SINGAPORE - For union leaders, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's words in his first May Day Rally speech sends a reassuring signal that ties forged decades ago between the ruling party and the labour movement are set to stay strong into the next generation.
"If you look at other countries, when leadership changes, a lot of times directions, affiliations and relationships change," said Ms K. Thanaletchimi, president of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union.
"In this case, the affirmation by our DPM is a strong signal that labour will be at the centre of all that the Government does."
Mr Abdul Samad, general secretary of the Union of Power and Gas Employees, added: "With DPM Heng giving that assurance to all union leaders today, that he... will stick with the labour movement - that gives an assurance and a light to all union leaders."
During his maiden May Day Rally speech at Downtown East on Wednesday (May 1), Mr Heng outlined how the "symbiotic relationship" between the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) goes back fifty years to a landmark seminar in 1969.
At the Modernisation Seminar, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke of the crucial nation-building role played by the labour movement.
On Wednesday, Mr Heng in turn pledged that this relationship, the hallmark of Singapore's brand of tripartism, will continue "into the 4G and beyond".
"NTUC backs the PAP because the PAP is pro-people. It has kept faith with the unions," he said. "And the PAP treasures its relationship with the NTUC because the NTUC is pro-worker. It remains committed to the self-respect of every working man and woman, and believes that the purpose of economic development is to improve the lives of all in the workforce.
"We strive for growth, in order to improve the lives of every Singaporean. The labour movement can be assured that the PAP will never abandon the working man and woman."
Union leaders said that they have already been working closely with the 4G leadership, especially since many of them were - or still are - involved in union work.
"The entire session felt like a renewal of vows," said Union of Security Employees general secretary Raymond Chin. "Most of the 4G leaders are not foreign to us; we've been working with them."
For example, his union's dialogue sessions are often attended by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs.
"We tell her what are the issues we face on the ground," he said. "That's quite positive and it gives us the feeling that 'Yes, we are doing this together'."