One thing’s for sure, change is imminent.
At the National Trades Union Congress’ (NTUC) National Delegates’ Conference (NDC) opening dinner last night, Prime Minister Lee delivered a speech that pretty much proves that he’s a master story-teller. Here are some of the quotes and main points.
To show how globalisation is affecting the world, he cited the example of Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. Mr MacGregor was looking for one item from the British Museum’s collection to sum up the world, and embody the concerns and aspirations of humanity. One possible item shortlisted was a Chelsea Football jersey –
1. Because Chelsea is a Football Club in England
2. It is owned by a Russian Billionaire, Roman Abramovich
3. The shirt number belonged to the Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba
4. The shirt itself was made by Chinese workers in China
5. And the British Museum had bought it from a market vendor in Uruguay
You can’t deny that technology will continue to disrupt industries and displace workers. Not just those working in factories, but also those working behind desks. According to the International Federation of Robotics, China bought one in four industrial robots purchased worldwide (56,000 of the 227,000 industrial robots). One company in Dongguan, Changying Precision Technology Company, has built a fully automated factory. (This sounds like the rise of Skynet)
Economy doesn’t look too well
1. The US economy is soft, Europe is stagnant, China is slowing down
2. Singapore’s own exports are flat
3. PSA is handling fewer containers
4. 3Q GDP growth is only 1.4% year on year
5. Everyone’s insecure and anxious
Just keep swimming…
The way forward has to be to ride the wave and use the power of free markets since we cannot resist globalisation, or hold back the progress of technology.
Can Singapore handle the future?
Singapore is better placed than most other countries to tackle them because our people are well-educated, we are acutely conscious of what we need to do, and losing no time to do it. Robots may displace jobs, but they can also create new opportunities for workers – PSA is a great example.
Then NTUC how? This is their event afterall…
Well, in many European countries, unions are very strong, and often use their strength to block changes to the status quo. This creates problems for the government and economy, and inevitably, the non-union members, the unemployed and youths. (Britain and France have such problems)
On the other end of the spectrum, in the US, the unions are very weak and their membership has been declining for years. With a weak union, workers do not feel they are getting a fair share of the fruits of growth and they find themselves exposed to economic uncertainties and upheavals beyond their control.
Or a socialist market economy like China, where unions are closely linked to Government so they don’t cause trouble. But Chinese workers still face fierce competition – from one another, between different cities and provinces, and from robots and when things become difficult, Chinese workers express their discontent too – through demonstrations and appeals to top national leaders.
In Singapore, tripartism – a unique partnership of unions, employers and the government – has worked well for us.
1. We have a strong Labour Movement that has the interests of workers at heart
2. Employers have learnt to see unions as partners rather than opponents
3. The government pursues sound national policies which promote growth and advance worker interests
The PAP’s roots are in the trade union movement, and maintains a close symbiotic relationship with the NTUC. The tripartite partners work as equals and trust one another. We have built this relationship of trust among our tripartite partners over decades.
But we all need to adapt
1. The government to develop new economic policies
2. Employers ensuring their companies not only remain viable, but seize new business opportunities to grow, and developing their workers
3. Unions staying relevant to a new generation of members, in a new economy, and encouraging workers to continually improve themselves
The Labour Movement needs to address
1. Ageing population – older workers want to work longer
2. Workforce composition as it changes to more professionals
3. Need for good leaders
Let us continue to safeguard our unique model of tripartism and continue to move forward as one united people.