Singapore’s economy could recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, says PM Lee

‘Compared to a year ago, our outlook has brightened considerably,’ Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his May Day message. — Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information pic via TODAY
‘Compared to a year ago, our outlook has brightened considerably,’ Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his May Day message. — Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information pic via TODAY

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SINGAPORE, April 30 — With the global recession turning out to be “less protracted than we initially feared”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said today that Singapore’s economy will likely recover to pre-pandemic levels this year.

“Compared to a year ago, our outlook has brightened considerably,” Lee said in his May Day message.

He noted that while Europe was still struggling with fresh waves of infections, the United States’ economy is expected to recover strongly on the back of a large stimulus package and good progress made in vaccination.

“China’s economy is doing well too, with hardly any cases in the country,” he added.

“These external trends support our own economic recovery, and justify confidence in our prospects. Already, our unemployment rate is gradually coming down.”

While the official forecast for Singapore’s economic growth this year is between 4 and 6 per cent, the authorities have previously said that it is likely to exceed 6 per cent, barring any setback to the global economy.

“This will bring us back to where we were before Covid-19 struck,” Lee said.

He added that beyond this year, new opportunities are opening up, with the pandemic accelerating trends such as digitalisation, automation and sustainability across all sectors. “To seize them, we need to transform our economy for a different, post-Covid-19 world,” Lee reiterated.

In his May Day message, Lee also cited the work of the labour movement over the decades — from the withdrawal of the British troops following Singapore’s exit from Malaysia right through the more recent crises such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009.

“Each time, our tripartite model saw us through. Workers tightened belts, made sacrifices and accepted pay cuts. Employers shared in the sacrifices and did their best to save as many jobs as possible,” Lee said. “At the same time, Government help supported businesses and workers through the difficult times.”

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, which brought on Singapore’s worst recession since independence, the labour movement has maintained its “collaborative stance”, Lee said.

He noted that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has set up over 600 training committees to work with companies to identify capability gaps, create new jobs and train workers.

When job losses became unavoidable last year, the unions ensured that retrenchments were carried out fairly and responsibly.

Among other things, NTUC provided financial support and helped more than 28,000 workers find new jobs. It also worked with the Government to help implement the Self-employed persons Income Relief Scheme.

Lee reiterated that Singapore’s model of trade unionism and tripartism, which has often been criticised by others, has proven to be far more effective in securing workers’ welfare and livelihood.

Trade unionism in European countries, for example, have tended to take on more confrontational approaches, where workers go on massive strikes.

Paying tribute to Singapore’s labour movement, Lee said: “In normal times, unions work quietly in the background to keep industrial relations on an even keel. But in an overwhelming crisis like Covid-19, your mission to protect workers comes to the fore.” — TODAY

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