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Heng Swee Keat reaffirms PAP-NTUC symbiotic ties

Deputy prime minister also unveils extra funding for firms that work with unions to train workers for transformation

Mr Heng's speech to some 1,600 NTUC guests, including union leaders and tripartite partners, was the first time since 2003 that a DPM has delivered the keynote address at a May Day Rally.


NEWLY-APPOINTED Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat renewed the pledge to continue the "close symbiotic relationship" between the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and the labour movement, and announced more funding for firms that work with unions to prepare workers for transformation.

"If such a relationship had not been forged, we might not have weathered the early crises or industrialised so rapidly," Mr Heng said in his first May Day Rally speech, before the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on Wednesday.

"Today is the first time I'm speaking to you as leader of the next generation of PAP leaders. I renew today the pledge that Mr Lee (Kuan Yew) made at your Modernisation Seminar 50 years ago, and that every prime minister has since renewed. I assure you, the close symbiotic relationship between the PAP and the NTUC, which underpins our unique and precious brand of tripartism, will continue into the fourth generation and beyond," said Mr Heng, who assumed the post of DPM on Wednesday, and is tipped to be Singapore's next prime minister.

The landmark NTUC Modernisation Seminar in 1969 marked the labour movement's move to make a fundamental shift from confrontation to collaboration.

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Mr Heng's speech to some 1,600 NTUC guests, including union leaders and tripartite partners, was also the first time since 2003 that a DPM has delivered the keynote address at a May Day Rally. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was the guest of honour at the event on Wednesday, was the keynote speaker in 2003 when he was then a DPM.

Responding to union leaders' call for more support for unionised workers, Mr Heng said he has also accepted the suggestion to provide an additional 10 per cent of funding support under the Enterprise Development Grant to unionised companies and partners of the Employment and Employability Institute which set up company training committees (CTCs) - and commit to positive worker outcomes such as raising salaries of low-wage workers and reskilling.

"It is important for companies to see workers as key partners in their companies' transformation and to make sure their transformation efforts benefit workers," said Mr Heng, who is also finance minister.

The additional grant, to be given by NTUC, will take effect from April 1, 2020. The Enterprise Development Grant currently provides up to 70 per cent of project costs for companies to upgrade, innovate and venture overseas.

Mr Heng said the labour movement plays a critical role in economic transformation by helping to communicate changes, win support and rally workers to be on board with changes. Through CTCs, unions will work with employers to identify courses and customise training for workers to develop relevant skills for specific jobs.

The NTUC aims to set up 1,000 CTCs in the next three years.

Playing "an active agent" in the transformation of Singapore's economy is one of three strategies Mr Heng suggested to tripartite partners to adopt in embarking on another "signification transformation" 50 years on from NTUC's modernisation.

The second strategy is to prepare workers for jobs of the future through lifelong learning. "We must make sure that technological advancements help workers do their jobs better - not replace them," Mr Heng noted.

The third strategy is to ensure Singapore's economic growth remains inclusive. The keys to this are tripartism and the continued vitality of the unions, according to him. He said more attention must be given to lower-wage workers, seniors and those who have left the workforce early.

Mr Heng said the PAP-NTUC partnership goes back to principles established by Mr Lee Kuan Yew who, in a speech at the NTUC Modernisation Seminar, stressed the importance of trade unions in Singapore's development.

He said the NTUC backs the PAP because the party has kept faith with the unions, while the party backs the labour movement because it has remained pro-worker.

"It remains committed to the self-respect of every working man and woman and believes that the purpose of economic development is to improve the lives of all in the workforce," Mr Heng added. "We strive for growth in order to improve the lives of every Singaporean."

READ MORE: NTUC is committed to helping workers, companies transform

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