The open secret of the symbiotic relationship between PAP and NTUC

By February 27, 2023Current

At Budget Debate 2023, there was a common recurring theme that was highlighted by many of the PAP MPs in their speech — the welfare of workers. It is public knowledge that many of our PAP MPs are advisers to the many unions under the labour movement and have spoken widely on championing the interests of workers. However, there are also PAP MPs who do not hold an appointment as a union adviser but still spoke at great length and with great passion on the work, wages, and welfare of workers– evident in Budget Debate 2023. 

For any country to enjoy stability and economic prosperity, the people must first be happy, which can only happen when basic needs are met. According to the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, safety needs which come right after basic physiological needs, encompass personal security, employment, resources, health and property.


Hence, as much as we do not want to make work a large part of our lives, remaining employed and having good jobs and financial security continues to serve our basic needs. So, it is no surprise that many government leaders spoke up on worker-related issues and that many policies we have today are worker-centric. 

A nation’s growth, a collective effort 

At the Debate, Senior Minister of State for Manpower of Singapore Zaqy Mohamad mentioned that it is beyond just the worker’s effort in upskilling for productivity that enables wages to grow sustainably in the long term.

Efforts from the tripartite partners are also instrumental and if not more important than the effort of individual workers. Tripartite relations help put forth productivity thrive, transform and put in place schemes and recommendations that will directly impact both businesses on a larger scale down to individual workers. Workers’ interests need to be placed at the forefront for it to have a ripple effect on a bigger scale in terms of increased business productivity and economic prosperity. This statement echoes Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong’s sentiments on the need for strong tripartism to advance every Singaporean so that Singapore can move upwards collectively, as a nation. 

“So in Singapore, it’s not about pro-business vis-a-vis pro-workers. Neither is it about pro-growth vis-a-vis pro-redistribution. It is about all of us – employers, unions and the Government coming together to advance the wellbeing of Singaporeans and build a better future for ourselves and our children.” 

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong 

PAP MPs call to support workers in Budget Debate 2023 

Many MPs who are advisers to the union have also spoken deeply on worker-related issues at the Budget Debate this year.  

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Focusing on cost-of-living concerns in the Budget Debate this year, MP Xie Yao Quan who is also an adviser to the Union of Security Employees (USE) and Ngee Ann Polytechnic Academic Staff Union, spoke up on how real wages must go up sustainably to mitigate cost-of-living concerns, especially for lower-wage workers. Recognising that rising prices hit low-wage workers especially hard, as consumption takes out a disproportionate part of income for low-wage workers, he conveyed his support for the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) which would give the lower-wage workers a sharp uplift in terms of wages over the next few years. He emphasised that to make schemes like such effective, it would require a collective effort from the national decision-makers down to every individual worker. 

“Government is doing its part, through various Budgetary measures to support PWM.  

All of us, consumers, should do our part too, and be prepared to pay a little more for food, services and so on.  

But ultimately, employers of low-wage workers, and buyers of their services, if these services are outsourced, must also play their part to uplift our low-wage workers.”  

MP Xie Yao Quan, Adviser to Union of Security Employees (USE) and Ngee Ann Polytechnic Academic Staff Union

Also speaking up for workers in his budget speech this year was MP Wan Rizal who is also an adviser to the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU) and United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries (UWEEI). Recognising the need to address Singapore’s immediate needs while investing in the future, he spoke in favour of the Jobs-Skills Integrators initiative that seeks to tie skills training to employment outcomes and career prospects. He mentioned that if successful, it could potentially address the issue of the income gap between non-graduates and graduates as the initiative will “increase employment opportunities and allow them to remain agile in a dynamic job space.” 

Speaking in support of the new Job-Skills Integrators scheme to enhance employment support was MP Mariam Jaafar. However, she calls for support to be more inclusive to include groups that are pushed to the limits of adversity such as and especially middle-income earners who have suffered from involuntarily job loss. Acknowledging that the existing slew of support schemes such as ComCare, upskilling programmes and grants are beneficial to help workers tide over when they face a job loss, she cites that they may be insufficient to those of the middle-income group as this group usually have large financial commitments and would be impacted most if hit by involuntary unemployment.

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Alluding to the increasingly volatile environment we are in with whispers of more retrenchment, MP Mariam Jaafar agreed with MP and NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay’s call for the implementation of unemployment support so that more can be done to safeguard this group of workers. Some suggestions she offered was to tweak the ComCare scheme to tier their system levels based on lost income, making it time limited and subjected to efforts to look for new jobs or attend suitable reskilling programmes. These, she argued, would “help to moderate the impact of a job loss on the middle-income Singaporeans, helping them to meet their commitments and focus on recovery and growth.” 

Apart from wages and work prospects of workers that were in focus in the budget debate speeches, the welfare of workers was also raised. In his budget date speech, MP Louis Ng, also an adviser to the United Workers of Petroleum Industry (UWPI) and Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU) spoke passionately about the welfare of workers, specifically nurses from the healthcare sector.

While he welcomed the review of salary, allowance and the 2022 Nurses Special Payment(NSP) Package to recognise the efforts of nurses, he argued that support should go beyond monetary means. He proposed to mandate protected rest time for nurses between shifts, protected rest time for nurses during shifts and to provide more ancillary support staff for nurses. With more rest time, it would greatly help in terms of fatigue management of nurses, and they could better care for the patients at work. This is extremely crucial as nurses need to be in their best form in their line of work as there are no room for error when it comes to caring for a patient’s life. Calling on more ancillary support staff for nurses, he proposed the government look into Patient-Care Officers, akin to Care Ambassadors, to relieve the workload of nurses so that they can focus on clinical care while leaving the customer service portion to another set of staff. Overall, this would reduce the attrition rate of workers which is key as Singapore moves to Doscorn Green with nurses’ workload remaining heavy. 

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Symbiotic relationship of PAP and NTUC 

The calls of the MPs to support worker-related issues displays the “symbiotic relationship” between the party and the labour movement. However, this symbiotic relationship is not something new. In fact, it all started when PAP’s founding father, Mr Lee Kwan Yew, embarked on his political life by representing unions.

Lee Kuan Yew and Devan Nair

Like what we have in government today, more than half of the members of the first PAP CEC Protem Committee have affiliations with trade unions. Evident from the Budget Debate 2023, there are speakers, even without a union appointment that spoke up fervently for the cause of workers

The PAP-supported union, NTUC, is pragmatic and focuses on workers’ welfare with goals to help Singaporeans attain better jobs, wages and work prospects to raise Singapore’s economic standing on an international level. Creating a strong economy by looking after the jobs and welfare of workers is instrumental in ensuring a small nation like Singapore without its own natural resources to have a competitive age over other countries. And this has proven effective given the multitude of policies that have been effective in improving the wages, welfare and work prospects of the workers which in turn leads to better productivity and Singapore’s heightened economic standing on a global scale. 

In a statement made by NTUC at one of its earlier Ordinary Delegates’ Conference, NTUC said it will continue to mobilise the broad middle ground to support the Government in policies that will serve the long-term interests of workers in Singapore, while in turn, the PAP must always be on the side of working people. This symbiotic relationship has made tripartism possible. Examples like the setup of the Job Security Council, the Progressive Wages and a multitude of other schemes and initiatives that have and continue to touch the lives of many working Singaporeans and uplifted our economy through Singapore’s stability and global standing amidst demanding times. 


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Author Zahra

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