Measures on lower-wage workers, workplace discrimination part of plans for a fairer society: Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE – The slew of measures announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally – from raising the pay of lower-wage workers to addressing workplace discrimination – are part of the Government’s broader agenda to create a fairer, more inclusive society.

These are measures which the Government has been considering for some time, and not just so that Singapore can emerge stronger from Covid-19, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.

In an interview on Friday (Sept 3) for The Big Story, The Straits Times’ daily news programme, Mr Wong said that Singaporeans, and not just businesses, will have to do their part to help lower-wage workers have a share of the fruits of the nation’s progress, such as by paying a little more for goods and services.

“That will help benefit the wages of our lower-wage workers directly, and I think that’s something all of us should be prepared to do,” he said.

“Because in the end it speaks to our values, who we are, what we stand for, and the kind of society we want to be – that everyone should matter, we should all move forward together as one people.”

He added that the Government is working out a transitional support package to cushion the impact on business costs.

The details are being worked out, and will be announced when ready.

In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, PM Lee announced that the Government will extend the Progressive Wage Model to cover more sectors and specific occupations. The Government is also studying ways to strengthen job protection for delivery workers.

Firms that hire foreign workers will have to pay all their local workers at least the Local Qualifying Salary, which will be adjusted from time to time.

Fair employment guidelines will also be enshrined in law, and a tribunal set up to tackle workplace discrimination.

Mr Wong stressed that the recent announcements cannot be seen in isolation from steps the Government has been taking to strengthen the economy and society.

The stresses and strains placed on Singaporeans from the pandemic have given greater impetus to boost social support and safety nets, he said.

“That’s why we’ve been thinking about this, and why we are making these moves. Our aim is to emerge from this as a fairer and more equal, and more just society, where every Singaporean will have a share in the nation’s progress, where every Singaporean matters… and where all of us are good stewards of the future, always thinking about how we can leave behind a better Singapore.”

The end game, he added, is a fairer, greener, and more inclusive Singapore in the future.

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Responding to a question from The Big Story host, multimedia correspondent Hairianto Diman, on why the National Day Rally did not discuss the existential issue of climate change, Mr Wong explained that it is not possible for any single speech to cover everything.

But climate change is a very important issue, which is why the Government launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030 in February this year, he said.

He noted that the plan had set ambitious targets over the next 10 years to push the frontiers of sustainable development – no mean feat, given that Singapore is a small city-state and has few options when it comes to renewable energy.

“We are also reviewing the level and trajectory of Singapore’s carbon tax, and will announce that in the coming Budget,” he said.

“We are making a lot of significant changes in the next few years to reduce our emissions, but going beyond that, to put us in a strong position to achieve net zero emissions as a country as soon as we can.”

The Singapore Green Plan 2030 is a road map with sustainability targets that aims to help the country reach net zero emissions as soon as viable.

There are five pillars in the plan – City in Nature, Sustainable Living, Energy Reset, Green Economy and Resilient Future.

Some new initiatives under the plan include having at least 20 per cent of schools here become carbon neutral by 2030, and a more than 50 per cent increase in nature park land where people can go hiking or bird watching.

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