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13 Jun 2023
8 mins
May Day Celebrated in a Sea of Solidarity

Some 1,400 Labour Movement leaders, including SMOU representatives, workers and tripartite partners, gathered at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre to celebrate Labour Day on 1 May 2023.

Hosted by NTUC President Mary Liew, NTUC Secretary-General (SG) Ng Chee Meng and NTUC Central Committee Members, the rally was the first time everyone could come together in a full physical setting since 2019, marking an even more memorable May Day.

The presence of Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong, with Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong as the special guest and keynote speaker at the May Day Rally displayed the solidarity of the Labour Movement, tripartite partners and the People’s Action Party.

During the rally, in one voice led by NTUC President Mary Liew, the Labour Movement spoke forth its resolution reaffirming its commitment to champion workers’ interests and refresh its compact with workers.

In her speech, Sister Mary also paid tribute to Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. Describing the late Brother Lee as “one of the greatest leaders of our time”, she highlighted that “Brother Lee’s unwavering commitment to hard work, discipline, and perseverance has left an indelible mark on our society, especially on our workers. He gave us our self-respect, our pride, our dignity.”

“To the labour movement, he will always be the Father of our nation, and a Brother to our workers,” she added.

To show appreciation to Brother Lee Kuan Yew and his team of leaders and workers, Sister Mary presented a special song via a Thank You video by the children from MyFirstSkool.    

In the joint May Day Message, Ms Liew and Mr Ng pointed out that “the good relationship with the tripartite partners would not be possible without the strength of our union leaders”.

“They hold and move the ground. With them, plans turn into action. They lead the way and set an example for all workers to follow,” Ms Liew and Mr Ng highlighted.

The NTUC leaders also acknowledged the Government’s “much-needed support” to the work of the Labour Movement. “It led our country out of the pandemic and puts its weight behind initiatives that support our workers and businesses,” they said.

“The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and our employer partners have also worked hand-in-hand with NTUC to protect workers during challenging business conditions.”

To ensure the value of workers, NTUC called on employees to work with them through the Company Training Committees (CTC) and Operation and Technology Roadmap, to transform business and train workers. To date, 1,300 CTCs have equipped over 100,000workers with skills to secure better wages and work prospects.

“More workers must benefit from this,” Ms Liew and Mr Ng underscored.

The Labour Movement also stands by the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to help uplift the wages of our lower-wage sisters and brothers.

Every worker, from self-employed and tradesmen to PMEs, from women and older workers to youth, “has the right to job security and protection. Regardless of your profession, age or nationality, your interests are our interests”.

We will always have your back, says DPM Wong

“Come what may, we will always be there with you, for you. We will always have your back.” said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, as he delivered his first keynote speech at the May Day Rally 2023. 

Amid troubling global economic uncertainties and geopolitical tensions, Brother Lawrence made a promise that he and his 4G team are fully committed to looking after workers and helping them earn a better living.

They will do this by working closely with the Labour Movement and will continue to work closely with them to secure sustained growth and good jobs for all workers.

Pointing to the Labour Movement’s conviction that ‘jobs are the best form of welfare’, he said that the Government is reviewing its Forward Singapore initiative, to study how it can invest more in every worker to help them take ownership of their careers, to continuously reskill and upskill, and take up better jobs and opportunities throughout their working lives.

The Government will shift SkillsFuture to higher gear, to make skills training and lifelong learning a key pillar of its refreshed compact with workers.

He added that the Government will work to reduce the barriers to training and work closely with NTUC to support every worker in their journey of lifelong learning.

The Government will also be looking at the feedback gathered from NTUC’s #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations (#EWMC), They will study how it can uplift lower-wage workers; professionalise skilled trades; provide unemployment for those involuntarily put out of work; enable all workers to meet their retirement needs.

 “We’re looking into all of these issues, and working closely with NTUC on possible solutions, so that we can provide good jobs and opportunities, and better assurance to all workers.”

Tripartism – The Secret Formula

Brother Lawrence highlighted the importance of tripartism, calling it Singapore’s recipe and secret formula, its greatest and most sustainable competitive edge.  

