SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he fully supports ongoing tripartite discussions to extend the re-employment age beyond 65.
He was addressing more than 1,000 unionists at the May Day Rally on Thursday morning.
Speaking in English and Mandarin, he said the government aims to amend the Retirement and Re-employment Act but this will take time.
Mr Lee also paid tribute to the pioneer generation of unionists and urged unions to renew themselves and learn from past leaders.
This year's May Day Rally was held at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability at Jurong East.
The institute was officially opened by PM Lee, who said it is a good way to honour the spirit and contributions of Singapore's founding unionists like Mr Nair.
The institute is one of two Continuing Education and Training (CET) campuses the government has built to help workers remain employable.
The other campus is the Lifelong Learning Institute at Paya Lebar, which is operated by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA).
Mr Lee said promoting continuous learning for those already working is critical when knowledge becomes obsolete more quickly.
These two institutes reflect the government's commitment to invest in workers and help them improve their skills and stay employable, said Mr Lee.
The CET system will undergo a major revamp to support workers better.
Several initiatives are expected to be announced when the second CET campus is officially opened later this year.
When Mr Lee met union leaders recently, they expressed concerns about the plight of older workers.
Many indicated they wanted to continue working beyond 65 and hoped the government can help, preferably with the "same job, same pay".
He assured that help will be given but urged them to be prepared instead to do "suitable jobs, with reasonable pay".
Mr Lee also cautioned workers about the competition Singapore faces and encouraged them to upgrade and learn new skills.
Mr Lee said: "We can't tell our competition to go away. They want to eat our lunch, we know that. They want to eat our dinner, we suspect that. We can't stop them from wanting, but we can make sure we can hold our own, and we can eat our own lunch.
"We can provide you the resources and the means to stay one step ahead of the competition, and we will have a Singapore system which we can work together to build, to maximise your potential, maximise your contributions."
Mr Lee also stressed the need to create better jobs -- to raise the value and dignity of work, and be better safety nets than social transfers.
To create better jobs, he said Singapore has to remain open.
Mr Lee said: "We must not send the wrong signal that Singapore doesn't welcome investments, or we are turning away talent. We want to do well, we are doing well for our people.
"The best way to do that is by being open, big-hearted, confident. We compete, we can win. We are not afraid."
The Prime Minister noted that better jobs require better companies as these would attract quality investments.
He said Singapore is now seeking higher-skilled, knowledge-intensive, innovation-driven investments like that of Lucasfilm.
The film production company, famous for Star Wars movies, chose to set up its base in Singapore because the country has an international talent base, good infrastructure, and creative minds with the right skills.
Mr Lee also said Singapore must stay open and connected to the world, for example, through working closely with its neighbours on win-win projects like Iskandar Malaysia and Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks.
Mr Lee added that Singapore supports free trade and investments like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement as these will expand Singapore's export markets and attract more investments to the country.
PM Lee also honoured Singapore's pioneer generation (PG) unionists.
He said they defeated the pro-Communists in the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) and enabled the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to assume its leadership role.
Mr Lee said: "Nobody appointed the NTUC. They fought for this right to represent Singapore workers and they won it.
"These PG unionists convinced workers to abandon their own model of lose-lose confrontation, strikes, protests, sit-ins, riots, turbulence -- gave that up and embraced a new model of tripartite labour relations, win-win cooperation."
Mr Lee also urged the unions to renew themselves. He said this is another area unions can learn from the pioneer generation.
The pioneers were passionate leaders, and many served for a long time and groomed successors well.
Mr Lee said he is glad to see more union leaders making way for new blood at 62 years old, while retaining their links with the unions.
Besides workers and jobs, Mr Lee said Singapore is upgrading its environment.
One new facility that will be ready next year is the National Gallery, which overlooks the Padang.
Mr Lee also revealed that when Singapore marks its 50th year of independence next year, the National Day Parade will be held at the Padang. - CNA/nd/ir
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