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May Day 2023: 5 priorities in preparing Singapore's workforce for the future

May Day 2023: 5 priorities in preparing Singapore's workforce for the future

A coordinated effort across multiple stakeholders will be required to prepare workers and businesses for jobs and the economy of the future, and individual responsibility is key, Minister Tan highlighted.

In his 2023 May Day message, Singapore's Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng recognised the collective efforts taken in the previous year that led to growth in resident employment, improvement in unemployment rates, and decline in retrenchments, as the country moved into post-COVID recovery.

Looking at the present and what's to come, he shared: "As we turn the chapter on COVID-19, let us steel ourselves to take on challenges in the post-pandemic world with renewed confidence."

Minister Tan went on to elaborate on Singapore's journey towards building a strong economy, one that "provides good jobs for our people, and an inclusive labour market where workers with different skill sets across various occupations and trades feel valued for their contributions and are able to carry out their work with dignity and purpose."

He affirmed: "Singapore’s approach is not to protect every job, but to protect workers by helping them to reskill and upskill, to progress to better jobs. We are also committed to journeying with businesses in their growth, to support them to transform and remain relevant. A coordinated effort across multiple stakeholders will be required to prepare our workers and businesses for jobs and the economy of the future, and individual responsibility is key."

On that note, the Minister noted five areas of focus in driving these efforts:

#1 Equipping workers for the post-pandemic world

Building on the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) efforts to ensure that the workforce remains future-ready and resilient, the Government introduced a S$70mn NTUC Company Training Committees (CTC) grant in Budget 2022 to co-fund workforce and enterprise transformation. As shared by the minister, the CTCs are working with employers to drive reskilling and upskilling of workers to meet new business demands.

He added: "Workers will need to embrace these opportunities to upgrade themselves and new challenges ahead, for better pay, jobs, and career progression."

#2 A progressive workplace for all

On this, the minister reaffirmed the importance of a level-playing field in ensuring that every worker, regardless of background, can contribute and achieve their full potential.

In that vein, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness released in February its interim report comprising recommendations on how new legislation can prohibit discrimination and strengthen protection for workers, while preserving workplace harmony and a non-litigious workplace culture.

The proposed legislation, Minister Tan said, will enhance protections against discrimination for all workers including seniors, women, and persons with disability. "The Labour Movement has played a critical role in codeveloping the recommendations and will continue to play an important role after the legislation is introduced, such as in supporting and assisting workers with dispute resolution."

[ALSO READ: "Each case of workplace discrimination is one too many": 20 recommendations for workplace fairness in Singapore]

#3 Uplifting vulnerable workers

Here, Minister Tan talked about the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) and Workfare Scheme Singapore has put in place to uplift lower-wage workers. The PWM, he noted, presents annual wage increases alongside skills upgrading and improvements to productivity for this group of workers. "We have made much progress with the recent implementation of the PWM in the retail and food services sectors, and occupations such as administrators and drivers, as well as the new Progressive Wage Mark accreditation scheme."

By July, these initiatives will benefit more than nine in 10 full-time lower-wage workers, the minister shared.

#4 Strengthening protections for platform workers

Coming to the point on platform workers, Minister Tan highlighted a commitment to strengthening the basic protections of this group in a way that would be sustainable for the platform ecosystem.

In line with that, in 2022, the Government accepted all 12 recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers, which tackle the following three areas of concern relating to this group of workers:

  1. Ensuring adequate financial protection in case of work injury,
  2. Improving housing and retirement adequacy, and
  3. Enhancing representation.

Implementation of these recommendations will begin in the second half of 2024.

#5 Professionalising skilled trades

Last but not least, Minister Tan also affirmed that the ministry is partnering with NTUC to look into ways to redesign skilled trades, particularly those that remain indispensable in the economy, with the objective to offer better salaries and career and skill progression to attract, retain, and reward workers in these jobs.

"Over time, if we are able to upgrade the prospects and perceptions of such jobs with more attractive career pathways, we will be able to build a more inclusive labour market that rewards mastery of skills and increase the number of locals in these roles sustainably," he said. 

Concluding the message, Minister Tan shared: "For this May Day, let us acknowledge and appreciate the indispensable role played by the Labour Movement in our nation’s progress. I say with every confidence that, with the continued close cooperation between unions, employers and the Government, with grit and gumption, we can overcome any adversity and even black swans.

"I wish everyone a wonderful May Day."

[ALSO READ: A new approach to skills, a new definition of success: 5 key shifts as Singapore moves forward]

Alongside Minister Tan's message, NTUC President Mary Liew and Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, as well as Singapore National Employers Federation President Dr Robert Yap also talked about both the unions' priorities in their respective May Day messages.

Highlights and excerpts below.


"Every worker has the right to job security and protection. Regardless of your profession, age or nationality, your interests are our interests. If you are a platform worker or self-employed person, we will work to ensure you get the protection you need."

  • For tradesmen such as plumbers and electricians: NTUC will work to improve this group's wages and work prospects, by pushing for the adoption of the proposed Career Progression Model.
  • For workers with caregiving needs, especially women: The union will continue to encourage employers to help this group balance work and family commitments by implementing flexible work arrangements. "We believe such initiatives can give more women the confidence to return to the workforce."
  • For older workers: NTUC President Liew and SG Ng shared: "For our older workers, you now have a longer career runway with higher retirement and re-employment ages. But we also understand that you may want to continue working even longer. We will continue to advocate raising the retirement and re-employment ages further for you. On top of this, we have lobbied to raise your CPF contribution rates to help you grow your retirement nest egg."
  • For PMEs: NTUC will work to ensure this group benefits from fairer employment practices, the leaders share, through the Workplace Fair Legislation.


Better jobs: Despite the projected slow-down of Singapore's GDP growth in 2023, with the full reopening of the Singapore economy and other economies in 2023, employers "should press on with business transformation efforts to seize new growth opportunities and be more productive." In pushing for this, Dr Yap shared, SNEF is working with NTUC to support employers to create and recreate better jobs in their transformation journey through the Productivity Solutions Grant-Job Redesign and CTC Grant.

Better skills: These better jobs would require new skills, the SNEF President noted. "However, there may be skills mismatches which could result in jobseekers not being able or ready to seize these opportunities. Hence, the pilot Jobs-Skills Integrator initiative would help to aggregate manpower and skill demand so that jobseekers can be better trained and matched to jobs."

Better career: With the expansion of the PWMs to more sectors and the introduction of Progressive Wage Mark, there would be clear career pathways with sustainable wage increases and training for lower-wage workers. Additionally, with Singapore as the regional and global headquarters of many multinational corporations and more local companies venturing overseas, the tripartite partners will also support Singaporeans to develop themselves for regional and global leadership roles, Dr Yap stated.

"As such, SNEF encourages Singaporean workers to take on overseas postings when the opportunities arise to gain relevant experience and exposure which are necessary to take on such roles."

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Photo: Provided

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