Asia Minute: Singapore PM: “Some Jobs Will Simply Disappear”

May 1, 2020

In many places, today is Labor Day — a celebration of working people at a time when work has been disrupted around the world. In one Southeast Asian nation, the Prime Minister used his annual Labor Day address to talk about a cautious re-opening to a work world that will be very different.

For decades, the Labor Day address of the Prime Minister has been a major event on Singapore’s political calendar – delivered to a boisterous union crowd of hundreds. This year it was quietly live-streamed, with a cautious tone.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said re-starting the country’s economy will be a gradual process. He spoke of plans for increased testing and faster contact tracing. But Lee also talked about structural changes to Singapore’s service-based economy—warning that “some jobs will simply disappear.”

As for areas of growth, the Prime Minister mentioned “medical services, biotech, food production and delivery and Information Technology.”

On the pace of re-opening, Lee said priorities are sectors that support Singapore’s domestic economy followed by those that connect the country to the world — including global supply chains. Travel and tourism will come much later.

Less of a priority: businesses which “attract crowds, or involve close contact with other people, such as entertainment outlets and large-scale sporting events.”

Singapore had early success in dealing with COVID-19, but has seen a recent spike in cases — mostly centered on migrant workers, packed tightly in company dormitories. Of the more than 16,000 active cases in the country, government figures show nearly 90% are migrant workers.