Dear Workers of Singapore,
Happy Labour Day!
May Day is an auspicious day to celebrate and honour workers’ contributions to our nation. It is only through your hard work that our country has grown by leaps and bounds over the years.
Although our economy averted a technical recession this year, the picture is still not rosy for our workers. They continue to face a grim job market. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), in releasing their estimates on 28 April, said that while layoffs dipped in the first quarter of this year, the overall unemployment rate continued to edge up. One statistician has suggested that it could be possible that about five per cent, or over 100,000 Singaporeans may be unemployed.
The gig economy and disruptive technology may displace hundreds-of-thousands of traditional jobs. Most workers in the gig economy will have no statutory protections and benefits, including CPF contributions, without paid sick leaves and even no maximum or minimum working hours. They will live at the whim of the platforms they’ve chosen to affiliate themselves with. They will face risks such as wage instability and not having enough for retirement.
One labour economist recently warned that “the gig economy is going to aggravate the social and job-related causes of poverty,” and that “retrenchment due to job obsolescence and job disappearance will increase.”
The woes of the gig economy may already be upon us, as one newspaper article warned that a growing number of young Singaporeans are in need and relying on Government handouts.
The more protectionist trade policies adopted by many of Singapore’s major trading partners would also negatively impact Singapore as it is wedded to the old export model. This, in turn, will have knock on impact on the incomes of our workers.
The Government of Singapore commissioned the Committee on Future Economy (CFE), particularly to address such risks our country and its workers face. The CFE Report however contained no major new radical ideas which can greatly contribute to the transformation of the economy that would, in turn, benefit our workers.
Unlike reports of the past Economic Strategies Committees, the CFE Report did not identify core sectors of the economy which should be developed. This is a missed opportunity. One sector the CFE should have focused on is Sports.
A report in 2008 by PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that the Asia-Pacific sports industry would grow 6.5 per cent per year to an estimated $26.7 billion in 2011. Singapore’s Sports Minister was quoted as saying in 2009 that he wanted a slice of this, and that he remained “optimistic about the development of sports in Singapore.”
Eight years later and after winning our first Olympic gold medal what has happened to this commitment to the development of our sports sector?
According to the Singapore Government, the value of the sports industry in Singapore crossed the $1.5 billion mark in 2007, and was on course for its target of reaching a $3 billion GDP contribution by 2015.
A panel discussion on Sports Business in Asia organised by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) noted that Singapore “already has a foundation from which it would be able to build its sports industry. Its excellent infrastructure makes it an ideal candidate for hosting major sporting events; its efficient governmental systems means that sport corruption< …> would be kept to a minimum; and its low interest rates, highly skilled workforce and business-friendly structure make it an appealing proposition for equipment manufacturers and sports clubs. Perhaps the country’s only disadvantage is its relatively small population and declining birth-rate, which could affect its ability to appear in sporting tournaments. However, small countries such as Uruguay and Jamaica are testament to the fact that a strong sporting culture can sufficiently counter such a problem.”
The Singapore People’s Party (SPP) urge the Government not to miss out on the opportunities available in the region’s burgeoning sports industry which in turn could be a boon for many workers whose jobs from the old economy is fast disappearing.
Singaporean workers need deep skills to be prepared for the economy of the future. SPP encourages our workers to make use of schemes like Skills Future and Professional Conversion Programmes to re-skill and so be prepared for an uncertain future.
But re-skilling alone may not be enough. Many jobs and industries that were labour-intensive and relevant in the past are no longer here today. What skills and competencies will the jobs of the future require from its workers? As we may have no idea what these may be, it may be better to develop the talents of our workers and have policies to support a culture of lifelong learning.
As we look to the unknown future, not only is a culture of lifelong learning important, but it is also critical to develop a culture of deep tolerance for failure. The economy of the future would require our workers to be innovative – and to be innovative, one has to fail and learn from his failures.
If the Singapore Government wants its workers to be innovative, it must scale back from approving every idea and being in every sphere. It must build an environment where passion is valued more than permission and create policies which will allow its workers to easily pursue their passions globally.
This Labour Day, the SPP stands in solidarity with our Singaporean workers facing anxiety over job security and hope for them a better future amidst global tensions.