[LIVE] National Day Rally 2021 – PM Lee Hsien Loong’s English speech

[LIVE] National Day Rally 2021 – PM Lee Hsien Loong’s English speech

[Music] ladies and gentlemen the prime minister [Applause] my fellow singaporeans good evening again my last national day rally was two years ago since then covet 19 has changed our world globally it’s taken millions of lives sickened many more and disrupted countless jobs and businesses in singapore each time it looks like we’ve beaten the virus it breaks through in different place and forces us to tighten up again but we’ve done better than many countries we’ve kept our people safe and protected our livelihoods i thank you all for your trust and cooperation your discipline and resilience have made all the difference in the fight against kobe 19. i want especially to thank all those on the front line singaporeans and non-singaporeans who have fought so long for so hard some of you are here at the rally others are joining us virtually welcome again and thank you all many of you have gone beyond the call of duty like aisha abdul rahman a passenger service agent at changi airport after passenger flights were sharply cut aisha was redeployed as a cargo agent for coal chain logistics she learned to operate a forklift and now handles temperature-sensitive goods including vaccines roslina rosslynato is a student volunteer in march last year when malaysia closed its borders many malaysian workers were stranded here roslina marshaled a team of 200 volunteers to organize food and shelter for them priya mohina is a senior physiotherapist at woodlands health she has expertise in respiratory problems lung problems so she was deployed to look after covid 19 patients i met her recently and asked her how did you feel were you afraid she said i wasn’t afraid i’m proud to give back i’m proud to be singaporean there are many more like aisha roslina and priya contact tracers swabbers ambulance drivers workers running quarantine facilities and vaccination centers because of people like them we held together in the face of covet 19 and brought the situation under control thank you all from the bottom of our hearts our vaccination program has been very successful singaporeans came forward readily to get jabbed confident that they would be in safe hands including madame chu hwat mui whom you see here she’s 92 years old and here she’s getting her jab not just from any nurse but from her daughter alice now 8 in 10 residents are fully vaccinated we are in a new situation vaccination has slowed the transmission and spread of cobit 19. but the virus has also mutated the delta variant is much more infectious it’s no longer possible to bring kovit 19 cases down to zero even if we lock down for a long time therefore we must prepare for covet 19 to become endemic like the flu or chickenpox fortunately with vaccination and added precautions we can live with a virus and become covet resilient we may have to tap on the brakes from time to time but we want to avoid having to slam on the brakes hard so in the next phase we will move step by step not in one big bang like some countries but cautiously and progressively feeling our way forward over the last week the number of covert 19 cases has gone up but the number of seriously ill has remained stable it’s important to maintain this so that we can continue to ease up and especially to reconnect singapore with the rest of the world meanwhile we continue to make every effort to reach the remaining unvaccinated population we are trying to reach you before the virus reaches you with endemic covet 19 sooner or later everyone will meet the virus if you are vaccinated you may not get infected but if you are not vaccinated you will almost certainly get infected and may well get very sick for children covet 19 is often a mild disease but for the old and not vaccinated it can be very dangerous that’s why mobile vaccination clinics are going around hdb neighborhoods so people upstairs can just come downstairs for their vaccinations and volunteer teams are going house to house a doctor and a nurse to vaccinate those who are immobile at home one by one if we all do our part in the months ahead then we can keep our situation stable and gradually return to a more normal life go back to work or school meet family and friends gather for religious services celebrate birthdays and weddings watch live shows and sports events and come together for national day with covet 19 under control we must now refocus on the future singapore has survived its worst economic crisis since independence we drew on every available resource to support workers and companies and emerge stronger now we must change gears it’s no longer about drawing down reserves to keep ourselves on life support it is about generating new growth new jobs and prosperity for the future the global economy is picking up the us and china are growing strongly europe is also recovering these are our major markets and that’s why mti is more confident that singapore will also do well and has raised our growth forecast for this year to six to seven percent beyond this year to sustain longer-term growth we need to do three things preserve our status as a business hub attract more foreign investments and grow singapore companies and entrepreneurs so first we must preserve singapore status as a business hub many mncs use singapore as their regional base their staff both local and foreign need to fly in and out of singapore to visit operations in other countries so too do our own businessmen if our borders stay closed for too long mncs will find us less useful singaporean businesses will also suffer and our economy will be permanently damaged so it’s important for us to open