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Speech By Minister For Finance Lawrence Wong At NTUC May Day Rally On 1 May 2022, 10.50am At D’marquee, Downtown East

01 May 2022
PM, Sister Mary Liew, Brother Ng Chee Meng

Brothers and Sisters  


1. Good morning to everyone. Thank you, Brother Chee Meng for the kind words and for the opportunity to say a few words at this May Day Rally. It has been two difficult and unforgettable years fighting Covid-19 together. After two years of Zoom and one-meter safe distancing, I think I speak for everyone in this room when I say it is so good to see everyone together, and feel the energy and atmosphere.

2. I am glad we were able to ease our safe management measures decisively, just a few days ago. Please do not get the wrong impression, we did not do that just for this event. We are always guided by public health considerations, very strictly, but as it so happens, the timing could not have been better – just in time for the long weekend. 

3. Let me wish all of you a happy May Day, and to all our Muslim friends, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri in advance. 

Foundations of Tripartism

4. As you all know, I’ve just returned from a working trip to the US. Still a bit jetlagged.

a. When I was there, one issue that dominated the headlines was the unionization efforts at Amazon, you may have read about this – workers at Amazon had succeeded in unionizing one warehouse, just one warehouse, but already the company was pushing back and contesting the outcome in court

b. Similar fights are taking place across other major US companies. 

5. You can’t imagine this happening in Singapore and it reminded me of how unique and precious a situation we have here

a. The key reason for this is the strong partnership between the PAP and NTUC  
b. Even before independence, our first generation of PAP leaders and unionists were part of the same movement
c. They had one common, over-riding, aim and that was to fight to improve the lives of our workers.
d. Of course, the 1960s were the crucible years 
i. The PAP prevailed in the political arena

ii. And because it did, the NTUC also prevailed in winning the hearts and minds of workers

6. From those early years, we forged our distinctive model of tripartism  

a. Where unions partnered the Government and employers

b. And the tripartite partners became co-drivers of Singapore’s development

7. Today tripartism remains the cornerstone of the Singapore Way 

a. Which means, we may have differing interests from time to time
b. But we do not clash and grind against each other in a zero-sum game
c. Instead, we learn to accommodate, give-and-take, and find common ground
d. In the process we build closer relationships with one another, we strengthen trust, and we move forward together  


8. Many of us here – perhaps around my age or younger – we did not live through those difficult founding years 

a. But we are the direct beneficiaries of tripartism  
b. Our formative experiences were not of the fierce and fearsome battles and race riots of the 1960s

c. Instead, we experienced directly how progressive social and economic policies could uplift everyone – regardless of race, language or religion; regardless of social background

9. My own life story illustrates this 

a. I come from an ordinary heartland family in Marine Parade
b. Remember a decade ago, what DPM Heng said about every school being a good school? 
c. That to me was not a slogan; it was a lived experience
d. I went to a PCF, PAP Community Foundation, Kindergarten; Haig Boys’ Primary School (where my mother was a teacher for nearly 40 years), Tanjong Katong Secondary and then to Victoria Junior College – schools that were all near my home 
e. So I can tell you from personal experience that we must continue to ensure every school remains a good school in Singapore

f. I have experienced first-hand the benefits of inclusion and equal opportunities 

10. Our pioneers have enabled my generation and I to do better than our parents 

a. Likewise, for me and my 4G team, we want to ensure the same for the next generation, for our children and grandchildren

b. We want those who come after us to also benefit from inclusion, from opportunities, from many more expanding pathways to success and fulfilment 

Our Nation-Building Project

11. Can we achieve all this? 

12. No doubt when we look ahead, there are many things to worry about, as PM had shared earlier  

a. The pandemic is not over, and there are significant economic challenges ahead of us
b. Rapid digitalisation and automation are disrupting our industries; 
c. Straining US-China relations can bring about a more fractured and bifurcated world order; and
d. Domestically too we must wrestle with other issues, including a rapidly ageing population and a more diverse society 


13. These challenges are not unique to Singapore; there are similar headwinds across much of the developed world, creating anxieties and strains 

a. In many places, people respond with an “us-versus-them” mentality 
b. In other words, anger is directed at the “others”, and the “others” could be foreigners, or those of different ethnicity or background
c. And then, politicians seek to exploit the grievances of various groups to sow discord and make others look bad
d. As a result, as we can all see, many of these societies have become more insular, polarised, and divided 


14. Naturally, when you look at all these, some worry about Singapore’s future and they ask: If large economies like the US and EU are already struggling to solve these problems, what chance does a little red dot like Singapore have? 

a. Of course, no one can guarantee that Singapore will do well in this more uncertain and volatile future
b. But what gives me confidence is what we have been through these last 2 years  
i. We lack the resources of larger countries, and so we’ve had to import vaccines, food and many other essential supplies 
ii. But we were able to adapt and adjust quickly as we learnt more about the virus, and how to protect lives and livelihoods  
iii. Above all, throughout this period, we’ve kept faith with one another and maintained our solidarity and trust in each other 
iv. That is how we have attained good outcomes – we’ve kept Covid-19 deaths at one of the lowest rates in the world, and enabled employment and incomes to recover quickly to pre-Covid-19 levels already

v. The lesson should be clear to all of us: we will achieve more when we stand together as one united people 