Looking at what’s happening in so many other developed first-world nations, where industrial relations have broken down, he had this to say,

“Fortunately, Singapore is on the right track. We have a lot going for us.  Our tripartite approach ensures that Team Singapore has the best chance of overcoming challenges and seizing new opportunities. “

In his speech, Brother Lawrence spoke about the grim economic outlook and how to respond to the challenges.

In the midst of global trade developments, it will be harder for the country to grow its economy, create jobs and for every worker to earn a living.

Countries no longer seek win-win cooperation in trade; global foreign direct investmentflows will slow down, and become more concentrated amongst countries that are geopolitically aligned; advanced economies are pouring out massive subsidies to build up their own domestic production in strategic industries such as semi-conductors and clean energy.

He cited the example of Germany negotiating $10 billion with Intel to establish a semi-conductor plant in Eastern Germany.

“S$10 billion for just one project. S$10 bn is almost double what MTI will spend this year to grow our entire economy!”

“We cannot afford to outbid the big boys just to get MNCs to invest here – we just won’t have enough money to match the competition. But what we must have enough of are ingenuity and innovation – guts and gumption. That’s how we will prevail, even when the odds are stacked against us.”

PM Lee Affirms Labour Movement Key Role

In his 2023 May Day Message, PM Lee noted that Singapore’s GDP grew 3.6% last year, as the country emerges from the pandemic. He described the nation’s immediate economic prospects as ‘cautiously optimistic’.

Recognising external factors such as geopolitical tensions, risk of recessions in Western countries and new technologies disrupting economies around the world, Singapore must respond to these trends by adapting to them, he said. This means continually transforming industries, enhancing existing capabilities and building new ones is the way forward.

To this end, PM Lee commended the efforts by employers and unions on worker training and upgrading programmes.

He affirmed that a strong collaboration between tripartite partners is crucial. “The Labour Movement plays a key role.” An example was cited where during the pandemic, NTUC worked closely with employers and workers to implement wage-cutting measures to sustain businesses and save jobs. NTUC also set up a Job Security Council to redeploy workers from pandemic-hit sectors to other sectors needing manpower. Such efforts showed the importance of collaboration amongst tripartite partners and enabled Singapore to come through COVID-19 united as one.

“Our model of tripartism is unique and precious. As we move ahead in this difficult environment, let us reaffirm and nurture the spirit of tripartism. With each of us doing our part and all of us working together, I am confident that we will secure a brighter future for Singapore and Singaporeans.”

Refreshing NTUC’s compact with workers

In his May Day Rally opening speech, NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng shared the Labour Movement’s plans to refresh its compact with workers.

Since its launch in August last year, NTUC’s #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations (#EWMC) have reached out to more than 40,000 people through 130 in-person engagements and roving physical exhibitions which travelled nine locations around Singapore. NTUC intends to use the #EWMC initiatives to complement the Government’s Forward Singapore movement, aimed at refreshing Singapore’s social compact.

“In forging this social compact, NTUC aims to co-create an economically vibrant and inclusive Singapore, where every worker can have the dignity of making a good living and bettering their lives,” reiterated SG.

Following insights gleaned from NTUC’s #EWMC, Brother Chee Meng outlined three focus areas to improve workers’ lives.

  • Scale up current initiatives particularly Company Training Committees (CTCs). Redoubling efforts include setting up 2500 CTC by 2025 and driving Industry 4.0 transformation with employer partners.
  • Doing better for undeserved segments such as youth and PMEs. Youth Taskforce and NTUC Career Starter Lab pilot initiative to support youth with an enhanced career trial to smoothen the school-to-work transition. For PMEs, NTUC SG talked about supporting the effort to certify 12,000 HR practitioners with fair employment practices.
  • Continue to establish an NTUC innovation culture to support workers in a fast-paced world to “keep NTUC agile, adaptive and relevant to meet worker needs across all collars”.

“NTUC must build an innovation culture, develop the business strategies and implement decisively ― Dream, Dare, Do. We must embrace an innovation culture where we dare to try and sometimes fail. If we fail, we fail fast and we learn fast. Then we go out, try again, and move towards success,” he said.