up soon and allow more people to travel in and out of singapore in a safe way second singapore must remain attractive to investors even during the pandemic edb persuaded major companies to invest here you’ve heard of pfizer the company that makes the vaccine pfizer has been in singapore for a long time now biontech pfizer’s vaccine partner will also be setting up shop here global foundries is a semiconductor manufacturer it already has five wafer fabs here and now it is building its sixth one and zoom has opened a new r d center their first in southeast asia two years ago i didn’t know what zoom was i’m sure most of you didn’t either now without doom we wouldn’t be holding today’s nationally rally edb has more projects in its pipeline all these investments will create many good jobs for singaporeans third singapore companies must make their mark in the new economy a few have become global names like cairo secret lab and carousel enterprise singapore is supporting more entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps go out into the world seize new opportunities and grow their businesses yvonne bach founded higgin it’s a company selling baby feeding bottles and equipment it’s a tough business to be in because singaporeans are making too few babies so from the start yvonne expanded into other markets higgin products are popular in china in korea and even israel when covet 19 hit many of hagan’s physical retail channels shut down so yvonne shifted to marketing online she improved her websites conducted live streams in multiple languages and hired more staff to fulfill orders now higgins main engine of growth is online sales the government will create the conditions for entrepreneurs like yvonne to start and grow their companies but subsidies and grants only go so far ultimately is their own resolve and resourcefulness which will secure their success economic growth is a means to an end not an end in itself it must be inclusive growth that benefits all singaporeans so that we can all fulfill our aspirations and see our children live better lives than ourselves this is how singaporeans have been uplifted generation after generation and to keep this up we have to tackle our social challenges 19 has sharpened fault lines in our society and made some difficult issues more urgent tonight i will talk about three of them first supporting lower wage workers second addressing anxieties over foreign work past holders and third managing race and religion let me first talk about supporting lower wage workers during covet 19 many lower wage workers were on the front line and singaporeans saw the importance of jobs like cleaning food delivery and security we gained fresh respect and appreciation for these workers lower wage workers and their families receive significant support from the government in housing through hdb subsidies and rental flats in healthcare through hospital subsidies the chat scheme and medifun in retirement through cpf top-ups and silver support and in education through a huge effort to support lower-income families to help their children do well in school and beyond despite this lower wage workers are more stressed than others their jobs are less secure they are more likely to be laid off they have less savings to tide over hard times in the pandemic their situation has been precarious and that’s why in every corvette 19 budget package we included extra help to lower income households beyond emergency assistance lower wage workers need longer term support in many countries the earnings of such workers have stagnated but in singapore their lives have improved as the country progressed because the government has helped them upgrade their skills use machines and technology and become more productive we also have specific policies to raise their income and one important policy is a workfare income supplement scheme workfare is effectively a negative income tax instead of taxing the incomes of lower wage workers the government tops up their salaries in cash and cpf contributions and almost half a million workers benefit workfare costs the government 850 million dollars a year and in two years time we will be increasing this to 1 100 million dollars and this will allow us to raise payouts for all workfare recipients and to help younger lower wage workers by starting workfare younger from the age 30 rather than from 35 it’s a major change another key policy is the progressive wage model the pwm the progressive wage model now covers cleaners security guards landscaping workers and lift maintenance workers it’s raised their skills and productivity and boosted their incomes and job progression today with progressive wages every cleaner earns at least one thousand two hundred dollars in two years time they will earn at least one thousand five and after another two years this will go up further to at least 1009 and by then the cleaners would also have picked up new skills and become more productive and the story is similar for security guards landscaping workers and lift maintenance workers sms zaki zaki mohammad chairs the tripartite work group studying how we can help lower wage workers more the work group has recommended three strategies to uplift lower wage workers one to extend progressive wages to many more workers we’ll cover more sectors starting with retail next year and later food services and waste management we’ll also cover specific occupations across all sectors simultaneously starting with administrative assistants and drivers in other words instead of going sector by sector horizontally slice by slice we are going occupation by occupation vertically slicing vertically and across all sectors at once starting with administrative assistance