SINGAPORE, Nov 22 — The Government’s “pro-growth” and “pro-worker” approach is the reason why tripartism works in Singapore, and this has given the Republic an “enormous and enduring advantage” over the years, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today.

Speaking at the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference 2023 Opening Ceremony, Lee said that tripartism, which involves “collaboration and compromise” between unions, employers and the Government — led by the People’s Action Party (PAP) — has created a “Singapore premium”.

“Companies and investors are prepared to pay more to be here, to take advantage of our harmonious industrial relations and business-friendly environment,” said Lee.

This also means that workers in Singapore earn significantly more than those elsewhere in the region, because companies can operate more efficiently and reliably here, Lee added.

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“That is also why so many people want to come to Singapore to work, whether on work permits, S-passes, or employment passes,” he said.

The conference, which happens once every four years, was attended by about 1,500 union leaders, tripartite partners and other guests.

In his speech, Lee added that the symbiosis between the PAP and NTUC (National Trades Union Congress) is not “just an institutional arrangement” but is rooted in history.

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He also touched on the PAP’s history with the labour movement and how former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew himself had been the legal advisor for over 100 unions.

Only 12 unions were affiliated with NTUC then — as compared to the 82 that joined the Singapore Association of Trade Unions under the Barisan Solialis, whose goal was to oust the PAP Government.

“As I told the PAP Convention recently, the PAP wasn’t born dominant. Neither was the NTUC,” said Lee.

“We survived these baptisms of fire — these infernos — because Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his comrades refused to give in. And Singaporeans — above all, the workers — saw that Mr Lee Kuan Yew would never let them down, took heart, and backed the PAP.”

Quoting Lee Kuan Yew, the younger Lee said that the PAP has been a workers’ movement and is a government on the workers’ side. This remains the PAP Government’s credo today, he said.

This is done through focusing on the twin priorities of growing and developing the economy, and enabling workers to benefit fully from economic growth, he added.

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew saw the unions as equal partners, playing a key role in nation building... He was convinced Singaporeans had to be a ‘proud and rugged’ people, and unions were key to this,” said Lee.

He added that in a rapidly changing world, unions continue to play a vital role in Singapore’s future.

“And I know my successor Lawrence Wong thinks so too,” said Lee.

Lee added that the partnership between PAP and NTUC must continue to be built.

“The PAP looks forward to fielding new party candidates from the Labour Movement,” he said, adding that a few candidates have been identified for the next General Election.

“I am confident they will represent workers and constituents well.”

Why it matters

Lee’s speech comes weeks after he announced he would be handing over the leadership reins to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election.

If all goes well, Lee said he will do so by the party’s 70th birthday on November 21 next year.

Speaking to over 1,000 members of the PAP at the Party Awards and Convention on November 5, Lee said that “high quality leadership” is key for the PAP Government to achieve its three key priorities, namely to govern competently, keep clean and win elections.

Lee said that there was “no way” that the PAP governments could have adopted tough but necessary policies for the long term had they have to constantly worry about being in power after the next elections.

“Today’s Singapore could not have been built by a weak government hanging on to power by a slim majority, or with the governing party and policies chopping and changing after each election,” he added.

‘Unique model of tripartism’

In his almost an hour-long speech, Lee spoke about tripartism’s benefit for Singapore.

• Lee said the NTUC and the PAP government are on the “same national movement” devoted to improving the lives of Singaporeans, keeping the nation together as one people and ensuring everyone has the right to his own dignity, “his dignity as a human being, as a citizen”

• He brought up the NTUC’s 1969 modernisation seminar which called for unions to work with the Government and employers for the greater long-term good of workers and Singapore

• “The Modernisation Seminar established our unique model of tripartism. It completely changed the tone of labour relations,” he said

• While unions fought for workers, they were careful to not disrupt Singapore’s economic growth, fostering industrial peace

• Tripartism has been an “enormous and enduring advantage as we restructured and grew our economy”

• Comparing the PSA to British port operations which are frequently paralysed by strikes and disputes, Lee noted that the tripartite partners’ close cooperation has helped make PSA a world-class port and created new opportunities and prospects for Singapore as a whole

• These collaborations have created a “Singapore premium”, where companies and investors are prepared to pay more to be here and take advantage of Singapore’s harmonious industrial relations and business-friendly environment, said Lee

• “They value being in a country that knows where it is heading, where everyone pulls together for the common good, everything works, and life can get better for all,” he said. — TODAY