In her May Day message on 29 April, Josephine Teo, Singapore's Minister for Manpower, stressed on the importance of raising the retirement and re-employment ages, making workplaces age-friendly, measures to tighten foreign workforce controls, and more.

She affirmed that reaching a tripartite consensus to gradually raise the retirement age beyond 62 and the re-employment age beyond 67 is "a significant milestone". The Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers will provide its detailed recommendations later this year on how far and how fast these ages should be raised, as well as the CPF contribution rates for workers aged 55 and above.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will review the WorkPro and Special Employment Credit schemes to make workplaces more age-friendly.

While this is more on the longer-term, for the present-day, Minister Teo said: "Although the labour market performed better in 2018 – local employment grew strongly, unemployment and retrenchments were down, and wages rose – there are still workers seeking jobs or career advancement."

She added that "measures to tighten foreign workforce controls" will keep up the pace of restructuring, and nudge employers to improve job quality, even as technology changes the jobs landscape.

More on the jobs and skills landscape, she shared the impact of initiatives so far:

  • Last year, the Adapt and Grow initiative helped more than 30,000 workers take up new jobs, an increase of about 20% over 2017.
  • Nearly 5,000 people were reskilled and placed into new jobs through more than 100 Professional Conversion Programmes, with many getting wage increases.
  • SkillsFuture benefitted about 465,000 Singaporeans through lifelong learning in 2018.
  • Implementation of the 23 Industry Transformation Maps is underway.
  • The updated Progressive Wage Model (PWM) has benefitted more than 70,000 workers in the security, landscape and cleaning sectors. It will be extended to lift technicians over the next three years.
Minister Teo also explained about the 3W framework focusing on Workfare, Workright and Workcare to uplift low-wage workers:
  • The recently enhanced Workfare Income Supplement will boost the incomes of some 440,000 Singaporean workers by up to 30%.
  • Workright will help workers better understand key employment rights and ensure employers fulfil their obligations.
  • The Workcare initiative is the latest addition to enhance the welfare of low-wage workers such as the provision of rest areas, and promote greater appreciation of these workers by society.
To conclude she affirmed on Singapore's unique brand of tripartism: "Tripartism was and remains the biggest strength of Singapore in forging new paths for our workers. Let us re-commit to working together, as one united tripartite movement, to create a brighter future for our people, our businesses and our nation."

Tripartite partner Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF)'s President, Dr Robert Yap shared his May Day message on 26 April, where he emphasised on continuing to keep Singapore's labour market flexible so that companies can adapt quickly and stay competitive.

He stressed that companies, especially those in the service sector, will need to reduce reliance on foreign workers and innovate their operational processes.

"They should leverage on technology and new tools to enable our workers to work more efficiently so that they can do more value-adding jobs. Workers must upgrade and gain new skills to benefit from the better quality jobs created by the industry transformation."

At the same time, to overcome the challenges of Singapore's rapidly ageing workforce, he urged employers to reinvent employment practices and work to better suit older workers. "Older workers must embrace the need for reskilling and redeployment when necessary so that they are able to work for as long as they can and contribute to their full potential," he added.

On the way forward, he shared: "Moving ahead, the Federation looks forward to build on our years of cooperation and trust that we have developed to forge a stronger tripartite partnership to tackle these challenges for the benefit of all."

From the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), President Mary Liew and Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng released their May Day message on 25 April.

They noted that 2019 marks 50 years since NTUC organised the Trade Union Seminar on Modernisation of the Labour Movement, which was "a pivotal point" in Singapore's labour movement. It was at the seminar that the labour movement, together with the PAP Government, took intentional steps as partners to forge the collaborative tripartite model with the business community, they said.

"Today, our labour movement’s purpose remains the same – to help our workers secure better wages, welfare and work prospects," they added.

Among some of the key achievements over last year, they highlighted:

  • The mandating of the PWM for lift technicians, providing them with wage increases linked to skills ladders. Mandatory bonuses were also declared for cleaners and landscape workers under the PWM.
  • Through collective bargaining, workers achieved higher wage increases. In recent years, the average annual total wage increase for rank-and-file workers in unionised companies has been higher than the national average.
  • Companies continue to be encourage to adopt flexible work arrangements and family-friendly leave schemes so that women can remain in the workforce while fulfilling their caregiving roles.
  • Workers' welfare: NTUC Social Enterprises continue to help workers manage the cost of living, while NTUC FairPrice has kept prices of essential products low. The acquisition of Kopitiam extends NTUC’s ability to make quality food affordable and more accessible. NTUC’s MoneyOwl has also been set up to provide low-cost financial advice for workers’ financial planning needs.
Going forward, they noted these are the key areas of focus:
  • Securing better work prospects for workers, given the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. To this effect, NTUC will harness the network of unions and companies to form Company Training Committees (CTCs) for programmes to help workers and businesses transform.
  • The unions, together with management partners from a group of 18 companies, have already set up CTCs to implement training.
  • To remain relevant and representative:
    • The Supply Chain Employees’ Union was formed to represent workers of all levels, including PMEs.
    • The Singapore Bank Officers’ Association was repositioned as the Banking and Financial Services Union to serve all workers in the industry and help them cope with the impact of disruption.
    • The Singapore FinTech Association became the first U Associate partner to be affiliated to the Labour Movement.
    • Two new affiliate associations were formed – the Tech Talent Assembly to strengthen the reach to infocomm technology professionals, and the National Instructors and Coaches Association to look after the interests of full-time freelance instructors.
They signed off with: "Every worker matters, and what matters to workers, matters to us. In this vein, our labour movement is committed to build on the strong foundation that has been established over the last 50 years of tripartism and continues to put workers at the heart of what we do, so that future generations will stand to benefit."

Lead image / Provided From L-R: Josephine Teo, Dr Robert Yap, Mary Liew, and Ng Chee Meng