and drivers that’s the first one extending progressive wages secondly we will require companies who are hiring foreign workers to pay all their local employees at least a local qualifying salary that’s how the system works if you are calculating your work permit or your s-pass requirements entitlements today these companies already have to pay this qualifying salary which is one thousand four hundred dollars to some of their local employees depending on how many work permits or s-passes they hire we will tighten this to require these companies to pay all their local employees this local qualifying salary if they wish to hire any foreign workers and this local qualifying salary will also be adjusted from time to time third we will introduce a pw mark progressive wage mark we will accredit companies that are paying all their workers progressive wages with a pw mark we don’t have an official logo yet but i asked nanyang poly students who helped me do this my graphics to design something for the work group to consider and this is what they have come up with the pw mark will tell consumers which companies are paying all their workers decent wages the public sector is a major buyer of goods and services and it will take the lead and purchase only from such businesses the government accepts the work group’s recommendations the extended progressive wages plus the tighter local qualifying salary will cover eight and ten lower wage workers and if we include the workfare enhancements almost all lower wage workers can look forward to higher incomes within the next two years the work group has done its best to understand the aspirations of workers the concerns of employers and the objectives of the government i met them virtually on monday to thank them their proposals are tripartite consensus carefully negotiated and balanced between all stakeholders the cost of higher wages for the lower wage workers will have to be shared workers have to reskill and become more productive employers have to absorb part of the additional wage costs the government will help them with transitional support but businesses will still have to pass on some of the costs to their customers so all of us as consumers must also chip in pay a little bit more for some of our favorite things like bubble tea or bachomi with or without harm to help the shop cover higher cleaning and waste collection costs i’m glad that many singaporeans are willing to support lower wage workers in this way it will not only enable the workers to keep their jobs at higher pay it will also show that there’s a society we value their work and contributions and that they are part of us i’m especially concerned about the specific group of lower wage workers these are the delivery workers they work with online platforms like food panda grab or deliver they are a familiar site especially during covet 19 delivering our orders day and night it is hard work and most earn modest incomes let me show you a clip from a short film by muhammad rizzal bin marwazi ruzil is a talented second year student at ite central studying film he made this prize winning film based on his own experience as a delivery worker let’s watch it hey [Music] hey [Music] so they try to push that [Music] kajal it means to chase in malay this film captures the pressures on delivery workers chasing their targets earning their daily keep under constant stress for reasons beyond their control bad weather scary dogs motorcycle breakdowns trying their best to hit their daily targets and not always succeeding delivery workers are for all intents and purposes just like employees the online platform set the price of their product they determine which jobs are assigned to which workers they manage how the workers perform including imposing penalties and suspensions yet delivery workers have no employment contracts with the online platforms therefore they lack the basic job protection that most employees enjoy like workplace injury compensation union representation and employer cpf besides delivery workers there are also some lower wage workers in other jobs who also have an employee-like relationship with platforms they too will find it harder to afford housing healthcare and eventually retirement more people are taking up this type of work so this problem is growing the ministry of manpower is studying it and will be doing consultations we must address the issues to give these workers more secure futures lower wage workers are not the only ones feeling job anxiety middle-income singaporeans are also feeling the pressure and we see this in the growing restlessness over foreigners particularly work past holders this unhappiness was already present before covet 19 but the economic uncertainty has intensified it work past holders are here to complement our workforce and grow the economy in good times this attracts investments which in turn creates more jobs for locals in bad times like last year the foreign workforce shrinks and this shields locals from worse job losses most singaporeans understand these economic arguments but there’s another set of arguments based on individual lived experiences which are more personal and emotional and here it’s about competition for jobs and opportunities at the workplace is my employer hiring work pass holders at my expense is he treating me fairly when it comes to postings and promotions is he developing and preparing me to take on bigger responsibilities these are valid questions which we must address first we must assure singaporeans that employment past and s-pass holders are of the right standard and a practical and reasonable indication of quality the standard is how much the employer is prepared to pay for the work pass holder and