SINGAPORE - The Government will pay special attention to lower-income groups as it leads Singapore though the Covid-19 crisis and helps its economy recover, pledged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Speaking at the biennial Peoples' Action Party conference on Sunday (Nov 8), Mr Lee also said that balancing the competition Singaporean workers face from foreigners in the labour market with the need for its economy to be open is also something leaders here will have to focus on.
He was speaking at the biennial PAP conference, where cadre members voted to elect the party's central executive committee (CEC), its top decision making body.
A big worry about the coronavirus pandemic is that it would undo years of progress made to level up low-wage workers, noted Mr Lee, adding that the Government will work to tackle inequality in Singapore's society.
"In Singapore, you may start off poor, but if you work hard, and do your best, you have a good chance of doing better in life. We must prevent low-income households from being disproportionately hit by Covid-19," he said.
This cannot be done through "glib slogans or half-baked proposals" but with practical support measures, he added. Mr Lee held up several of these measures, including the Progressive Wage Model, Workfare Income Supplement, and Silver Support, and said that the Government will develop new ways to help the low-income earners.
Mr Lee also acknowledged that Singaporean workers will need to feel reassured that the Government will help them hold their own against foreign competition. Failure to do so will give rise to a lot of "angst and social tension", he said.
But Singaporeans will also need to keep in mind that the best way to protect livelihoods and families is to keep Singapore open for talent and business.
Mr Lee cautioned: "If we just close ourselves up and send away the work pass holders, it will result in fewer jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, and more hardship for our workers and their families".
Singapore still remains a choice destination for investors to set up offices, factories and headquarters even during the pandemic and a depressed economic climate, he added.
He noted that Hyundai recently broke ground for its new innovation centre here.
The centre, said to be the first of its kind and which will be ready by 2022, will enable Hyundai to develop new automotive technologies, including for the production of electric vehicles. It expects to produce up to 30,000 vehicles per year by 2025.
Mr Lee pointed out that Singapore has considerable strengths: Its workforce is seen as one of the best in the world, its society is cohesive, its government is efficient and its politics is stable. These strengths make it a stable place to do business, even when the pandemic has made conditions tough for every country.
"The lesson is: Even when skies are grey, there are rays of light. And we must look for them, make the most of them, and through our own efforts, create even more promising chances for ourselves," he said.