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Speech by Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Transport, at the NTUC Finance and Business Cluster NDOC 2010

05 Aug 2010

Mr John De Payva
President of NTUC,

Mr Ong Ye Kung
Assistant Secretary General of NTUC,

Mr Terry Lee
NTUC Finance and Business Services Cluster Chairman,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.          Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to join you at your National Day Observance Ceremony. It is heartening to see union members and management alike from the Finance and Business Services Cluster coming together to celebrate our nation’s 45th birthday.

Financial Services Today

2.           We have come a long way since 1965 and after many years of sweat and toil, we have much to be proud of. The Institute of Policy Studies did a survey and found that 93 per cent of Singaporeans polled think that Singapore is a better country than most others. Particularly on the finance and business front, the survey revealed that 93 per cent were most proud of our economic achievements amongst others. A recent article on TIME also referred to Singapore as the “Hottest (Little) Economy in the World”.

3.          It has often been said that Singapore punches well above her weight. We host many of the world’s largest and reputable financial institutions, and boast a diverse and sizeable financial services sector.

Investing in People

4.          Singapore has no doubt done well in weathering the economic storm. We achieved an encouraging 18 per cent growth in the first half of 2010. But we must not be complacent. We need to ensure that critical factors such as a pro-business environment, excellent infrastructure, and a strong regulatory and supervisory framework continue to support our development as an international financial centre. Most importantly, companies must continuously invest in their most valuable assets – their people, so that Singapore can maintain, if not sharpen, our competitiveness.

5.          As Singapore works towards increasing productivity, it is imperative for every one of us to keep abreast of global market and technological developments that are transforming our respective sectors. Individually, it is important that each one of us remain diligent and imbued with an attitude of life-long learning in order to be a valued worker. In this aspect, unions have been playing an instrumental role in helping workers get the necessary skill-sets to remain employable amidst structural and economic changes.

6.          Change is never comfortable, and for workers, there will always be concern if they have to unlearn, relearn, or take up different roles or different jobs. Unions, which operate on the ground, can help to explain the necessity of change to its members. It can promote skills and knowledge upgrading, so that our workforce is ready for change. It can provide valuable inputs and feedback to management, so that change is implemented in the least disruptive and most acceptable way. In this regard, the NTUC recently launched a $40 million Inclusive Growth Programme, and our Unions are now actively promoting productivity improvement.

Tripartism in Singapore

7.          Tripartism, simply put, is the spirit of working together and sharing our fruits of success. Over the last 45 years, we have worked together as a people to transform our young country from poverty and hardship to prosperity and progress. In the process, we built up a reservoir of trust between our people, employers and the Government.

8.          While other Unions and management in other countries may take opposing sides, fighting each other at times over how to distribute the pie, our Unions and management play on the same side, to enlarge the pie in a spirit of mutual cooperation.

Union Structure

9.          Tripartism today is a significant economic advantage that Singapore has. But we can continue to strengthen this institution only if all three legs of Tripartism remain strong. In particular, if Unions become weak, they will no longer be able to represent our workforce, and champion win-win causes.

10.          Union membership in the financial services industry is waning, largely due to the changing profile of the financial services workforce. With more professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), unions, which have traditionally served rank and file workers, will have to work harder to reach out to the PMEs and promote Union membership to them. PMEs will have different needs from rank and file workers. To be successful in recruiting PME members, the Unions will need to answer to those needs.

11.          The Unions will also need to develop the correct structure to support its growth. Today, we have the Singapore Bank Officers’ Association (SBOA) representing the officers and supervisors, and Singapore Bank Employees’ Union (SBEU) representing the rank and file workers, and the DBS Staff Union, which is a house Union representing all levels of workers within DBS. But I am glad to know that the SBOA and SBEU are working towards a merger of the two Unions. This is a good first step.

12.          I would like to commend the unions for taking this progressive approach. I believe that you will continue to help companies sharpen their competitive edge and remain viable in our very challenging environment in all ways possible. I encourage you to press on and keep up the good work that has contributed to the well-being of workers and the development of this key cluster in our economy.

13.          In closing, let me wish you all a Happy National Day. Majulah Singapura!