that’s why to qualify for an ep employment pass or an s pass there are salary cutoffs and as singaporean wages rise we have raised these cutoffs in step last year we raised the cutoffs twice and for the financial sector where salaries are higher we set a higher cutoff we will continue to tighten the criteria for ep and s-passes over time not suddenly or sharply which would hurt businesses but gradually and progressively and this will ensure that work pass holders come in where we most need them and we won’t be flooded with more than we can absorb doing jobs for which singaporeans are qualified and available second we must assure all employees of fair treatment at the workplace we often hear complaints about financial institutions and i.t companies hiring too many foreigners and indeed both these sectors have a large share of work pass holders but there’s a reason for this it’s because we are a business hub the finance and i.t companies here perform regional and global functions which require both local and foreign talent and expertise plus finance and it are rapidly growing sectors where the skills are in short supply not just in singapore but in many countries so these two sectors finance and i.t have taken in more foreigners pass holders but the companies in these sectors have also recruited many singaporeans and groomed the promising ones to take on senior and international positions not just in singapore all over the region worldwide had we not allowed these companies to import the eps they needed they wouldn’t have come here and singaporeans would have had fewer opportunities of course not every company plays ball a few have not been fair employers they hire from their own countries using familiar links and old boys networks rather than openly on merit and they give foreigners the jobs and opportunities and only make token gestures with locals and that naturally causes problems government agencies deal with these transgressions firmly for example when mes the monetary authority of singapore receives a complaint about human resource practices in a bank it investigates thoroughly if the complaint is valid mes will speak to the bank at a senior level and when mas raises one eyebrow the banks take it very seriously they report back to their hq and they make adjustments and when imda does the same with it companies they too take note these interventions by our agencies are quiet but effective i once met a ceo in davos we said hello chatted then of his own accord he volunteered to me that his i.t operation in singapore was doing its best to improve local recruitment and talent development and wanted to be a good corporate citizen i knew why he said this i thanked him politely later i cross-checked with imda and i was happy to confirm that the company had indeed made an effort and improved to deal with workplace discrimination more broadly we have tafe it’s an acronym try apartheid alliance for fair and progressive employment practices perfect has laid out clear guidelines on fair treatment most companies comply if a company falls short cafe will counsel it and if it still fails to get its act together mom can impose administrative penalties including restricting the company from hiring foreign workers and this has generally worked quite well but over the years the government has received repeated requests to toughen up tafe in particular the labor movement and ntuc mps have pushed for anti-discrimination laws that carry penalties the government has held back because we didn’t want the process to become legalistic or confrontational it’s better if disputes can be resolved amicably through persuasion or mediation but after consulting the tripartite partners we have decided to adopt the labour mp suggestions we will enshrine the taffet guidelines in law this will give them more teeth and also expand the range of actions we can take we will model our approach on how we deal with another class of disputes those over salaries or wrongful dismissal in such disputes conciliation and mediation have to be tried first and only when those fail does the matter go before an employment claims tribunal which will arbitrate and decide the case we will create a similar tribunal to deal with workplace discrimination and this will protect workers against discrimination based on nationality whether you’re singaporean or not or between different non-singaporean nationalities it will also prohibit other kinds of discrimination covered by tafe women will get better protection and discrimination based on age race religion and disability will also be disallowed philosophically writing tough guidelines into the law is a major move it signals that we do not tolerate discrimination at workplaces but in practice we hope to operate in a similar way as today except better we should still resolve workplace disputes informally and amicably if at all possible the legal redress should be a last recourse one which is seldom needed but because it is there and you can go there the parties will be caused to work harder to settle the dispute through conciliation and mediation while we deal with workplace issues arising from large numbers of work pass holders we must also pay attention to their social impact world pass holders come here to work some stay on eventually becoming prs and naturalized citizens but most don’t stay long enough to integrate fully into our society social frictions arise because culturally work pass holders are different from us even if they are chinese malay or indian by race they are different from us in fact sometimes frictions arise precisely because they are racially similar to us they look like us and yet they don’t act like us i once tried to explain our multi-racial