7 things about PM Lee Hsien Loong's May Day rally speech

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posing for a photo at the May Day rally. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his speech at the May Day rally. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Mr Lee taking a wefie at the May Day rally.

SINGAPORE - Workers are living in a "time of change", but the Government and labour movement are helping them meet the challenges head-on, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his May Day rally speech on Sunday (May 1).

Here are seven things that stood out in the speech delivered before unionists at D'Marquee in Downtown East.

1. Gloom and doom - but also bright spots

PSA's Tanjong Pagar Terminal. PHOTO: ST FILE

The global economy has slowed and things aren't so great either in Singapore.

One worrying example: A port workers' unionist told Mr Lee there was one day when, for two shifts out of three, PSA's Tanjong Pagar Terminal did not receive a single ship.

But other sectors aren't in a bad shape. Information and communications technology, finance, insurance and health are among those doing well.

And while growth will be slower this year, it will still be positive.

The unemployment rate remains low in Singapore and there are still more jobs than job seekers. This is different from other countries which face a shortage of jobs, rather than workers.

2. Three areas of big change

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  • Industries are changing - New business models are disrupting existing ones.
  • Jobs are changing - New jobs are being created to meet emerging industries, while old jobs are being lost. Jobs are also being lost because of technology and offshoring to countries with lower costs.
  • Workforce is changing - there are now more PMETs.

3. Tackling the "disruptors"

A user browsing the Airbnb site on a tablet. PHOTO: AFP

The likes of Taobao, Airbnb and Uber are here to stay, like them or not.

Their new business models have disrupted existing ones, but they have also improved the lives of consumers.

The Government's approach is this: One, ensure there are measures so these new players compete fairly with the existing players, and, two, help industries and companies compete better by supporting them as they transform.

Mr Lee also threw existing players this challenge: Be the disruptor yourself.

"If they are creative and bold, even help them to find new models and processes to out-compete others," he said of what the authorities can do.

"Be the disruptor. And if we can do this industry transformation, it's not just the businesses and consumers who benefit, but the workers in those businesses."

4. There's no escaping it - workers must upgrade and reskill

They must, because the type of jobs available in the market are changing.

Even companies that are investing in Singapore are now of a different nature, like REC, a solar energy company, that opened a plant in Tuas.

The government already has several programmes to help workers reskill and upskill.

A new one coming up will help PMETs upgrade at a university.

The Government is pledging a $150 million contribution to the NTUC Education and Training Fund if the NTUC raises $50 million.

NTUC will use the money to tie up with higher education institutes to help workers - among them PMETs - learn new skills in growth areas, training some 30,000 workers each year. NTUC will partner Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to start part-time courses in August in areas like data analysis and digital electronics.

5. The rise of PMETs

The ratio of PMETs in Singapore's workforce, which currently stands at 54 per cent, is expected to soar to two-thirds by 2030.

And Mr Lee reckons it is time NTUC breaks out of its blue collar worker mould to expand its services and think about providing career counselling, networking and skills upgrading for PMETs.

Urging employers to be bolder, he said: "Do not believe that if the labour movement leaves your PMETs alone, you will be able to manage them more directly and easily."

6. Unemployment insurance not a good idea

Unemployment insurance, in Mr Lee's own words, translates to a worker paying out of his salary to subsidise his own unemployment.

So why not take advantage of the schemes - paid for by the Government - to get yourself employed instead of staying unemployed? "Please support us and upgrade yourself, make yourself employable," he said.

The Government, he shared, also has other measures to help workers displaced by restructuring.

Among them is the Career Support Programme for PMETs who are retrenched mid-career. The programme defrays the cost of hiring these workers for a year. So far, 200 older PMETs have been helped over the last five months, with half securing employment.

7. Singapore's unique model

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on stage with ministers and unionists at the May Day rally. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

"Only in Singapore, you have a Government that is on the side of the workers. But also one that helps businesses to transform and become more competitive," said Mr Lee.

"Only in Singapore, we have a dynamic and constructive labour movement, that not only says it believes in tripartism, but practises it. In many countries, union leaders, Government and business leaders cannot be in the same room."

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