While Singapore strives to keep unemployment low as the economy undergoes a restructuring, the priority for the tripartite partners remains the same - to create better jobs for all.

The government, unions and employers can do this by building better workplaces and helping workers at all levels upgrade themselves, which will in turn lead to a "better and skilled" workforce, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Writing in his May Day Message, Mr Tan noted that the tripartite partners have "unanimously agreed" that there should be greater protection for more workers, while ensuring flexibility to employers.

When changes to the Employment Act come into effect next year, some 150,000 more workers will be eligible for overtime pay and about 300,000 more PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) will be protected from unfair dismissal and be entitled to sick leave benefits, he said.

Mr Tan also noted that his ministry was studying the employment systems in other countries.

"We aim to foster an environment to develop and nurture the talents and abilities of the local workforce to their fullest potential," he said. "This includes tapping on those who are economically inactive, and who are keen to rejoin the workforce."

Mr Tan also spoke of the importance of pressing on with efforts to transform the economy into one that is manpower-lean and driven by productivity, innovation and skills.

The economy of the future should also be able to sustain wage growth for workers, he said.

Noting that the labour movement was already working with companies in various sectors to improve productivity and share gains with their employees, Mr Tan urged employers to work with the unions to press on with progressive wages for their workers.

And while the government will continue to work with companies and workers in the drive for productivity, he called on workers to "take ownership" of their upgrading by re-skilling themselves.

Separately, Stephen Lee, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said that arresting the decline in productivity would be the main priority for 2013.

Singapore's productivity, he said, contracted by 2.6 per cent last year.

While management plays a pivotal role in raising productivity, employers must recognise that the cooperation of workers and unions are crucial. They must also prepare workers to adapt to new management methods, new technologies and new work processes, he said. Likewise, unions and workers must work with management to implement productivity measures effectively.

The United States experienced a productivity resurgence between 1995 and 2004 when productivity growth accelerated to 3.1 per cent per annum from the 1.4 per cent per annum between 1975 and 1995. Much of this, Mr Lee said, was attributed to better management practices and the adoption of technologies in the service sector.

Stressing that management should commit to uplifting their low-wage workers, Mr Lee also encouraged employers to make a "concerted effort" to work with the labour movement to enhance the skills, employability and wages of these workers.