society to a foreign leader i said singaporeans are racially similar to people from china india or southeast asia but after two generations of nation building chinese singaporeans have become different from chinese chinese and indian singaporeans have become different from indian indians and so on the foreign leader understood english but he looked at me bewildered then he turned to his interpreter to ask what is this chinese chinese an indian indian i tried to explain again i don’t think his interpreter succeeded i said we’ve all become singaporeans more than we are chinese malays or indians i’m not sure he fully got it because his country did not have this problem it was a single race single language so you don’t have this mutual accommodation which has to be a very conscious deliberate continuing and remitting process but singaporeans will understand compared to the non-singaporeans we are same same but different we need to ease the social frictions that arise from being same same but different both sides need to make the effort singaporeans must be open to living with and accepting others who are not exactly like us non-singaporeans here must accept the ethos and norms of our society and make the effort to fit in for example with our immigrant roots singapore is generally an egalitarian society but some work past holders and their families bring with them social practices and class distinctions from their own countries and these run counter to the informal and equal way singaporeans interact with one another and that causes frictions non-singaporeans must understand how singapore is so that they can fit in better actually most work past holders and their families fit in quite well after living here for some years some speak singlish others enjoy sambal balachan and even durian quite a few have set up family or have children here like kaikai and tiatya are two pandas at the river safari their cub was born on the seventh day of the seventh moon after the seventh try made in singapore we are trying to extend their visit passes now concerns over work past holders are a very delicate subject for a national day rally but i decided i had to talk about it we have to acknowledge the problem so that we can address singaporeans legitimate concerns and diffuse resentments over foreigners only thus can singapore remain open and continue to grow and progress the reality is that our competition is not only from foreigners who are physically here we are competing with people who are all over the world in europe in america in canada in china in australia in latin america because covet 19 has taught many companies that working from home is just one step away from working anywhere they and their staffs no longer need to be all in the same place all they need is a good internet connection foreigners who are here in singapore they strengthen our team they are our colleagues and our neighbours and friends during covet 19 some have endured personal hardships perhaps been separated from families who are abroad or been stuck outside singapore and unable to return home here many work on the front line shoulder to shoulder with singaporeans they too have contributed to singapore we must not turn our backs on them and give the impression that singapore is becoming xenophobic and hostile to foreigners it would gravely damage our reputation as an international hub it would cost us investments jobs and opportunities it would be disastrous for us and most of all it is not who we aspire to be instead we must make it crystal clear to the world that singapore is determined to stay open in order to earn a living for ourselves it’s not just our policies which have to be outward and forward-looking but also our mindsets and values as the people to look beyond our shores to welcome ideas and talent to accept competition and change these values help a population of immigrants to become a cosmopolitan and vibrant country we must uphold them as we continue to build our home and nation [Music] my third topic tonight is race and religion during covet 19 race relations have come under stress there have been more racist incidents several of which were widely publicized on social media one happened just before national day tanjong pagar town council displayed banners to celebrate featuring singapore families of different races unfortunately netizens picked on one banner showing an indian family as though there were no other banners of other races they made very nasty comments accusing the government of being pro-foreigner and pro-indian actually the family is singaporean and the son tiruban he’s at the top right hand of that is picture national athlete in another incident a polytechnic lecturer a chinese singaporean accosted an interracial couple on orchard road the woman was thai chinese and her partner was indian filipino both were singaporeans the lecturer berated them saying that they should date someone of their own races he apologized later but the damage was done several of these incidents have specifically targeted indians both work pass holders and citizens one reason could be the large number of indian work pass holders here another factor could be the delta variant of kovit 19 which first emerged in india i understand people are frustrated the delta variant managed to get into singapore but it is illogical to blame this on indians just as it is illogical to blame the alpha variant on the english the ktv cluster on vietnamese or the initial outbreak in wuhan on the chinese we must address the real issues manage the work past numbers and concentrations and improve our border health safeguards but we should not let our frustrations spill over to affect our racial harmony these racist incidents