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07 Jul 2021
6 mins
109th Session of the International Labour Conference

The 109th International Labour Conference session was held virtually for the first time in its history from 3 to 19 June 2021.

ILO DG Guy Ryder
(Photo Credits:

Mr Guy Ryder, ILO Director General, opened the conference by touching on the devastating effects that the pandemic has had on the world’s labour force, and distilling lessons learnt from the pandemic on work. Points included how ILO’s system was ill-prepared for the pandemic, and how it has worsened and widened the gap of the already present issues of inequality. He highlighted that the global crisis has emphasised the need for multilateral cooperation, and proposed that the world can do things differently in areas of handling technology, allocation of resources, and reassessing social priorities and values.

He also cited the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work adopted in 2019, as an agreed and highly-valued roadmap implemented with the context of COVID-19 to guide efforts towards recovery.

Ms Mary Liew
Ms Mary Liew delivering her speech at the Opening Plenary

Ms Mary Liew, President of NTUC and also ILO Deputy Governing Body member, delivered her speech on 7 June 2021. She highlighted demographics that were severely affected by the pandemic, and how through tripartite efforts, key essential workers in healthcare, cleaning and transport sectors including seafarers were amongst the first in Singapore to receive free vaccinations. For freelancers and self-employed workers who lost their sources of income due to the pandemic, NTUC reached out by ensuring they received financial relief from both the government and NTUC, and enhancing their working conditions through better representation.

Outlining the help that the Singapore NTUC has extended to workers in Singapore, Ms Mary Liew stated examples including addressing mental wellness in the new norm, and the support for training through funding and the formation of Company Training Committees (CTCs) to future-proof the workforce. As companies undergo transformation to remain relevant post-pandemic, NTUC has also been working closely with the government to ensure that adequate support is provided to workers to reskill and upskill. More support was also extended by NTUC under the Union Training Assistance Programme (UTAP) to help co-fund training courses for workers.

She also shared that at the onset of the pandemic, the labour movement worked with tripartite partners to ensure that companies are able to redesign jobs and redeploy workers in hard-hit sectors to other sectors so as to cut costs and save jobs. Ms Mary Liew assured Singapore’s tripartite partners’ commitment to prepare and help workers to look to the future of work with confidence to emerge stronger.

Dr Tan See Leng
Dr Tan See Leng delivering his Plenary Speech

On the 16 June 2021, Minister for Manpower, Dr Tan See Leng, delivered his speech at the conference.

He shared that Singapore welcomes the ILO’s call for a global response for a human centered recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining three key areas that Singapore will be focusing on in its recovery.

The first is ‘Inclusive Recovery’ which Singapore committed by setting aside US$75 billion to help workers and businesses. The Job Support Scheme has helped the majority of Singapore’s workforce by offsetting wages to save jobs of over 2 million workers from more than 150,000 firms. Close to 200,000 self-employed workers have also received income relief payouts, while the Government has also worked to cover low-wage workers from all sectors with progressive wages and upgrading of their skills. Finally, the Singapore Government has provided levy waivers and rebates for employers to retain migrant workers and protect their livelihood.

Secondly – ‘A Resilient and Adaptable Workforce’. Singapore tripartite partners have been working together to help job seekers affected by the pandemic gain industry-relevant experience in key growth sectors. Through the SGUnited Jobs & Skills initiative, nearly 93,000 workers were able to find new opportunities in new job and skill placements as at the end of February 2021. The Jobs Growth Incentive also encouraged hiring in growth sectors through the provision of wage offsets to employers. Mr Tan also said that the tripartite partners have drawn up 23 industry transformation maps covering 80% of Singapore economy to adapt to long-term structural economic shifts. This will guide employers to seize opportunities in the future economy and prepare workers for future jobs through upskilling.

Thirdly, is a ‘Sustainable Approach to ensure safe and decent work for all’. The Singapore Government has implemented safe management measures that enable a safer return to workplaces. Mr Tan spoke on the prioritisation of workers’ mental well-being through a digital tool to help employers identify employees’ areas of stress, and a tripartite advisory on mental well-being at workplaces. Project DAWN, a partnership with several non-governmental organisations, formed a taskforce to improve awareness and mental health assistance to migrant workers.

Mr Tan called back to Ms Mary Liew’s speech on how the Singapore tripartite partners are collectively preparing workers and businesses to look to the Future of Work with confidence and to emerge stronger from the pandemic. He added on to say that Singapore will support the region’s preparations in answering the ILO’s call to work for a brighter future through our regional center for the future of work.

A virtual Meeting with Singapore Tripartite Partners and ILO Director General

Virtual Meeting with ILO DG

Despite the virtual nature of this year’s conference, Singapore tripartite delegation continued the practice of calling on DG Mr Guy Ryder on the side of the International Labour Conference. At the meeting, tripartite partners shared on the impact of the pandemic and how they committed to help workers and businesses emerge stronger from the situation. If the situation requires more support, tripartite partners were also prepared to go further in this fight against COVID-19.

Ms Mary Liew took the opportunity to share on the various initiatives that the Singapore Labour Movement had been embarking on to help workers overcome challenges from the pandemic. She shared on the Fair Retrenchment Framework, Job Security Council, Company Training Committees and Operation and Technology Roadmaps, U-Care Fund, and Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS). She also communicated her thanks on behalf of tripartite partners to Mr Guy Ryder for his support for seafarers as key workers on Singapore’s effort on Crew Change and on the Singapore Shipping Tripartite Alliance Resilience (SG-STAR) Fund.

Finally in closing, tripartite partners expressed that they looked forward to hosting the ILO Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting in 2022, and meeting Mr Guy Ryder in person at the event in Singapore.