5 Observations I Made From PM Lee’s Tripartism Speech At NDC

Alright, I will answer your first question.

What in the world does NDC stand for?

The National Delegates Conference (NDC) is held once every 4 years and this is where the Labour Movement will have an election for the Central Committee, which is the highest decision-making body within the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).ntuc congressBasically, during this year’s NDC held from 27-29 Oct, unionists will elect their leaders and even Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing will have to throw his hat into the ring to lead NTUC for the new four-year term.

And similar to the past two NDCs in 2007 and 2011, NTUC managed to invite PM Lee to give a keynote opening speech before the start of the conference.

Here’s what I learnt from PM Lee’s speech the night before:

A pretty long speech, but probably worth your time! Didier Drogba gets mentioned!

1. Intense global challenges for today’s workers (to be more precise, very intense)

PM Lee actually mentioned about this one company in Dongguan, China. It has recently built a fully automated factory. Because of this, “it has shrunk its workforce by more than 10 times, hiring 60 employees instead of 650 employees”. In spite of the smaller workforce, production has increased by 3 times and defects reduced by 5 times!

Yeah, automation and competition is getting real intense.

In the past decade, many of us have seen the impact of Apple’s iPod and iTunes on the music industry and how Amazon’s e-books are changing the way people buy and read books. And just the past year, Uber’s alternative transport platform has increased competition to both taxi operators and taxi drivers.

It is not just at the macro level. I can see these challenges in my daily life too. After more than two years on the same boring template, I was contemplating a revamp of the website. Interestingly, despite having zilch coding and CSS knowledge, I did not hire a website designer. Instead, I bought a software that easily enables me to create a beautiful website from scratch! (Stayed tuned…)

As for the My15HWW logo, I could have pandered the Mrs to spend 2 hours on Adobe Photoshop to come up with one. In the end, I decided to outsource it to Fiverr…… for the princely sum of USD$5!

Even Hatsune Miku, a virtual pop star, is threatening the livelihoods of real pop stars?

Seriously, I am wondering how web designers and creative artists in Singapore can value-add and create a niche for themselves amidst such technology trends and competition.

2. The government is doing its best to help our workers

However, the government is not standing by.

With the implementation of schemes like the Progressive Wage Model in industries like cleaning and security, the government is upgrading the skills and wages of many low-income workers.

Other initiatives like MediShield LIFE has also strengthened our social safety net/trampoline. With my potential healthcare needs well taken care of, I can finally take a little more risk and switch from a full-time employee to a freelancer and even a business owner! (Yeah, I am an entrepreneur now.)

Trampoline The Simpsons animated GIF

Instead of a net, Singapore has a trampoline!

Finally, this blog is beginning to generate some indirect income as I have received some offers to write on other channels and platforms. And here’s where SkillsFuture can come in to give my budding writing career a boost!

With the free learning credits to support skills-deepening, I will definitely be signing up for courses to improve my writing.

3. A powerful union or a weak union? Nah. I want an EFFECTIVE union!

PM Lee mentioned that in many European countries, the unions were very strong and they “often use their strength to block changes to the status quo”. However, under such an arrangement, the “youth and the unemployed have to carry the burden” since many companies “are unwilling to hire more permanent workers because of high cost and rigidity”.

Whereas in the United States, unions are weak. Productivity may have risen, but wages are not increasing much. Workers do not feel they are getting a fair share of the fruits of growth.

In Singapore, we have something unique. Instead of being just strong or weak, we have effective unions which have been one of the key drivers behind Singapore’s economic miracle.

Our GDP has been growing at an average of more than 7% per year since independence. With NTUC and the National Wage Council (NWC) on the side of workers, they have ensured that median income growth has largely kept pace. Median wage was $286 in 1975 (sourced from this amazing article) and in 2010, it was $2710.

All this while keeping unemployment super low.

4. Tripartism (like marriage) is built on Trust

Our unions have been able to thrive due to the harmonious relationship it has established with both employers and the government.

In this tripartite arrangement, “unions working constructively with employers and the government to get the best deal for its workers while advancing our shared national interest”.

In PM Lee’s words:

“We have built this relationship of trust among our tripartite partners over decades. This trust has helped us tackle successive crises. And each time the shared experience has strengthened the trust . For example, during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, businesses were under great pressure and many jobs were at stake.”

“Employers worked closely with the unions and the government implemented a fiscal package to help businesses and workers reduce labour costs. The employers held off retrenchments, unions persuaded the workers to accept austerity measures and go for training. As a result we came through the crisis better than others. ”

Trust animated GIF

I believe this is probably how much the tripartite partners trust each other.

Mrs 15HWW and I have had our fair share of trials and tribulations but with each experience, we have built more trust in each other and being in a strong partnership with each other bodes well for our future!

The same can be said for Tripartism. 

5. NTUC is not spared from Leadership Renewal!

Come the next General Election, I would expect at least 3 or 4 of the current Ministers to retire from politics. And leadership renewal is not something foreign to NTUC too.

Besides Lim Swee Say (age 61) stepping down from his Secretary General position and handing it over to Chan Chun Sing (age 46) earlier this year, I learnt from PM Lee that there are many others within the central committee who will be passing the baton on.

lim & chan

They include NTUC President Diana Chia, who started out as a nurse and joined NTUC more than 25 years ago, and other veterans like Lim Kuang Beng and Nora Kang. They have made their contributions and will move on so that younger leaders have the opportunity to take over.

Over the next few days, a new union leadership will be elected to better serve workers’ interest. This is more important to us than you think, as the labour chief is also a Cabinet minister, and union leaders also get to sit on key forums, helping to formulate national policies which promote growth and work for the workers’ interests. The quality of union leaders has a direct impact on the quality of the outcome of tripartite negotiations and even on national policies.

I watch with great anticipation the election results come Thursday.