SM Teo Chee Hean delivered a speech at the UWEEI (United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries) Ordinary Convention of Delegates 2020 via Zoom teleconference on 25 September 2020.
“Protecting Workers, Growing Jobs and Supporting Singaporeans for a Stronger Electrical and Electronics Sector”
Secretary General of NTUC, Ng Chee Meng,
President of UWEEI, Fahmi Abu Bakar,
UWEEI Council of Advisors,
Executive Council of UWEEI,
Brothers and Sisters from UWEEI,
It is a great pleasure to join you this year. This is the first time in UWEEI’s history that we are holding an Ordinary Convention of Delegates online, via Zoom, where we are still able to reach out to each other, but not personally be in contact with each other. This is an example of how COVID-19 has affected all our lives, and changed the way we live, work, and communicate with each other. This also illustrates how important our electronics and electrical industry is. It is only because of the products that you produce, that we are able to continue to communicate with each other in this way. This is something we should all be proud of, and I would like to thank you all for your hard work.
Thanks to the electronic and digital devices produced by all of you, we have been able to cope well with the pandemic and carry on with our lives as normally as possible: families staying in touch with loved ones online; students studying from home with home-based learning, and employees working from home; companies, restaurants and even our hawkers staying in business by marketing and selling online; and households getting their essential goods through e-shopping and deliveries. It was such a delight to see, during our National Day Parade mobile column as it passed by, one of our delivery riders joining in the column at the end, and receiving a rousing applause from all the people who were there. That shows the spirit of Singaporeans coming together, as well as the importance of the industry which you represent. Once again, I would like to say a big thank-you to all of you.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also affected our lives, our work and our livelihoods, and made several existing trends in the world more negative. US-China rivalry has intensified. The international system is under stress. Instead of cooperating for the common good, more countries are looking at their own narrow self-interests, without realising that their interests are better served if we cooperate with each other, and work for the common good. Countries have imposed restrictions on the movement of goods and people across borders to contain the spread of COVID-19. This has affected many industries, including our electrical and electronics industries, because of the global production and supply chains which have been affected. All these trends have affected economies, companies, businesses and, most importantly, the jobs of our people all over the world.
Here in Singapore, our economy has also slowed down significantly. The weakening of global demand and the disruption of global supply chains have impacted our manufacturing industry, including the electrical and electronics sector. The Government and UWEEI are monitoring these developments very closely, and we will do all we can to help support our workers through these difficult times.
Just before joining you today, there was a news flash on my handphone. I was glad to see that the manufacturing sector in Singapore had done well in August this year. Those of you who have seen it, would have noticed that the electronics sector had a very strong August. According to the data, on a year-on-year basis, production in the key electronics cluster surged 44.2 per cent in August. Year-to-date, in spite of the circuit breaker, the electronics cluster has increased its output by 4.1 per cent compared to the same period last year in 2019. This is a sterling performance and is testimony to the hard work, ingenuity and creativity of our workers, and the resilience of our companies.
We have weathered such storms before, and I am confident that we will be able to come through this storm again together. For example, even during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2008 when companies were scaling back operations and reducing production, Singapore was able to maintain a good competitive position. Even in the current difficult economic situation, there is reason for us to be optimistic about the future of our industry. More so than before, no one can imagine a world without electronics, without the goods you produce. COVID-19 has already accelerated global trends towards digitisation, telecommuting and e-commerce, creating new demand for electronic systems and devices of all kinds. 5G will open up new opportunities and spur the development of new inter-connected devices. Robotics, self-driving and electric vehicles will all drive demand for electronics and electrical devices. As long as we keep up with technology, be flexible and learn new skills, we can remain competitive. With political stability, and by working together to maintain a positive labour and business environment, we can continue to offer companies a stable and safe location to invest in. In this way, we can continue to create good jobs for Singaporeans, particularly in this sector.
Protecting, Growing and Supporting Our Workers
Today, I would like to talk about three areas in which the Government and UWEEI and our companies have been working together to: protect our workers; grow job opportunities; and support Singaporeans.
First, protecting our workers. While it is not possible for us to protect every job, the Government is committed to working together with UWEEI to help and protect every worker. This is a key principle behind the four budgets that the Government has introduced over the past 7 months, in which we have dedicated close to $100 billion to protect our workers, households and companies. We launched the Jobs Support Scheme (or JSS) at the start of the pandemic to help businesses retain and continue to pay workers. Since then, over $16 billion have been disbursed, benefiting over 2 million local workers in more than 150,000 firms. These payments which go to the firms, help them stay in operation, keep them solvent, and enable them to keep their workers, so that companies and workers remain as an in-tact production facility even as they face fluctuations in demand and disruptions in supply chains. While the unemployment rate has gone up, we have so far kept it below the peak level of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2008.
