As part of an NTUC-organised tripartite dialogue with union leaders, Government representatives and management partners at the NTUC Centre, the Forward Singapore exercise was also launched by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong.
Opening the session, NTUC President Ms Mary Liew welcomed DPM Wong, Tripartite partners, and participants from the management and the Labour Movement family. She spoke on global developments and their effects on Singapore’s economy and its workers. Stressing on the importance of the Labour Movement’s attention to rapid transformation and pressures on the Singapore workforce, Ms Mary Liew said, “We must ensure we never lose our pioneering spirit in championing the interests of workers in this new environment, something that Brother Chee Meng has constantly emphasised.”
The Forward Singapore exercise will be led by DPM Wong, consisting of six pillars headed by his team of fourth-generation (4G) leaders in areas such as jobs, housing and health. This exercise seeks to understand the concerns of Singaporeans, listen to their feedback and explore various policy trade-offs, before updating the policies. This is to ensure a collective progression of Singapore as a whole before moving forward amid future challenges.
Singapore’s social compact is a shared understanding of how everyone in society relates to one another. As part of the exercise, DPM Wong spoke of the need to refresh Singapore’s social compact to stay relevant in a changing world.
Inclusivity for All
“A successful society rests on a broad foundation of human capital; it does not place all its hopes on a thin sliver of genius. Singapore must be the kind of place that has room for everyone; in this lies the hope of its continued economic success and social revitalisation.”
In his speech, DPM Wong highlighted that the Forward Singapore exercise will be one which will engage a “wide range of citizens from various ages and backgrounds” because he wants “Singapore to always be a country for all citizens, not just a few”. While refreshing the social compact, DPM Wong reiterated the need to engage citizens to hear their ideas and opinions. In doing so, it will help to ensure “fairness” in the revised social compact, which in turn helps to foster trust and strengthen Singapore’s social capital.
The LM dialogue was then opened with NTUC President, Sister Mary Liew who moderated the discussion session.
NTUC Secretary-General (Sec-Gen) Ng Chee Meng also spoke at the dialogue, sharing about NTUC’s intent to refresh the social compact for workers. He shared about NTUC’s plans to roll out a larger-scale series of engagements and how NTUC will be the representative of the working people of Singapore in order to help them co-create the future that they want – this as part of the contributions to the Forward Singapore exercise.
Striking a Balance
However, as Singapore moves to refresh and strengthen its social compact in greater assurance and protection for vulnerable segments of society, it needs to address the issue of how far society as a whole is willing to go.
In relation to the outcome of a poll conducted at the event on the topic of higher taxes for more welfare, Sister Mary shared about an exchange with a Norwegian who shared about his experience and willingness to contribute almost two-thirds of his income to taxes. He felt it was the people’s responsibility to contribute and look out for the less fortunate, especially when they have the ability to do so, as one day they too may in turn need the state’s welfare. A meaningful discussion was then exchanged, with DPM Wong shared that it is important to strike a balance when implementing social welfare policies so that the end result is not society becoming worse off. This sentiment was also shared by NTUC Sec-Gen Ng who also highlighted that welfare and taxation policies should be implemented with consideration for the trade-offs that might arise between welfare and society’s dynamism.
At the dialogue, topics of concern were raised by youth and union leaders on how companies can become more sustainable to how the government would help Singaporeans deal with foreign competition. In this regard, Young NTUC Service Sector Chairperson and Young SMOU Chairman, Dominic Yong also posed a question to DPM Wong asking about the plans that will be rolled out to engage the youth in order to strengthen the social compact collectively.
In response to these concerns, DPM Wong reiterated the need for Singaporeans to embrace challenges by equipping themselves with that mindset – doing so would be key to the whole of Singapore’s success. “Singapore has always faced challenges from the day we became a nation. In some ways, the challenges are a very powerful motivator for us to keep doing better. That is what the Singapore Story has been about – transform our challenges into our strengths,” he said.
Moving forward, as Singapore advances against a global backdrop of fraying social compacts, spiralling prices and protracted conflict, there is a need for leaders to also adapt their leadership style.
On this point, DPM Wong promised to not just lead, but to serve Singapore and to continue to help all Singaporeans succeed in this next phase of development.
The journey to take Singapore forward will not be easy but DPM Wong urged all Singaporeans to participate in the exercise with “open minds and big hearts” whilst being “willing to give and take” when negotiating complex trade-offs so that Singaporeans can reach where they want to be, “stronger and more united than where (they) started.”
As the nation writes its next chapter, the labour movement will support the Forward Singapore exercise by engaging Singaporeans on the ground through a series of conversations with the youth and our workers. As it has always been, NTUC will continue to collaborate with the Government for the betterment and future of Singapore and its people.