15. I recently had a dialogue with some young people, it was organised by the SG100 Foundation

a. In case you have not heard about this, the foundation is a ground-up effort started after 2015, when we had SG50, and it aims to engage and mentor youths and empower them to work towards SG100

b. I was especially encouraged by the grit and resilience shown by all our young people at the forum

16. SG100 is a long time away; I will be more than 90 years old then, that is if I’m lucky to be still around 

a. But let’s take SG75 as an intermediate milestone – that’s in 2040 
b. I will be 50 this year; I have committed all 25 years of my working life so far to public service – 14 in the civil service, and 11 in politics 
c. By 2040, I will be close to 70 years old
d. As I said before, I don’t know if the PAP will win the next General Election, let alone if I will still be in office in 2040 
e. But I give you my word: whatever lies ahead, I will give every ounce of my strength to this movement, together with my comrades in the 4G team  
f. We will do whatever it takes
i. To strengthen the PAP-NTUC symbiotic relationship and our tripartite partnership 
ii. To keep Singapore special

iii. And build a better Singapore in SG75

Refreshing Our Social Compact

17. Earlier, in this year’s Budget, I spoke about the need to chart a new way forward in a post-pandemic future  

a. In the Budget, I introduced several measures to:
i. Invest in our children
ii. Support families towards home ownership
iii. And to uplift lower-wage workers  
iv. In particular, as Brother Chee Meng said just now, he had briefed me about the efforts of NTUC to upskill workers, and the positive impact of the Company Training Committee initiative or the CTC 

v. So that’s why I decided to provide additional resources to NTUC to scale our workforce transformation efforts, and I am very happy to hear the details shared by Brother Chee Meng just now. Please make good use of the funds I have allocated!

18. In this Budget, we’ve made several major moves. But there is still much more to be done.

a. Covid-19 and the Ukraine war are major turning points in history which will take us into a new and different world
b. We also have new generations of Singaporeans coming of age, with different aspirations and expectations, including a desire for more diversity, as well as more checks and balances 

c. This means we must take a broader look at our objectives and priorities: Consider how we would want to collectively renew and strengthen our social compact; how we would want to define our mission of building Singapore for the next bound  

19. So the 4G team and I will lead an exercise to refresh our social compact 

a. We will engage stakeholders from every sphere – unions, the people and private sectors  
b. We will seek to hear your thoughts on the economy, healthcare, housing, education, and many other areas including how we can continue to support and uplift every worker.
i. We will consider what we need to do differently; but also affirm what is being done well; and how we can do it even better

ii. To be clear: this is not just about what the Government can do for you; but also, as we learnt throughout this pandemic – what we can all do for one another; and how we can all, collectively, contribute toward building a better society that embodies the values we stand for 

20. In short, we aim to develop a “Forward Singapore” agenda, which will set out the roadmap for the next decade and beyond

a. This will be a major undertaking of the 4G team 

b. We will formally launch this exercise soon

21. I am sharing this with you today to seek the Labour Movement’s full participation and support for this exercise

a. Because the NTUC embodies the aspirations and concerns of all our workers
b. We wouldn’t be here today without the NTUC; and we cannot get to a better place tomorrow without your support

c. So I want to say a very big thank you to all our brothers and sisters at the NTUC and the labour movement. Let’s continue to work together – the PAP and the NTUC, and all our tripartite partners – to refresh our social compact and take us forward to our next phase.


22. Singapore’s progress over the decades was by no means guaranteed

a. It took persistence, hard work, and the cultivation of shared values and aspirations
b. The Labour Movement and our Tripartism have been the bedrock of our success.  They have proven integral, time and time again, in helping us to weather many crises along the way
c. The PAP Government will continue to support and strengthen the NTUC

d. And I have every confidence that the NTUC will also stand shoulder to shoulder with the PAP Government

23. There is no ready blueprint for the Singapore of tomorrow  

a. But, if you ask me, I would like to see a fairer, greener, and more inclusive Singapore that we will always be proud to call home
b. A home where everyone is accepted and valued, and treated equally and with respect, no matter their background or station in life
c. A home where everyone can live with dignity, and flourish in their own way, and at their own pace, regardless of their starting points
d. Going from ideal to reality will require more than my own personal hopes; it’s about what we can and must do as a people, together

24. We can take heart that we are moving forward from a strong foundation

a. With trusted partners like the NTUC

b. Who share with us the unwavering conviction that we must always do right by Singapore and our fellow Singaporeans

25. So to all my brothers and sisters in the Labour Movement, and all our tripartite partners, I look forward to walking this journey with each and every one of you by my side 

a. Let’s engage our fellow citizens, and draw on our shared aspirations, hopes and dreams for the future 
b. Let’s chart our new way forward together, and keep the Singapore Story going for many more generations to come 
c. Happy May Day, thank you very much!