Coronavirus pandemic: May Day

PM Lee pledges help for firms, workers to adapt to new normal

During the circuit breaker period, workers have learnt to telecommute and work with others virtually.
During the circuit breaker period, workers have learnt to telecommute and work with others virtually.PHOTO: ST FILE

S'pore will face greater challenge than most but there will be opportunities too, he says

Singapore faces a greater challenge than most others, given it is small and so open to the world, as the coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changes the way the global economy works.

But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged yesterday to help companies adapt to the new operating environment and retrain workers for the new jobs that will become available.

Singapore will also find ways to buffer freelancers against economic volatility, he said, adding in his annual May Day speech: "We will not be able to save every job. But we will look after every worker."

On the global stage, the aftermath of the pandemic will likely see more restrictions on the movement of goods and people, PM Lee said. Countries will strive to rely less on imports for food and essential items, such as medicine and face masks.

This will have major implications for global trade and investment and Singapore, in turn, will face greater challenges because it is so small and globalised.

Some industries will be disrupted permanently and some jobs will simply disappear, PM Lee said. Companies will have to change their business models to survive, and workers whose jobs no longer exist will have to reskill and move to new sectors.

Yet these changes will bring about opportunities, he added.

During the circuit breaker period, workers have learnt to telecommute and work with others virtually, while students have got used to online learning. In addition, more people are buying things online and making e-payments.

"We will not go back to status quo ante, after the circuit breaker ends," PM Lee said. "And that will mean opportunities in these new ways of doing things."

At present, industries such as medical services, biotech, food production and delivery and information technology are growing. Many firms in these sectors are seeing stronger demand and hiring more people, he said.

"We have capabilities in some of these new and growing sectors. Other industries will be new to us, and we will have to build up our expertise and workforce."

The Government will scale up SkillsFuture programmes to train workers on a large scale. The National Trades Union Congress has also set up a job council to help train and match displaced workers with new job opportunities.

Singapore's small size poses a challenge but also allows the country to be nimble, PM Lee said.

 
 

"Most importantly, we have what it takes to succeed. We have experienced economic restructuring before, having done it more than once to get here," he added.

The country also has the resources to support businesses, invest in its workforce, and take care of its people.

On top of that, the tripartite partnership between employers, the Government and the labour movement means that the country works together as a nation and leaves no one behind, PM Lee said. "This is why we have taken unprecedented steps to draw upon our reserves, in order to forestall retrenchments and support the low income."

 
 
 

The Government has set aside $60 billion to help Singaporeans through the crisis, part of which has been funded by tapping the national reserves.

Unlike many other governments, Singapore has not had to resort to borrowing to provide this support, PM Lee said. "This crisis is indeed a reminder for us to be prudent and frugal, to build up our reserves in peacetime, so that in truly difficult times, we will have something extra to fall back on."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2020, with the headline 'PM Lee pledges help for firms, workers to adapt to new normal'. Print Edition | Subscribe