Singapore risks regressing to become "just a normal country" unless it moves faster to enhance workers' skills and create new jobs, labour chief Lim Swee Say said yesterday.
The country should also venture ahead of its competitors in weaving technology into manufacturing, services and daily life, said Mr Lim in his final May Day message as secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).
Failing to improve on the skill and job fronts in tandem may lead to shortages of both, and a mismatch between those available, he said. This may in turn lead to a rise in unemployment, structural unemployment and underemployment.
"We could then regress and become just a normal country with an ordinary economy and ordinary workforce. This will be painful," he warned.
Singapore, which has been praised for its exceptional economic performance over the past few decades, should take the lead in areas like future manufacturing using robots, future services where customers are more involved, and being a smart nation where technology is more integrated, he added.
Mr Lim, who will move from NTUC to be Manpower Minister next week, also paid tribute to the pioneer generation, and all workers and tripartite partners, for contributions to Singapore's transformation over the last 50 years.
They have helped secure the economic conditions that workers here enjoy, he said. These are a tight labour market with enough jobs for workers of various ages, fair wage increases and bonuses, a higher re-employment age ceiling and industrial peace.
In her May Day message, NTUC president Diana Chia highlighted the role of union leaders over the years, from standing up to errant employers in the 1960s to accepting the flexible wage system in the 1980s, which raised Singapore's competitiveness.
She added that the three-way partnership between the unions, the Government and employers needs to be brought to the sectoral level as well. "Government agencies work with employer groups and trade unions in each sector to chart out strategies that will deliver productivity and skills breakthroughs so that Singapore and Singaporeans can continue to prosper," she said.
The labour movement is celebrating May Day this year with the theme, "Together As One, Brighter Future For All", and has lined up a series of activities to mark the occasion.
At its annual May Day dinner at Orchid Country Club tomorrow night, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will present awards to 96 individuals and companies.
On Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will speak at the May Day Rally at The Star Performing Arts Centre.
In the evening, the Migrant Workers' Centre is organising celebrations for some 15,000 foreign workers at four recreation centres across Singapore. NTUC's three- day fiesta to mark May Day and SG50 will also be launched at Universal Studios Singapore that day.
This article was first published on April 28, 2015.
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