remind us how fragile our harmony is but they do not negate our multiracial approach which has worked well for us racial harmony didn’t happen spontaneously in singapore it took hard work sacrifice and wisdom our founding fathers resolved to forge one nation from the different races they made multi-racial equality and harmony a fundamental principle of nation-building they didn’t suppress the distinct identities of each group instead they acknowledged and accommodated them everyone in singapore could practice their own beliefs festivals religions and cultures english not chinese became our working language so that no race would be privileged over the others at the same time we preserve the mother tongues we retain malay as our national language and we continued singing majula singapura with gusto in malay over time the different ethnic groups reached the balance we did this not through push and throughout push and shove but through mutual compromise and give and take no group got everything it wanted each gave up a little in order for all to live harmoniously side by side as a result singapore is one of the few countries in the world where people of different races and faiths live peacefully together and have done so now for more than half a century it is a rare and precious achievement but it is also a delicate balance because a harmonious multiracial country is not a natural state of affairs and it is not a stable state of affairs it doesn’t happen by itself and it doesn’t stay like that by itself look around the world many countries set out professing the same noble ideals but over time their race relations and politics polarize often the majority group asserts its power and sidelines the minorities and the minorities find themselves with less and less space and feel no choice but to push back hard sometimes the minorities pursue aggressive identity politics and the majority group feels pressured and threatened and rallies around hard-line chauvinist leaders it happens to countries much older than singapore either way the outcome is unhappy for both majority and minorities and once the country has gone down that path it’s very difficult to turn back fortunately right from the beginning singapore chose a different path for ourselves nevertheless 56 years is a very short time in the history of nations our racial harmony is still work in progress and will be so for a long time we all take pride in singapore’s multiracial identity but all of us still retain at least some racial or religious preferences we make friends more easily with others who are of the same race or who share our own religion we mostly choose life partners who are the same race although that’s changing all this is human and natural in every society but sometimes it goes beyond racial and cultural preferences to become biases and prejudices then it is a problem some job advertisements require people who speak chinese yet it’s not always clear whether this is a genuine necessity for the job or a polite way to signal that the employer is more comfortable with chinese workers or you’re looking to rent a flat you call the property agent he finds out you’re not chinese then he says sorry the owner doesn’t want to rent to you after all if he’s polite he stops there if he’s direct he will tell you why these things do happen here the minorities experience it more acutely because they are the ones most affected by such racial discrimination they feel angry hurt disappointed that the words now national pledge are still an aspiration but still not fully achieved i know it’s harder to belong to a minority race than to the majority and this is true in every multiracial society but it does not mean we have to accept this state of affairs in singapore we must keep on working at it to become one people regardless of race language or religion the majority must be more sensitive to the concerns of the minorities and we must also have the moral courage to take a stand against racist behavior to express clear disapproval of racist incidents when they happen that’s not so hard but what is much harder to call out deliberate racist agitation that masquerades as something else i like the campaign against zika the comprehensive economic cooperation agreement of india which claimed to be about putting singaporeans first but had a strong racial undertone the real solution to racism is to change social attitudes individual and social attitudes and this takes time and effort legislation can play a role laws may not by themselves make people get along with one another or like one another but laws can signal what our society considers right or wrong and nudge people over time to behave better today we have various laws dealing with serious racial offences like hate crime or causing racial enmity but these laws are scattered in different places like the penal code and the sedition act and they focus purely on crimes and punishments rather than persuasion and rehabilitation we intend to pass specific legislation on racial harmony we will call it the maintenance of racial harmony act and it will collect together in one place all the government’s power to deal with racial issues it will also incorporate some softer and gentler touches for example the power to order someone who has caused the fence to stop doing it and to make amends by learning more about the other race and mending ties with them and this softer approach will heal hurt instead of leaving resentment and if he complies and does it that’s good we move on if he doesn’t comply or continues do do wrong things of course legal consequences follow we already have a similar law for religious harmony it is the maintenance of religious harmony act we’ve had it for 