said Dr Yap.