In one of her last few significant public speeches as the manpower minister, Josephine Teo chose to highlight Singapore's unique brand of tripartism in her 2021 May Day message.
Teo lauded the "strong spirit of tripartism", crediting it with "cushioning the impact" of the Covid-19 pandemic on the workforce in conjunction with over S$90 billion worth of financial measures delivered through multiple budgets passed by Parliament.
Name-checking the Jobs Support Scheme, the Jobs Growth Incentive and the SGUnited Jobs, and Skills Package, Teo also said Singapore was able to navigate the Covid-19 crisis by leveraging on the "healthy relationship" built up by tripartite partners over the years.
"The tripartite partners worked closely to deal decisively with difficult employment issues such as the implementation of cost-cutting measures and retrenchments. Our unions were prepared to share the burden with employers to help them tide over enormous challenges."
Teo then mentioned that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) worked with employers on ways to handle excess manpower, such as making wage cuts and implementing restructures to save jobs.
Unlike other countries like France, where labour and the government clashed over pandemic measures, NTUC "stepped up" during the Covid-19 crisis.
Its Job Security Council and Company Training Committees helped workers, the NTUC Care Fund provided a one-off S$300 boost for union members, and the NTUC Training Fund helped self-employed persons to acquire new skills and earn an allowance during the downturn.
It also took on the "laborious task" of administering the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme.
NTUC must remain relevant
In the future, Teo believes that "two key principles" will help Singapore to strengthen its tripartism efforts.
The first is for the government to "always seek alignment" between the interests of unions and employers.
While this may be difficult, it is important to preserve the trust built up over decades.
The government could also spot opportunities that help both capital and workers, such as expanding the Progressive Wage Model to cover more essential workers.
The second principle is for NTUC to constantly evolve and remain relevant to everyone's needs through its collaborative approach.
"Today, as NTUC celebrates its 60th anniversary, it continues to champion workers' causes through updated approaches...Let us recognise NTUC’s sustained achievements over six decades, and re-commit ourselves to the unique brand of tripartism that enables Singapore to emerge stronger as one united people!"
Teo has been Manpower Minister for three years, her first full portfolio since the Cabinet reshuffle of April 2018.
In the most recent reshuffle, Teo was moved to the Ministry of Communications and Information.
She also gained new responsibilities as the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative and the Cyber Security Agency.
Tan See Leng, a relative political newcomer who was elected in GE2020, will be taking over as the new manpower minister.
On April 28, the Ministry of Manpower announced that advance estimates showed that employment in the first quarter had grown, for the first time since the pandemic struck.
With total employment recording growth after a full four quarters of decline, Teo said in a Facebook post that it is an encouraging sign.
Top image from Josephine Teo's Facebook page.