30 plus years we’ve never needed to invoke any of the punishments under this act but just the existence of the law has had a salutary effect it has helped to restrain intolerance and promote religious harmony and similarly a maintenance of racial harmony act will encourage moderation and tolerance between different racial groups it will signal the overriding importance of racial harmony to singapore besides pushing against discrimination and racist attitudes we also need to keep our policies on race and religion up to date because racial and religious harmony is not just delicate but also dynamic it changes over time our values and beliefs as a society shift over time each new generation has its own perspective on racial issues older singaporeans live through singapore’s independence journey they think discussions can become disputes disputes can become quarrels better don’t talk about such things too much younger singaporeans didn’t personally experience the racial tensions and riots of our early years their living experience has been largely racial peace and harmony they believe we are mature and stable now we want to improve the status quo we must talk about racial and religious issues more openly and re-look our policies and assumptions afresh these generational differences and views are perfectly understandable and should be accommodated that’s within singapore meanwhile the world around us is changing singapore is highly exposed to external political developments we are affected by the black lives matter movement in the us or the violence between israel and the palestinians in gaza our own circumstances and contexts are completely different and these are not our quarrels but they do affect our people we are influenced by external religious trends too many christians think of themselves as members of a worldwide communion similarly muslims consider themselves to belong to a global ummah so when religious norms elsewhere shift norms and practices in singapore are also affected therefore from time to time we must adjust our policies on race and religion but we should adjust based on our own needs and circumstances and not just because of trends abroad and we should do so with caution because race and religion will always be highly sensitive issues we have to take the time to discuss respectfully make sure everybody understands and build a consensus before we make any move one example of how we do this is the tudong issue wearing the tudong has become increasingly important for the muslim community it reflects a general trend of stronger religiosity in islam around the world in southeast asia and in singapore for many muslim women it’s become an important part of their faith and an expression of a deeply felt identity over the last few decades more muslim women in singapore have won the tudor both in social settings and workplaces year to year the change is gradual but over a generation the shift is quite obvious the government fully understands the desire of more muslim women to weather to but we are cautious about how non-muslims will react to the visible change and how that could affect relations between the communities will it be seen as more inclusive or will it highlight and accentuate differences today the tudong is commonly worn in most settings without restriction in public places in workplaces in parliament attending the national day rally however in some places where uniforms are required the government has not allowed the dudum to be worn and this particularly applies to school uniforms and to uniforms in the saf and the home team and also to nurses uniforms in public hospitals generally the muslim community has understood and accepted the government’s stance on the tudor but they still hope that over time things can change in particular allowing nurses to wear the tudong has become a focal issue for muslims here in 2014 when there was intense discussion on the tudong i had a closed door meeting with muslim leaders we spoke candidly heart to heart they explained to me why the tudong was important to the community and what they hoped the government would allow i told them i understood how strongly they felt but i also explained the government’s perspective and the reasons behind our policies i said that for school uniforms the government had overriding reasons for the current rules in national schools all students wear the same uniforms whether they are rich or poor and regardless of race or religion we need to emphasize their similarities and minimize their differences so that students can build bonds in their formative years that will shape their attitudes for life for different important reasons we must maintain the status quo for the saf the home team and other uniformed services they are impartial and secular arms of the state they wield armed force and they enforce the laws of singapore and they must always be seen to be doing so without fear or favor and therefore everyone wears the same uniform then we have the nurses in hospitals and here the opposing considerations are more finely balanced on the one hand the community’s desires on the other hand the government’s concerns both national and specific to nursing patients in a hospital are often anxious and sometimes very ill so it’s important that they and their families see all nurses as the same on their part nurses must feel equally comfortable caring for all patients regardless of race or religion we don’t want a visible distinction in the nurse’s attire to make this harder to achieve i told the muslim leaders in 2014 that government policy in the healthcare sector was not set in stone we would monitor the situation even when we changed our position we would first make sure that