Tripartite model must always be stabilising force for Singapore: PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong stressed that the tripartite model must always be a stabilising and anchoring force for Singapore. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The labour movement worked with the Government and employers to provide vital support to workers and save jobs during the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the May Day Rally on Sunday (May 1), as he stressed that the three-way partnership must always be a stabilising and anchoring force for Singapore.

This tripartism is the result of Singapore's long history of collaborative trade unionism, and the deep trust that has been forged through successive crises, he noted.

He said: "It is our uniquely Singaporean way of conducting labour relations. Where Government, employers and unions are close partners, working together for a common cause, coming up with win-win solutions across many different issues over many decades.

"It is how we have come through uncertain times and crises in the past, and it is what we will continue to need, to remain united and successful in the future."

He added: "We must continually reaffirm the bonds, and sustain them from one generation to the next."

His remarks come amid renewed pledges by the National Trades Union Congress and the Government to renew the compact with workers.

Speaking to a packed hall of unionists, workers, employers and politicians at Downtown East, PM Lee said the tripartite partnership has made big contributions to both Singapore's economy and cohesion.

He cited several major policy changes that have involved tripartite partnerships.

The Progressive Wage Model, for instance, was proposed and developed by the labour movement, and the industry wage and skills ladder that sets out the minimum basic wages is now being expanded to cover more sectors and more lower-wage workers, he said.

The new points-based Complementarity Assessment Framework for approving employment passes also received valuable input from the labour movement, and will ensure that foreign professionals complement the local workforce, and local professionals, managers, executives and technicians can continue to compete fairly, he added.

"It will help us to stay open to talent and skills from the world, and thus create more opportunities for Singaporeans," he said.

Meanwhile, the labour movement also contributed to the long-term road map to raise the retirement and re-employment ages, and increase Central Provident Fund contribution rates for older workers, which will support those who want to continue working and save more for retirement, he added.

Remote video URL

PM Lee said Singapore has been pushing hard for digitalisation, automation, upskilling and training for many years, and this is why businesses and workers were not caught by surprise when the pandemic forced the changes upon the world.

"Even while the pandemic was raging, quite a few businesses were doing alright. That is why although some workers suffered pay cuts, overall, and after the safe management measures and circuit breaker, wages have increased and household incomes have risen in these past two years," he added.

He said that instances of unions working with management of companies to transform businesses do not happen in many places.

"This happens in very few countries, only in Singapore - and only thanks to the NTUC. This is tripartism in practice - a huge competitive advantage for Singapore," he added.

"I deeply appreciate the many contributions of the labour movement. It represents the interests of a broad range of workers, beyond the traditional rank and file. It helps bring Singaporeans together, so that people know they are not alone, and no one is left behind as our economy progresses."

PM Lee said that in Singapore, unions are good for business and businesses are good to unions too. He urged companies to nurture the partnership and encouraged more workers to join the labour movement, adding that this is "our best strategy to continue progressing together".

Agreeing with this sentiment, Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap described tripartism as Singapore's "secret weapon".

"It is not by chance that we are like that, actually. There is a lot of trust that has been built, a lot of socialising in the way for us to come up with the right policy decision so that we support each other's ideas, so that it is a win-win for everybody," he said.

"It is not the adversarial relationship (where) I win and then you lose."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.