Times are changing, workers must adapt, & NTUC needs to do more now: Ng Chee Meng

An open letter to all Singaporean workers from NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng.

Mothership | August 14, 2022, 09:23 AM

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NTUC launched the "#EveryWorkerMatters Conversations" on Aug. 12, a year-long public engagement exercise looking into issues ranging from NTUC's support for vulnerable workers in the gig economy, to the needs of youth, who are the future workforce.

"We want to hear their views and aspirations for the social compact around work, including the trade-offs and sacrifices each must make," said NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng.

In line with the exercise, Ng penned a personal open letter, addressed to all workers in Singapore, titled "Because changing times need us to change how we work for workers." The letter and a video of Ng sharing what #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations is about were published on both NTUC's and Ng's Facebook on Aug. 12 morning. 

Here, we reproduce the letter in full:

By Ng Chee Meng

Today, the economy is on everyone’s mind. And for good reason.

The Covid-19 pandemic resurgence, together with the Ukraine war have created massive supply chain issues. These have played a part in driving inflation rates through the roof. And everyday people like you are feeling the squeeze. Through higher food prices. Higher gas prices. Higher oil prices. And higher electricity prices.

But we haven’t been sitting idle. NTUC Fairprice keeps prices of essentials low and offers discounts to vulnerable groups to ease their financial strain. And our other social enterprises, like NTUC FoodFare, continue to provide workers with affordable meals and necessities.

And while what we are facing today is a real problem that needs immediate attention, we also need to focus on a far bigger challenge - the future of work.

Singapore has enjoyed almost 60 years of strong, stable growth. But our economy is now at a crossroads. Rapid advancements in technology have changed the way businesses function. Which is creating insecurities among a big section of our workers.

While the agile, highly skilled and digitally-savvy are rewarded, others might have a tougher time progressing in their careers. If this continues, it could widen the inequality and our social fabric would fray. And I want to ensure that doesn't happen. Not on my watch.

At NTUC, we have been taking steps to minimise this inequality. By initiating the Progressive Wage Model 10 years ago, we have helped transform jobs, upskill workers and uplift their lives. But we need to do more now.

We’ve been tried. We’ve been tested. And we’ve emerged stronger.

The Covid-19 pandemic tried and tested Singaporeans. Many were protected through our Fair Retrenchment Framework. And when workers lost jobs, the NTUC Job Security Council stepped in to help them through training and placement. We also administered the Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme to make it easier for self-employed workers to tide over these trying times.

NTUC fought behind the scenes. For workers to keep jobs. For employers to keep workers. For the government to support this initiative. And although we emerged stronger as a country, a lot of us have experienced hardships. Which is why, these past two years have stirred a deep reflection within NTUC. On what we need to do to strengthen our compact, our agreement, with all workers. For the next decade. For you.

Let’s work towards a better future for workers.

Singapore has created more jobs, but many Singaporeans are still concerned about employment? Will I have stable, regular income? Are my work prospects good? Will my retirement funds be adequate? Is my employer understanding when I need to take time off to care for my elderly parents? These are just some of the questions on every worker's mind. And we want to address them.

We know that to create good jobs and raise incomes for Singaporeans, we must stay open to global investments, opportunities and manpower. Yes, the competition will get tougher. Yes, our workers will need to adapt. And yes, we will ensure our economy provides opportunities for all. Because we don’t just want our workers to survive. We want them to thrive. That should be our mission. And everyone has a role to play.

NTUC will help workers keep their skills relevant, pursue training and find confidence in this decade and beyond. Unions and employers must invest aggressively in their workforce to adapt as businesses transform. And not just find new plug-and-play employees when needs change.

The government also must provide a conducive regulatory and fiscal landscape to help accomplish our social compact with workers.

Together, we will make this journey together with you. Facilitating training, placement and transformation. NTUC can also act as a price stabiliser in areas of new needs through our Social Enterprises, and with the right conditions.

And we know we have the support of our tripartite partners. As during the 2022 May Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted how NTUC has been an “active and valuable partner” as a stabiliser in Singapore’s economy and national cohesion, playing a key role in representing the interests of different worker groups.

Our first step - Launch #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations

Yesterday, I launched NTUC’s #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, which aims to engage our workers in Singapore, as well as employers, government policymakers and partner organisations over this one year. We want to hear their views and aspirations for the social compact around work, including the trade-offs and sacrifices each must make. And there are three big questions at the heart of this matter.

First, how can we enable workers to upgrade their skills and compete in this new environment?

NTUC established Company Training Committees (CTCs) in 2019 to aid with company transformation, redesign jobs and reskill workers. As of July 2022, more than 1,000 CTCs have been established, covering 28 sectors. Over 96,000 workers from participating CTCs have benefited from NTUC’s training and placement ecosystem over the last two years. But more can be done to enable Singapore workers and firms to be more competitive through Singapore’s green transition and digital transformation. Without forgetting to invest in lifelong learning that strengthens employability, placement and progression.

We want to ensure workers have the financial support they need. Because the harsh truth is that many workers may face involuntary retrenchment. The key question is how Singapore should provide stronger financial support for our job seekers to enable them to tide over a difficult period during their job search in a manner that rewards their strong work ethic. We found strong support for this in engaging over 10,000 through our Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) Taskforce.

We also want to ensure a level playing field to give Singaporean workers confidence in the system and encourage them to give their best. While efforts are underway to enshrine anti-discriminatory practices into law to take egregious employers to task, how can we strengthen practices on the ground such that people have confidence the employment landscape is fair? NTUC is also working with the government to develop the new Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS) for employment passes. We want to hear how foreign manpower should best complement our local workforce.

Second, how can we give stronger assurances to support our workers as their life needs evolve?

This is also why we launched the NTUC Youth Taskforce earlier in July this year, as a dedicated effort to hear how youths can be assured of better support in their careers and be set up for long-term career success.

With an ageing population, our workers will need to juggle work with caring for their elderly parents. Such needs and stresses will continue to grow. So let’s examine how aged caregiving can be better supported. So our workers can better balance their career with their caregiving responsibilities.

NTUC also remains fully committed to find ways to harness the strengths of our matured workers to participate in meaningful roles as industries transform. But we also want to hear how workers can be assured of basic retirement adequacy.

Third, how can we protect our vulnerable workers?

For our lower-wage workers, NTUC has worked with partners to implement the PWM and ensure productivity-linked wage growth. The PWM represents our collective desire to check inequality, transform jobs and create more pathways for progression. All while protecting the workers that need our help. While the PWM has already been rolled out in some sectors, is there potential for the PWM to cover more sectors, companies, and even middle-income jobs?

The gig economy poses fresh questions about the balance between independence and security. For our vulnerable self-employed persons and freelancers, NTUC is working through the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers. And we would like to hear workers’ views on enhancing representation, retirement and housing adequacy and greater protection against workplace injury.

Every voice counts in our #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations

On behalf of NTUC, I would like to invite employees, employers, government policymakers and partner organisations to join us for our #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations. These Conversations will help NTUC understand the concerns, priorities and aspirations of our workers.

Through these Conversations, we also want to hear what each of us as working people are willing to give up to achieve our goals at work. What roles we foresee our employers, unions and government playing – today, tomorrow and the years ahead. And what values should guide how we evolve Singapore’s social compact around work and employment.

We can then co-create solutions. To support you. To progress ahead together. To shape the future of work with our social compact.

Our ultimate goal is simple. To ensure that workers have jobs that make them proud.To help secure workers’ livelihoods. To provide workers a better future - with better jobs and better lives. Because every worker matters. To me. And NTUC.