This week, as we previously shared with you, is an important one for the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and Monday saw the NTUC organising Singapore's inaugural international forum on tripartism, hosting labour folks from Japan, Ireland and Barbados, among others.
The most important figure there, though, was the director-general of the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) — Guy Ryder.
He's so important, in fact, that Manpower Minister and former NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say revealed that he had to book his time more than two years in advance, when he and the Singapore labour delegation travelled up to meet Ryder for the annual ILO conference.
That, friends, was probably even long before Lim himself realised he was going to be shifted to the manpower ministry from the union front.
So anyway, big day for NTUC, and Singapore's labour movement on the whole — but they needn't worry at all, really, for all the high praise the Briton paid to Singapore:
1. "The 'Singapore Miracle' isn't a miracle, but a product of hard-headed policy."
Here, Ryder was quoting UN official Albert Winsemius, who led the UN's first delegation to Singapore in 1961, and who said the following in 1984:
"I don't believe in the Singapore Miracle. There was never a Singapore miracle. It was simply hard-headed policy."
But yeah, paying tribute to the effort of Singaporeans that led to the world-touted "miracle" of our economy — not bad to begin with.
2. "Singapore has an extraordinary capacity to look to the future, to anticipate change and to act before we are obliged to."
"I'm always pleased to receive the Singapore tripartite delegation to the ILO conference in June. They always come see me... and we have a great conversation. Why? Because every year that they come they have something new to tell me. A new initiative, a new idea, a new plan. What do you think of this? And this shows I think, and shows me year after year, that Singapore is not ready to stand still. You're always looking to confront, to beat the challenges of the future."
He also jokes:
"I don't know if it is comforting or frightening that as you celebrate SG50 you're already talking about SG100. I'm not quite sure."
3. Singapore's late and founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was a "great statesman".
"This happy year of SG50, a happy year tinged by sadness over the loss of the great statesman Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I'm reminded of a quote he made where he said that he will intend to see that Singapore will be here in a thousand years from now, not a hundred.
A thousand years from now. That is your duty and mine. I think of the definition of a statesman, I think it was Churchill who said that the difference between a politician and a statesman is politicians think about the next election, a statesman thinks about the next generation. Seems to me Lee Kuan Yew very much had his eye on the next generation."
4. "Singapore's model of tripartism scores high marks on the ILO's report card."
"We all judge tripartism by the basis of the results that it generates, and in Singapore I think you have the proof of the effectiveness of your tripartism, the results are there for everybody to see in terms of economic growth, in terms of employment, in terms of improved living conditions."
He observes that there is great emphasis on trust between the government, employers and workers — the three players in the tripartite model — which suggests, for instance, that if somebody compromises on something today, they will get something back for it tomorrow.
Also, he notes, Singapore's three players are committed to sit, discuss and work out solutions together, regardless of the circumstances, unlike other countries which may employ tripartite methods only when they really need it.
"I think the very important thing is, there is a common vision. Everybody here, be they government workers or employers, are intent upon building your country, making it stronger, making sure everybody is included in the benefits of tripartism, so I think you get a very high report score from tripartism in Singapore."
5. "I learned a new word from Mr Lim Swee Say today."
It is, as it turns out, a new word coined by Manpower Minister Lim — "futurisation", which he explained the government will be doing in the ministries of trade and industry, education and manpower (concerning "Brother Iswaran, Brother Ong and me", he said).
"The world of work does not stand still. The world of work is changing every day and we need to adapt to that, not tomorrow but very quickly. There are problems ahead, don't close your eyes to them, recognise them and respond to them. And this historically is something Singapore has always done extraordinarily well... and my impression from this visit is, as I say, on this historic occasion of SG50, you're already thinking of the next challenges. And I think that is absolutely vital for your future continued success."
Speaking of "brother this, brother that", Ryder and Lim address each other as "Brother Swee Say" and "Brother Guy", too.
6. On challenges Singapore may face: "You are well-equipped to adapt".
"The interesting thing about Singapore, of course, in this regard, is you are by definition a small economy and an open economy. You are always going to be at the mercy, as it were, of external developments — of slowdowns in the global economy, political events or whatever else it is.
(The challenges) may look different from other countries, but you've always got to work to keep in touch with working people, you've always got to work to maintain the confidence that working people or employers give to you, take nothing for granted.
I have to say I think there's a lot of very positive things in Singapore. I think you can look to the future with greater confidence than some others. I think you are well-equipped to adapt to these future challenges, they will come and they might be difficult, but the point is Singapore recognises that and is ready to meet them."
7. "One thing Singapore can do better: Share it with the rest of us!"
"I think you're doing extremely well, that is the truth. I haven't detected in this visit strong disagreements, I don't think they are there... Singapore has enormous experience with tripartism — you have expertise, you have know-how, that indefinable ingredient of know-how.
That is one thing maybe Singapore can do better: share it with the rest of us. Join with the ILO, promote what you know in other countries, share your knowledge, encourage tripartism elsewhere... in tripartism you really are a leader and I hope that you will use that expertise, that knowledge, to lead others forward."
Top image courtesy of NTUC.