SINGAPORE - The outlook for Singapore has brightened considerably compared with a year ago, with the global recession turning out to be less protracted than initially feared, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (April 30).
External trends support the Republic's economic recovery and justify confidence in its prospects, he noted in his May Day message to workers.
While Europe is still struggling with fresh waves of Covid-19 cases, the United States is expected to make a strong recovery this year on the back of a large stimulus package and good progress in vaccinating its population.
China's economy is also doing well, with hardly any cases in the country.
Back home, Singapore's unemployment rate is gradually coming down, PM Lee pointed out, and gross domestic product growth this year is likely to exceed 6 per cent, barring a setback to the global economy. This is beyond the 4 per cent to 6 per cent growth the Ministry of Trade and Industry had earlier forecast.
"This will bring us back to where we were before Covid-19 struck," he said.
Beyond this year, new opportunities are opening up, with the pandemic accelerating trends such as digitalisation, automation and sustainability across all sectors, said PM Lee, touching on the need to transform the economy for a different, post-Covid-19 world.
The Emerging Stronger Taskforce, set up to guide Singapore's economic recovery from the pandemic, has been busy working on this transformation.
PM Lee said: "Our workforce is becoming more diverse. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, mature workers and fresh graduates all face different employment challenges. Each group needs customised policies and solutions."
He highlighted how the National Trades Union Congress - which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year - has formed more than 600 company training committees to work with firms to identify capability gaps, co-create new jobs and train workers.
PM Lee commended the labour movement for maintaining its collaborative stance through the Covid-19 crisis.
"It persuaded workers to sacrifice today for the promise of a better tomorrow. Without this spirit of fighting Covid-19 together and never-say-die, we would not have come through our worst downturn since independence so lightly," he added.
Last year, when job losses became unavoidable, the unions ensured that retrenchments were carried out fairly and responsibly, PM Lee noted.
The NTUC's Job Security Council directly helped more than 28,000 workers find new jobs, as well as offered financial help through the NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19). NTUC also partnered the Government to implement the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, extending a crucial lifeline to the self-employed.
In his speech, PM Lee also touched on how Singapore's model of trade unionism and tripartism has been criticised, especially in the West.
"We have no reason to be defensive. Trade union membership has steadily declined in most Western societies. By contrast, union membership has risen consistently in Singapore, by dint of deliberate policy and unremitting effort," he said.
The labour movement has since grown from strength to strength, he said. "The verdict of history is clear: Tripartism and cooperation have been far more effective in securing workers' welfare and livelihoods than militancy and conflict."
Singapore's journey from Third World to First was not all smooth sailing, with the country facing many storms such as the 1973 oil crisis, the country's first major recession in 1985, and the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, outbreak in 2003.
"Each time, our tripartite model saw us through. Workers tightened belts, made sacrifices, and accepted pay cuts. Employers shared in the sacrifices, and did their best to save as many jobs as possible," said PM Lee, adding that the Government also offered its support to businesses and workers.
He said the guiding principle of tripartism has always been to stay united and progress together.
"This May Day, let us recommit ourselves to strengthening this partnership, and building a brighter future for Singapore for the next 60 years and beyond," said PM Lee.