Tripartism in S’pore – more than a Labour Movement 


Labour Day is around the corner. But while its significance has been mostly forgotten and diluted to “just another public holiday”, it truly is more than that. 

Gazetted as an official holiday in 1960, Labour Day is a day to honour workers who have contributed immensely to make Singapore a success.

As for the PAP, Labour Day is also a celebration of our longstanding relationship with the labour movement and our commitment as a Party to stand by our workers. 

PAP and the trade unions, a bromance for decades

Since our late Founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew made his inaugural May Day Rally speech to uphold and protect workers’ welfare, the PAP has never wavered from this belief to put workers first. 

Although the days of table-thumping confrontation are gone, and industrial action, picket lines and work stoppages have become the domain of history textbooks, the labour movement is far from dead.

On the contrary, trade unions in Singapore and the Government have traded the combative approach of yesteryear for a collaborative one to create a vibrant ecosystem of shared values and goals to uplift workers. 

Today, our labour movement is rational and not emotional, productive not disruptive. 

It is a symbiotic relationship between the Government, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) encapsulated in the buzzword we now know as tripartism.  

Tripartism for social progress

By forging harmonious labour-management relations, tripartism has played an important role in Singapore’s progress and economic competitiveness. 

Moreover, a tight partnership between Government and trade unions is essential for crafting policies that make a real difference to Singaporeans. 

Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Zaqy Mohamad said, “Achieving tripartite consensus is essential… create a sustainable and win-win condition for both employees and businesses. It has been a privilege to work in solidarity with our tripartite partners at NTUC Singapore and SNEF on this very meaningful work.”

Since its introduction in 2012, the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) is one example of how tripartism sprang into action to improve the job prospects of lower-wage workers. 

Developed as a better alternative to a blanket minimum wage, the PWM maps out a career pathway and a wage structure that will rise (in tandem) with skills training and increased productivity.

In addition, tripartism is the bedrock for creating an inclusive and progressive society in Singapore

From employment support for persons with disabilities (PwDs) to enshrining the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) guidelines into law, it is, as Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad has noted: “We will press on with our efforts to leave no worker behind as Singapore progresses!”

The evolution of tripartism 

The aims of tripartism have also evolved with the times to go beyond improving wages and working conditions. 

That is because as we push forward to renew our social compact, there is a strong focus on tripartism as a force for change to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout life.

To date, the SkillsFuture movement has been instrumental in helping Singaporeans to upskill and stay relevant through continuous education. It has also been crucial in expanding our narrow definition of success beyond paper qualifications. 

And by involving tripartite partners in this mission, we can accelerate the efforts to turn lifelong learning into a national habit. 

As Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang shared in parliament last week, the Government will work closely with industry partners and training providers to offer courses to meet different training needs and encourage employers to recognise the skills the workers have acquired. 

Once again, another reason why a close collaboration between tripartite partners is needed to minimise the chances of a skills mismatch and make training worthwhile.

Since the turbulent sixties, tripartism has come a long way in improving the lives of a generation of workers. 

And as we welcome Labour Day, let us remember the role tripartism has played in nation-building, during peacetime and in crisis, now and for the future. 

Photo Source: Lee Hsien Loong/Zaqy Mohamad/ Gan Siow Huang/MCI