SINGAPORE - Workers will get a $200 million boost from the labour movement and Government to upgrade their skills.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at NTUC's May Day rally on Sunday (May 1) that the labour movement will raise $50 million for its Education and Training Fund.
The Government will match every dollar with three dollars, contributing another $150 million.
NTUC will start by partnering Nanyang Technological University (NTU) for the training, in its first tie-up with an institute of higher learning.
PM Lee said: "NTUC knows what workers need and how to get workers moving. NTU has the expertise in continuous education and technology enabled learning, and wants to reach out to the working population."
He added that the venture aims to reach 30,000 people, especially a growing group of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), next year.
It will focus on short courses to help working people keep up with technology and industry development.
NTUC plans to expand the programme to more universities in future.
PM Lee said: "Now, with more PMETs, the labour movement needs to adapt to meet new needs and stay relevant."
Traditionally, NTUC catered to blue collar workers and the rank and file, he said, but it should now focus not just on collective bargaining, but other services as well, such as career counselling, networking, and skills upgrading.
He noted that the unions are trying to negotiate collective agreements to include PMETs, although some employers remain cautious.
"I encourage employers to be bolder," he urged. "Do not believe that if the labour movement leaves your PMETs alone, you will be able to manage them more directly and easily."
He remarked that May Day this year was being celebrated in a "cautious mood" as the global slowdown has hit the port and industries such as marine, oil and gas, and electronics.
Some sectors are facing retrenchments. Meanwhile, new business models such as Taobao, Airbnb and Uber are disrupting old ones.
"But we cannot stop this phenomenon nor should we try," he warned. "What we will do is to make sure that these businesses with new models compete on fair terms with existing ones."
"And more fundamentally, we are helping our industries and companies to compete better by supporting them as they transform," he added, citing the $4.5 billion set aside for an industry transformation programme in this year's Budget.
As for workers displaced by restructuring, he highlighted programmes such as the Ministry of Manpower's Career Support Programme for PMETs retrenched mid-career.
The programme, which defrays the cost of hiring these workers for a year, has reached out to 200 older PMETs in the last five months, with half securing employment.
These schemes are more effective that introducing unemployment insurance which some MPs have raised in Parliament, said Mr Lee.
For unemployment insurance, the worker has to pay out of his salary to subsidise his own unemployment, he noted. "We have schemes, paid for by the Government, not to help you stay unemployed but to get you employed," he said. "So please support us and upgrade yourself, make yourself employable."
The Government has also found effective ways to tackle other concerns, such as rising healthcare and housing costs, saving up for retirement and creating good jobs for the young.
Mr Lee pointed out that these challenges affect not just Singapore, but also other countries. "We are facing a time of change... and workers in many countries are anxious."
He cited an example: "In almost every city in the world, housing is becoming more expensive and workers are getting priced out."
"These are also problems which we have but the one difference which is vital in Singapore is we have found effective ways to tackle all of them," he said.
To address concerns over healthcare cost, the Government has introduced MediShield Life, Medisave top-ups and the Pioneer Generation Scheme, among others. To help the elderly in their retirement years, there are schemes such as CPF Life and the Silver Support scheme. And for lower-income workers, the Government has taken steps to help them earn better pay through schemes like Workfare.
With the Government, the labour movement, employers and workers coming together, Singapore can overcome these challenges.
Said Mr Lee: "If we work together, we can overcome all these problems. The Government is ready, the Labour Movement is ready, the people also need to be ready. And I think the people are ready."
"You have supported our programmes and you have voted for them and you have voted for the team to work with you," he noted.
Referring to the general election last year, he said his team has been able to implement programmes rigorously because of the strong mandate handed to the PAP. "That's why the GE was so important... and that's why the Bukit Batok by-election matters."
"To tackle these challenges... we need you to show your support and we need the whole world to see that we have your support. Then we can walk this journey together."