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THE strong tripartism in Singapore is a "precious legacy" that must be protected, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the May Day Rally on Friday.
Other countries admire and want to emulate the success of the Singapore model, he shared. Many send teams of officials here to study the work of the tripartite partners and then try to replicate the work.
"But it is not so easy. Their societies are different, their histories are different, and they don't have the long tradition of the government delivering the goods for workers and building trust with the union leaders," said Mr Lee.
"They can replicate the structures . . . but that trust, that magic, cannot be created overnight."
The prime minister said that he was "aghast" when he heard some opposition politicians describe tripartism as obsolete and that the unions should fight the government and employers.
"Either they really don't understand that, without tripartism, we would not be here today, or they are not interested in workers' welfare, and are just trying to foment trouble, to exploit workers for their own political ends," said Mr Lee.
Workers in Singapore, however, are not so ignorant, for they know that tripartism has made a difference to their lives and that the government is on their side, he added.
No other country in the world has such a strong relationship between the government and the unions, and nowhere else has such a bond lasted as long, Mr Lee claimed.
He shared how some governments elsewhere champion workers' interests and promise to protect them from competition and businesses with evil intent.
Often, however, these governments end up frightening off investors and damaging the economy, with workers losing their jobs and eventually voting the government out of power.
Then there are other governments in the world that see unions as problems, rather than partners. They try to weaken the unions, with the unions fighting back. This conflict results in a gridlock, with all parties winding up on the losing end.
In Singapore, Mr Lee said, the situation was different because of the exceptional system of tripartism in place with the government, workers and employers working constructively together on growing and upgrading the economy.
"We may not agree all of the time, but there is give-and-take because we trust one another. We rely on one another to take a longer term view of our enlightened, collective interest.
"This is a system that has delivered results not just for one or two terms of government, but for 50 years. Our unions are equal partners with employers and the government. The unions are professional, have inducted talent, and made trade unionism a profession that one can be proud of."
Mr Lee paid tribute to the work of the labour movement, adding that no other trade union congress in the world has been as effective as the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) in improving the lives of workers in Singapore over the years.
Earlier at the event, outgoing labour chief Lim Swee Say noted how this year's May Day marked the beginning of a new tripartite core team in place.
This was YCH Group chairman and CEO Robert Yap's first May Day Rally since taking over as president of the Singapore National Employers Federation last September.
On the union side, current NTUC deputy secretary-general Chan Chun Sing will become the new labour chief on Monday. On that same day, Mr Lim will begin his new role as the new Minister for Manpower.
The prime minister said that Mr Lim would make a "very good" manpower minister due to his years of experience in the NTUC, the Economic Development Board and his earlier stint as Environment Minister.
As for Mr Chan, Mr Lee said that he was sure that the incoming labour chief would "give his heart and soul" to the NTUC and the cause of workers.
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