SINGAPORE - Workers have been shielded from the worst economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic because of substantial financial support from the Government, but there will likely be retrenchments and more difficult days ahead, said labour chief Ng Chee Meng.
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) remains prepared to support workers amid these challenging times by protecting every worker, preserving jobs for all, and providing care and support for those in need, he said in his National Day message on Monday (Aug 3).
"This year has been a year like no other. We are amidst great change and upheaval. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted Singapore and many countries economically and socially. The health risks are still at our doorstep," said Mr Ng, who is secretary-general of NTUC.
"Although the Government's substantial financial aid has shielded us from the very worst economic effects at the onset of the pandemic, we must be prepared for retrenchments, cutbacks, and more difficult days ahead."
He also thanked front-line workers, who have stepped up to protect communities and keep Singapore going, for their selfless dedication.
Mr Ng said NTUC is working with companies to preserve jobs by first exploring all cost-cutting options.
"I trust that both unions and employers will approach these exercises with transparency and in mutual good faith," he said.
He urged employers to consider seconding workers to sectors that are still hiring, so as to preserve their own manpower capabilities while keeping workers employed.
Employers in industries that can still train up workers can tap the enhanced Union Training Assistance Programme and the NETF (NTUC-Education and Training Fund) Collaborative Fund, he added.
Where retrenchment is unavoidable, the top priority is to ensure that companies treat workers fairly and with dignity, according to the Fair Retrenchment Framework that NTUC proposed in July, said Mr Ng.
Among other things, the framework includes protecting the Singaporean core of the workforce while foreigners with special or critical skills could be retained as well.
Mr Ng said that unions, together with NTUC's Job Security Council and Employment and Employability Institute, will do their best to match affected workers to jobs and ensure they receive training as needed for them to take on new jobs.
He had highlighted an unfair retrenchment exercise in a Facebook post last week, saying that three unions were given the green light to go on strike, if necessary, to prevent aircraft maintenance firm Eagle Services Asia from going ahead with planned retrenchments of more than 140 workers unilaterally.
Industrial action was averted in the end after the employer corrected its retrenchment process and reached an amicable agreement with the unions.
Mr Ng also said in his message on Monday that NTUC is mobilising its network to support the Government in creating new jobs and traineeships for young and old Singaporeans.
NTUC will press on with digital transformation and innovations in its union, membership and training models so that it can represent workers well and be relevant to them, he said.
He noted that this comes as Covid-19 has magnified global uncertainties and accelerated the shift towards new ways of working and doing business.
Mr Ng called on employers and the Government to continue working with the labour movement "in the spirit of shared responsibility and common understanding, to ensure that we pull through this crisis together".
Wishing workers a happy National Day, he concluded: "Now, more than ever, Singaporeans must unite. NTUC promises to work together with you to emerge stronger and build a Singapore that we can be proud to call home."