In his National Day Rally speech on Aug 29, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that Singapore has to generate “new growth, jobs and prosperity for the future” instead of drawing upon past reserves to keep the country afloat, now that the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.

Important for Singapore to ‘open up soon’

As Singapore looks to sustain its growth in the long term, Singapore has to preserve its status as a business hub.

Many multinational corporations (MNCs), which use Singapore as their regional base, require their staff to fly in and out of Singapore to visit operations in other countries.

“If our borders stay closed for too long, MNCs will find us less useful. Singaporean businesses also will suffer and our economy will be permanently damaged,” he says.

“So it is important for us to open up soon, and allow more people to travel in and out of Singapore, in a safe way,” he adds.

Singapore also has to remain attractive to investors, as it has managed to do so even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the period, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) secured projects from vaccine firm BioNTech, semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries and Zoom.

"All these investments will create many good jobs for Singaporeans," says Lee.

Singapore companies must make their mark in the new economy by going out into the world, seizing new opportunities and grow their businesses.

Citing examples including Carro, SecretLaba and Carousell as enterprises that have made it, Lee adds that Enterprise Singapore (ESG) will support entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps.

But economic growth has to be inclusive and a move that benefits all Singaporeans.

Supporting lower wage workers

The government will be increasing the Workfare Income Supplement (Workfare) Scheme to $1.1 billion from $850 million a year.

The sum goes to the topping up of low wage workers’ salaries in cash and CPF contributions. The higher amount will also allow the government to raise payouts to all workfare recipients, says Lee.

The workfare scheme will also be expanded to low wage workers aged 30 from the previous minimum age of 35.

Low wage workers to draw higher pay

The Progressive Wage Model, which covers cleaners, security guards, landscaping workers and lift maintenance workers.

For instance, cleaners, who currently earn at least $1,200 a month through the model, will earn at least $1,500 in two years.

After another two years from then, the amount will be raised to $1,900, says PM Lee.

Progressive wages will also be extended to more sectors, starting with retail in 2022, and later food services and waste management, says Lee.

Specific occupations such as administrative assistants and drivers will also be covered, he adds.

Local employees to be paid at least $1,400

Companies hiring foreigners will have to pay all their local employees a local qualifying salary of at least $1,400 a month.

This is extended from the previous policy of paying a qualifying salary to some local employees.

The salary will be adjusted from time to time, announced Lee.

In addition, companies paying their workers progressive wages will be identified with the PW mark. The mark will enable consumers to support companies paying their workers decent wages.

That said, the cost of higher wages for the low wage workers will have to be shared. Some of the costs will be passed on to the customers.

In his speech, Lee states that consumers may now have to pay “a little bit more” for some of their favourite things to help shops to cover higher cleaning and waste collection costs.

Gig economy

Delivery workers who work with online platforms like Grab, Deliveroo or Food Panda, for instance, are a group Lee is “especially concerned” about.

These workers are just like employees, yet with no employment contracts with the online platforms.

They lack the basic job protection that most employees have.

As more people are taking up this type of work, Singapore must address the issues to “give these workers more secure futures,” says Lee.

Anti-discrimination laws

In his speech, Lee announced that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), which lays out clear guidelines on fair treatment, will now be enshrined in the law.

The government will create a tribunal to deal with workplace discrimination. The tribunal will ensure that women will receive better protection. It will also protect workers against discrimination based on nationality and other forms of discrimination covered by TAFEP. Discrimination based on age, race, religion and disability will also be noted.

That said, workplace disputes should still be resolved “informally and amicably” and that “legal redress should be a last recourse,” says Lee.

Photo: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s dialogue with Malay/Muslim community in 2014 / Credit: Ministry of Communications and Information