Labour movement must transform itself to tackle job challenges: DPM Heng Swee Keat

DPM Heng Swee Keat at NTUC's Ordinary Delegates’ Conference at Resorts World Sentosa on Nov 17, 2021.
DPM Heng Swee Keat at NTUC's Ordinary Delegates’ Conference at Resorts World Sentosa on Nov 17, 2021.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The labour movement will have to transform itself to tackle present and future concerns about jobs, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Nov 17).

It must work more directly with companies to transform their businesses so that their workers can succeed, he said.

And as the labour market changes, it should serve more workers by expanding its outreach and addressing workers' lifelong needs holistically.

The labour movement will also need to garner broader support from Singaporeans, he added.

Mr Heng was addressing unionists, tripartite partners and other guests at NTUC's Ordinary Delegates' Conference.

The one-day conference aimed to review the labour movement's progress in supporting members and workers since its previous edition in 2019.

About 750 people attended online while 500 were physically present at Resorts World Sentosa. 

Those who attended physically had to adhere to safe management measures such as pre-event testing regardless of vaccination status, and keeping their masks on throughout the event. They also kept to tables of five with no intermingling between tables or zones.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said that since 2019, the trade union has done "good and practical work that brings real difference to workers".

Citing some examples, he noted that NTUC has called for retirement and re-employment ages to be raised, as well as for improvements to Central Provident Fund contributions to proceed despite challenges amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The union has also played a role in expanding the progressive wage model to new sectors, including waste management, retail as well as food and beverage.

Mr Heng said the labour movement can make an even greater impact by taking collaboration to the next level. 

“You can become partners in transformation, working together with employers and the Government,” he said.

Noting that the movement has “expanded beyond the traditional employer-employee nexus”, Mr Heng added: “You have taken on a larger role in shaping our economy and our future, whilst continuing to be a strong champion for workers.”

The tripartite partners - comprising NTUC, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the Ministry of Manpower - on Wednesday launched an online learning app that provides on-the-go and bite-sized content for training and upskilling.

Mr Heng noted that the learning needs of workers have evolved, with more looking beyond job-specific training.

"They want to learn and develop more broadly, and they have more diverse interests," he said.

"The way we learn has also evolved. Most of us have got used to going about many aspects of our daily lives online by now, including digital learning. Learning has also become more interactive and more modular," he added, urging workers to make use of the new app.


(From left) SNEF president Robert Yap, NTUC president Mary Liew, DPM Heng Swee Keat, NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng at the NTUC Ordinary Delegates’ Conference. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SNEF president Robert Yap said the push for workers' skills upgrading through the new app will complement companies' efforts to stay nimble and navigate the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"(Companies) are eager to review, rethink and reset their business strategies and operations to recover and grow," Dr Yap said.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng added: "As our economy restructures and recovers from Covid-19, our workforce needs to develop the right skills to meet the changing needs of industries and businesses.

"This requires a tripartite effort to reskill and upskill our workers."