To round up five days of debate on the President’s Address, in his closing speech, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay summed up speeches made by the various Members of Parliament along five key unifying themes, as outlined in President Halimah Yacob’s address.

He also highlighted suggestions put forth by members in these respective areas, and reiterated how unity will be key for Singapore to move forward.

Excerpts of the speech below.


#1 Sustainability - imperatives for change

First, sustainability in the midst of change. Change is necessary for moving forward, and this also requires us to change mindsets. In every crisis, there are also opportunities and we must tap on the COVID-19 crisis to transform and to emerge stronger than before. Our ability to work effectively together to transform the economy will determine how we come out from this storm.

By identifying new opportunities for growth, we will ensure the survival and success of Singapore, improve the lives of Singaporeans and build a sustainable ecosystem for many generations to come.

Some promising ideas mentioned by Members include environmental sustainability, smart commerce, supply chain digitalisation and industry 4.0. These new areas and business models will create new jobs and new ways of thinking. We need to stay positive and see these risks and challenges as opportunities to transform the way we do things.

Many Members have rightly pointed out, equipping the workforce with the right skills and more importantly, mindset, is crucial in driving this transformation. SkillsFuture, especially the additional support for older workers to reskill, upskill and the focus on skills over paper qualifications at the workplace, is a step in the right direction for our society.

I would also like to thank DPM Heng for his response to my opening speech on his support to further enhance our Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) to further develop our people and create more jobs for Singaporeans. As we review and formulate strategies for industries to transform and diversify, we will need to create an even stronger linkage in the form of skills maps, job redesign, job retraining, and re-skilling of our workers to take on these jobs.

#2 Securing jobs for Singaporeans

Second, securing jobs for Singaporeans. As highlighted by President and many Members, jobs remain the core priority for Singapore at this juncture and in the years ahead. The economic and social disruptions brought about by COVID-19, coupled with geopolitics and trade tensions have only served to heighten insecurities and anxieties about jobs for many segments of society.

Strengthening the Singaporean core

Strengthening our Singaporean Core is not, and must not be, something which divides us. I take heart that every call to strengthen our Singaporean Core made in these chambers has not been a call to divide, but one to unite.

I am heartened by Minister Josephine Teo’s announcement that MOM is reviewing and taking a close scrutiny of companies whose Singaporean Core has been weakening and that Minister Ong Ye Kung has shared that The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will ensure fair hiring opportunities while grooming Singaporeans as leaders and specialists in the financial sector.

In these uncertain times, it is ever more important for all employers to play their part in building up their Singaporean core and in circumstances where retrenchment is unavoidable and is the final option, and employers have to choose between a foreigner and Singaporean, I strongly urge employers to lean towards keeping the Singaporean.

For our country to remain on a sustainable path, I agree with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that Singapore cannot look inwards. We cannot close our doors to foreigners and foreign investments. More Singaporeans will be able to take up the opportunities that these foreign investments create. There is a need to bring in foreign manpower to supplement the local workforce and ensure the transferability of niche skills. Local companies, including SMEs will also need skillsets and expertise to grow their business.

Support for low-wage workers and older workers

As some of the job support measures will ease in the months ahead, there will be fewer job opportunities and perhaps even more retrenchments. More workers will be impacted and we will need to enable them to adjust and bounce back through this crisis and beyond. It will be especially tough for some groups of workers including low wage workers and older workers.

To continue to uplift our lower-wage workers, we will need to ensure that they acquire skills to progress. Not to forget the “Triple Uplift” formula of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) + Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) and of course, the National Wages Council (NWC) recommendations.

At the same time, we must not forget our older workers, who are generally more vulnerable and are at a higher risk of being retrenched. For this group, it will be harder for them to look for another equivalent job and more so, at the same pay. Retraining and upskilling older workers will enable employers to continue finding value in them and be less likely to make them redundant.

I appreciate the call to respond to older workers with “H-E-A-R-T”, which stands for H- Holding On to Jobs, E- Employment Assistance, A- Act Fairly, R- Relief, T-Tough it out and to redesign jobs, shift workplace culture and HR policies to institutionalise new possibilities for our maturing workforce. Government, businesses and citizens must work together and expand opportunities for our senior workforce. As mentioned by PM, the best unemployment insurance is, in fact, the assurance of another job.

#3 Social compact - building a fair and just society

As we negotiate through these stormy seas, we must not leave anyone behind. The digital disruption and economic transformation in the next normal and low touch economy, therefore, must be even more inclusive and further fortify social cohesion.

The new social compact must be practical, balancing the needs of Singaporeans in the areas of social security, affordable and quality housing, healthcare, education, public infrastructure and the environment with their aspirations and dreams.

To facilitate social mobility, I look forward to the Government’s continuous investment in our people with the necessary training and opportunities. As we deal with the major changes in the economy and labour market, it is important to strengthen our social safety nets and keep inequality in check.

There was also recognition of the trade-offs and sacrifices that women make in their careers to look after their children and to reduce the burden of caregiving.

Related to gender and poverty is a larger conversation about discrimination in our society. We need to expand our empathy to our minority’ communities. It is essential that we rise above our differences and find common ground. Harmony in diversity will always be a work in progress. We may not always agree, but we cannot let our disagreement turn into division. Diversity and Inclusion is an important area which we must hold dear and fast to.

#4 Strengthening our Singaporean identity

Fourth, strengthening our Singaporean Identity. It is the heart and spirit of Singapore which is embodied by the Singapore Tapestry – woven out of diversity and adversity. Its colours brightened by the idealism and energy of our youth.

To our youths and young people, we want to support you, for you to realise your dreams, to overcome the crisis of a generation by uniting with fellow Singaporeans, and leave behind a more beautiful and tightly knitted Tapestry as a legacy for generations of Singaporeans to come.

Deep trust and Mutual respect will need to form the basis of the relationship between fellow Singaporeans, earned through the help and sacrifices that we give one another. We need to maintain a profound respect and plurality in Singapore and find shared layers above this diversity. I hope we can continue to build a culture of openness and trust, and one in which the Government listens, consults and engages regularly and widely with all.

We need to continue to fight for a more caring, compassionate and inclusive society – one with a strong heart-ware. Given the upheaval caused by this pandemic, it is our hardware and software that will save lives and livelihoods. But it is about being inclusive and our heart-ware that will determine whether we will get through this pandemic as One People, One Nation and One Singapore.

#5 Evolving politics

Last but not least, Madam President shared that Singaporeans have new aspirations and expectations, including a desire for more diverse voices to be heard, and stronger checks and balances.

At the same time, new leaders are emerging to take Singapore forward. Moving forward, both the Government and the Opposition must share the common goal of working together to better Singapore for our people. We do this with dignity, respect, integrity, courage and grace. It is crucial to have constructive, rational debates to further the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans.

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