In a speech on Wednesday (Jun 17), Singapore’s senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that the nation is set to focus on job creation and education initiatives to help counter any social divisions that might be hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic has left a profound social crisis across the globe, Singapore will improve efforts to strengthen its social compact, by ensuring people can make progress through jobs, education, skills training and social support measures, Bloomberg reports.
“Singapore cannot defy the global economic downturn,” said Tharman. “But we must absolutely defy the loss of social cohesion, the polarization, and the despair that is taking hold in many other countries. Never think these trends cannot take hold in Singapore.”
His comments come as total employment in the city state, excluding foreign domestic workers, fell by a record 25,600 in the first quarter, with labor market conditions likely to worsen in the upcoming quarter. Tharman, who’s said Singapore faces a ‘major and urgent challenge’ in this aspect, is chairing a council that’s seeking to create about 100,000 jobs and training opportunities in the coming year.
The number of unemployed residents in the country may reach a record this year, rising above 100,000 due to the impact of the pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in parliament this month.
“The reality of the matter is that we face strong headwinds,” Tharman said. “As long as grave uncertainty hangs over the global economy, and trade and travel are down, new job openings in Singapore will very likely be fewer than job losses. So if we leave things to market forces, unemployment will rise significantly over the next year, or even beyond that if Covid-19 remains a threat.”
He said the government is working with companies, sector by sector, to take on Singaporeans through temporary assignments, attachments and traineeships. The public sector is also bringing forward hiring for future jobs, while a concerted effort is being made to help middle-aged and older workers, including scaling up a new mid-career program geared at creating more work opportunities.
Singapore is also boosting investments in schools, pledging to hire more staff like teachers and welfare officers, as well as giving all secondary school students a personal laptop or tablet for learning by next year, seven years ahead of the original target, according to Tharman.
The government has increased subsidies for lower and middle-income families, and is seeking to further improve wages for the country’s lowest paid workers, he said.
“We must never become a society where social pedigree and connections count for more than ability and effort,” said the former deputy prime minster.
Tharman’s comments are the latest in a string of speeches by senior government officials about the impact of the virus, that has hammered the trade-reliant economy with the prospect of its worst downturn since independence. They also come as the Southeast Asian nation draws closer to the next yet-to-be-announced general elections.
“No one can tell what world will emerge when Covid-19 is over, or whether it has entered a long period of economic stagnation as many fear,” he said. “But we will do all we can to make ours a more cohesive society, and do it in ways that can be sustained into the next generation.”