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Singapore employers' union says labour market must stay flexible

SINGAPORE'S labour market must remain flexible so that companies can adapt quickly and stay competitive amid uncertainties, Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Robert Yap said on Friday.

In SNEF's May Day message, he called on companies to transform and innovate to become more manpower-lean, and on workers to embrace lifelong learning and upgrade their skills.

"As we enter an era of uncertainty where investment and trade flows constantly change, Singapore will be affected by the turbulence in the global economy. We must, therefore, continue to keep our labour market flexible so that companies can adapt quickly and stay competitive," he said, ahead of Labour Day on May 1.

Dr Yap's comments come while the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers is discussing a timeline for the raising of the retirement and re-employment ages, after consensus was reached on the need to raise them.

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng said earlier this week that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) wants to see the retirement and re-employment ages raised to 65 and 70 respectively, up from 62 and 67 now.

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Dr Yap highlighted the challenge of a rapidly ageing workforce.

"Employers need to reinvent employment practices and work for older workers so that they can continue to contribute to the growth of the company," he said.

"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."

SNEF hopes to build on years of cooperation and trust to forge a stronger partnership with NTUC and the Government to tackle such challenges, said Dr Yap.

The cornerstone for this collaborative model of tripartism was laid at the Modernisation Seminar of 1969, he said, congratulating NTUC on behalf of employers on the 50th anniversary of its modernisation movement.

"(The labour movement) has tenaciously pursued better working conditions, jobs, skills, wages and ultimately better quality of lives for workers," he said.

This has been borne out in sustained real wage increases for workers, and in Singapore's low unemployment - its unemployment rate of 2.1 per cent last year was lower than that of the developed countries under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As companies face disruption and a tighter labour market, Singapore must stay focused on transforming the economy, Dr Yap added. Businesses, especially those in the service sector, will need to reduce their reliance on foreign workers and innovate their operational processes.

He said that industry transformation and the use of technology and new tools can enable workers to do more value-adding jobs, so they must also gain new skills to benefit from the better quality jobs created.

He wished all workers a happy May Day.


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