President Halimah Yacob spoke to union leaders from the National Trades Union Congress via video conference yesterday as part of her ongoing community engagement efforts.
She told reporters in a virtual interview after the session that she wanted to hear from unionists representing workers on the ground, especially those from sectors that have been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, such as the food and beverage, retail and tourism sectors.
Here are edited excerpts from her remarks to the media.
Q Are there areas where the unionists felt support measures have not been sufficient?
A The manufacturing sector hopes that we can do a lot more to get workers locally because they have seen a disruption in the supply of workers coming from Malaysia, for instance.
The question is whether we could do something there... perhaps there are already existing programmes that are not well utilised.
It is not easy to get our students from the Institute of Technical Education, for instance, to go and work in the factories. Perhaps we should take a fresh look at this.
Other than that, they did not raise specific areas that they felt were not covered.
Of course, they all hope the wage subsidies can go on for as long as possible. I will leave it to the Government to decide how long we can sustain the 75 per cent wage subsidy under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS).
Q Did the unionists bring up concerns about workers losing their jobs?
A Retrenchments, at some point, will be inevitable.
What the JSS has done is help companies keep jobs because of the high wage subsidy, but beyond that, it is also a question of whether the business is viable.
The question is, what can be done to help workers who are retrenched, channel them to the sectors where they are needed, and to retrain and reskill them?
Workers must also be prepared to adapt.
There will be a significantly larger number of workers working from home, and that is not a bad thing. In the past, we tried doing this, but it was not successful. Now, it seems to be working.
There are important shifts taking place, and workers are right to be concerned and ask for support in transitioning to new workplaces.
Q Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called Covid-19 the challenge of this generation. How is this generation standing up to the challenge?
A I have no doubt that our people have really stepped up to the challenge in two areas: resilience and compassion.
Our people have been hit with rules on social distancing, and during the circuit breaker period, we had to completely change the way we work and live.
You can't visit your family, you can't go out any time you like.
We are a very urban society, used to moving about all the time, so given these restrictions that have been imposed, our people have been very resilient.
They are complying with all the social distancing and circuit breaker rules, and they have been very good.
We understand that it is not just the Government, health authorities and agencies but also our own individual effort to keep ourselves, our families and the community safe.
On compassion, I am very happy to see how many people have come forward to support so many different initiatives, both Covid-19-related and non-Covid-19-related. Companies have also come forward.
There are many cases of compassion being shown in our community and people doing their best to support each other.