The Government will always be on the side of workers, a relationship that has endured through the transformation from Third World nation to First, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
The partnership began with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew holding the first May Day rally in 1960, and continues today, 55 years later.
Yesterday, PM Lee again reaffirmed the relationship between the Government and unions, calling it the strongest and the longest-lasting in the world. "Our unions are equal partners with employers and the Government," he said at the annual May Day rally.
Some governments might say they protect workers from competition and unscrupulous businesses, but often end up scaring off investors and hurting the economy, causing job losses for workers, he said. Other countries try to weaken union influence, resulting in tit-for-tat conflict, he added.
In Singapore, the Government, workers and employers are partners in growing and upgrading the economy - in a tripartite system that has produced results "not just over one or two terms of government, but for 50 years", he said to more than 4,000 unionists, employers and government officials at The Star Performing Arts Centre.
So he is "aghast" when he hears opposition politicians claim that tripartism is obsolete and that unions must fight the Government and employers. Either they do not understand the importance of tripartism, or they do but are not interested in workers' welfare and are trying to stir up trouble for their own ends, he added.
"No trade union congress anywhere else in the world has been as effective as NTUC in improving workers' lives," he said, calling tripartism a "precious legacy" that must be protected.
The partners are all willing to make compromises because each trusts the others to take a longer-term view of the collective interest, he said.
Operating on an equal footing has allowed trade unionism to become a profession that unionists can be proud of, with union leaders sitting on key statutory boards and the National Wages Council.
This model has been studied by other nations, said Mr Lee. But they do not have Singapore's long tradition of the Government delivering the goods for workers and building up trust with union leaders. "They can replicate the structures... but that trust, that magic, cannot be created overnight."
He said: "This is why, today, just as we have done for the past 55 May Day Rallies, we recommit ourselves to this promise - that the Government is always on your side, on the side of workers."
This article was first published on May 2, 2015.
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