The Government has extended the JSS until March 2021, and will continue to provide wage support ranging from 10 per cent to 75 per cent. With this extension, most businesses will receive wage support for 17 months to help them retain as many workers as possible and keep businesses and workforce intact for when the recovery comes. Companies also benefit from training grants and training opportunities for the workers, so that they make good use of this time to prepare for the recovery.
We also look after our self-employed workers. The Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (or SIRS) has helped 190,000 self-employed persons. In addition, more than 60,000 Singaporeans who have lost their jobs or suffered a 30 per cent loss of salary have benefited from the COVID-19 Support Grant, with more than $90 million disbursed so far.
Second, in addition to protecting jobs wherever possible, we have now moved to growing jobs, and this is a second area which we are giving emphasis on. In the first couple of months, we were trying to protect jobs; what we are moving to now, is to grow new jobs and to help our workers move into these new jobs. Several sectors are still growing amidst the severe economic situation, such as ICT, medical sciences, healthcare and financial services. In the electronics sector, while some companies in Singapore have been affected, others are expanding their operations. What this means is that workers in the industry should be able to continue to find jobs, even though there may be restructuring in their own particular company. The unions and the Government will help our workers to transit into new jobs and new companies which are still growing and employing.
To help our companies and workers make this transition, we established the National Jobs Council. The Council oversees the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, which aims to create 100,000 new jobs, traineeships and skills training places. Two nights ago, I was doing a block visit in Pasir Ris. I was delighted to meet a young person who has just graduated. I asked her if she had managed to find a job. She said yes, she had gotten one of these traineeships. Her parents were very relieved and happy that during this period when jobs are difficult to come by, their daughter has this opportunity to learn, get experience and have something solid to put on her CV for the future. To reach out to our workers, we have set up 24 SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres in the heartlands.
The new Jobs Growth Initiative (or JGI) is a major $1 billion-dollar programme to encourage and support companies which increase their Singaporean workforce in the next 6 months. Such companies will receive a 25 per cent subsidy for 12 months for the first $5,000 of salary for each new Singaporean worker they employ. That means it is $1,250 per worker for 12 months, to help the company employ the worker and prepare the worker for this new job. This amounts to $15,000 for the company to employ each new Singaporean worker spread over 12 months. We are also very concerned about our mid-career workers. For new Singaporean hires over the age of 40, the company will receive double that amount – $30,000, to cover 50 per cent of the first $5,000 of that new worker’s salary for 12 months. We hope that companies that are planning to grow will take this opportunity to employ new workers, and that our workers will take this opportunity to move into new jobs, new companies, in new growth sectors.
UWEEI is supporting our workers to do so by helping them to upgrade and upskill so that they can increase their employability and take up these new jobs. I am glad that UWEEI has been engaging our companies to form Company Training Committees to identify the training and skills that our workers need to keep up with industry transformation, and to help our workers to be trained in these key areas. UWEEI has also been working with our Institutes of Higher Learning, in particular our polytechnics and ITE, to design specialised courses for the electrical and electronics sector.
Third, we are supporting Singaporeans. As we come through these difficult times, and as the economy restructures, we will face retrenchments. The Government will continue to work closely with our tripartite partners to help our displaced workers. For example, our tripartite partners have worked together to implement the Fair Retrenchment Framework proposed by NTUC. The NTUC Job Security Council, which was set up earlier this year, has matched more than 20,000 displaced and at-risk workers to new opportunities. We will work hard together with the union, to make sure that if there is a retrenchment, it is done fairly, workers are compensated fairly, and we help them move into new jobs, new companies and new industries.
Our job situation is likely to remain volatile and weak beyond this year. The Government, NTUC and UWEEI are studying how we can continue to support workers and self-employed persons who are most vulnerable.
Brothers and Sisters, a strong union helps to ensure that our workers are well represented. A strong union that works well with our tripartite partners ensures the long-term welfare of our workers. A strong and stable government helps to provide that important platform for all three partners – the Government, unions and employers – to come together in a cooperative way to look after the interests of our workers. We must continue to build upon our strong and unique tripartite relationship, and work together to help both workers and businesses to come through this challenging period together. We have done so before, and the union has worked hard and helped our workers. I am confident that together, we will be able to emerge stronger and better from this crisis.
I wish all our brothers and sisters in UWEEI good health, and a successful Ordinary Convention of Delegates 2020. Thank you very much.
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