Key NWC figures to share their views

Tripartite leaders to discuss wage issues at next Pioneering The Future forum

In his 29 years as founding chairman of the National Wages Council (NWC), economist Lim Chong Yah faced the occasional doubter who questioned if he might favour one party over another in their negotiations for fairer pay.

Professor Lim, 84, recalled: "I was a completely neutral chairman. But sometimes, employers said, 'I think you are too pro-labour movement.' And the Government would say, 'You should be more pro-government.' "

This prompted The Straits Times' (ST) editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang to note in a recent meeting with Prof Lim: "If both parties were not happy with you, you must be doing okay."

They were referring to the unique collaboration here among the Government, employers and workers.

Called tripartism, it is an improbable relationship as each of the three has, on the surface, different and sometimes opposing interests. For example, employers are always keen to keep labour costs low, while workers expect wage increases yearly, even if their employers are not doing well.

Prof Lim will be among three stalwarts of this collaboration to discuss its past, present and future on Feb 26 at The Arts House. It is the third of six forums moderated by Mr Han in the ongoing Pioneering The Future series, run by the EDB Society and ST.

Joining them will be Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who is also the former labour chief, and current Singapore Airlines chairman Stephen Lee, who was for many years president of the Singapore National Employers Federation.

Mr Lim, in particular, will spend some time talking about why tripartism has worked in Singapore, and how the relationship might change in future.

The NWC was set up in February 1972 to set guidelines for wage adjustments by studying the Singapore economy, discussing its outlook with the three parties and then recommending by how much wages should go up in any given year.

Among many issues, the speakers will discuss with an audience of EDB Society members and ST readers how to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots, whether or not to raise the retirement age further, and how the changing world of work will affect wages.

Financial literacy trainer Josephine Ng, 44, is looking forward to the forum, having enjoyed the previous session on Jan 15, which was anchored by former chief planner Liu Thai Ker and founding Singapore Airlines chairman J. Y. Pillay.

She said of that full-house session: "It was fantastic to meet and listen to them. Such an opportunity is difficult to come by as they are such busy people, holding important positions. So for them to give us two hours of their time is quite special."

Business consultant Lim Choon Seng, 68, who attended the first two Pioneering forums, said of the same session: "I got such intriguing insights into why certain things are done, or not done, in Singapore. For example, Mr Liu said that we do not really need air-conditioning if our town planners worked towards creating wind tunnels in our estates. I hadn't realised that until he pointed it out."

More insights are in store on Feb 26. Prof Lim said: "If you ask me a provocative question, I will give you a provocative answer."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2016, with the headline 'Key NWC figures to share their views'. Print Edition | Subscribe