everyone muslims and non-muslims understood and accepted the change because the tudong is not just a matter for muslims it’s a national issue since then the government has been watching the situation closely we observe by and large interactions between the races remain comfortable non-muslims have become more used to seeing muslim women wearing the tudong and muslim women wearing tudong are generally also quite at ease interacting socially with non-muslim men and women in most settings specifically in hospitals some of the non-uniform staff do wear the tudong and we saw that their relationship with patients and colleagues was all right furthermore younger singaporeans are more accepting of racial and religious differences so a few months ago i met muslim leaders again i thank them for their help managing this sensitive issue all these years i told them we were now ready we would prepare the ground and tee up for a decision by the national day rally so tonight i’m making the announcement starting in november muslim nurses in the public healthcare sector will be allowed to wear a tudong with their uniforms if they wish to i spoke about this in the malay speech earlier but i didn’t make the announcement then so let me announce it again in malay for all malay friends america [Applause] i hope everyone will take this move on the tudong in the right spirit we are making a careful adjustment to keep our racial and religious harmony in good order this approach has worked well for us for many years and we should celebrate what it has achieved a truly multiracial multi-religious nation where many heartwarming interactions happen every single day for example this friendship between mr muhammad cairo and mr toachai mr toe suffered a stroke two years ago recently he needed help to get his covet 19 vaccination cairo learnt about mr toad’s predicament and volunteered to bring mr toe to the cc for his vaccination now they’ve become good friends and spend time together when mr toe goes to exercise at the senior activity center another instance is this group of three neighbors the ghosts the rajendrans and the tans they’ve stayed together on the same corridor of the hdb block in wampo for many years before covet 19 they held frequent potluck parties together now they are helping one another through the pandemic by bowing food watering each other’s plants or washing the lift lobby floor daily for everyone’s benefit they are there for one another in true high-rise kampung spirit such positive stories seldom go viral we try our best we always fail but there are good stories people of different races interacting daily at coffee shops in community centers or in the sports field people of different religions respecting one another’s beliefs sharing spaces worshiping in temples mosques and churches all along the same street people falling in love across racial and religious lines getting married and setting up families these things happen daily they are the norm in singapore and they are precious long may that continue tonight i’ve talked at length about our society and people because singapore is more than just a place to live work and play this is home where we care for one another where we are all equal and all have our voices heard where we share a special bond with one another where we all belong as a country we have many strengths to be proud of our health care system our civil service our public infrastructure our national reserves but our greatest strength is our people united and resilient steadfast and resourceful in good times and bad during covet 19 we stepped up in so many ways to support one another making hand sanitizers sewing face masks delivering food to the quarantined refurbishing laptops for disadvantaged kids caring for migrant workers vaccinating the elderly or showing a little extra kindness to one another starting young in this moment of crisis singaporeans have continued to look ahead and to pour heart and soul into our hopes and dreams like joanne po she’s a nurse at tantok singh hospital she is also a national rower she has just returned from the tokyo olympics where she represented singapore for the first time for years she trained hard preparing for this once in a lifetime opportunity but when covet 19 hit she heeded the call for medical reinforcements and returned to work without hesitation it compromised her training but she never gave up her dream to be an olympian she said when i’m at work i’m 100 a nurse when i’m at training i’m 100 aurora joanne you represent the best of being a singaporean in ordinary times we may not realize how strong singaporeans can be now in the crisis of a generation we’ve shown ourselves and the world what singaporeans can do armand samsaya mungu aisha bruslina priya yvonne rosale and joanne they are our everyday heroes and they are us i thought of them and the many other everyday heroes among us at the national day show last weekend some were there with me at the floating platform many more were watching from homes across the island i thought of what we’ve gone through in these last two years what we’ve done together what we hope to achieve for tomorrow’s singapore our people our unity our shared dreams they give meaning to our national day many others watching the show must have been thinking and feeling the same as i did when we sang majula singapura the mc didn’t remind us to do it silently i couldn’t help myself singing out aloud and i could hear everyone else singing too through their masks at that moment we knew what makes singapore special kovit 19 will not be our last crisis we will surely encounter more trials on the road ahead we will be tested again sometimes severely each generation will wonder as their parents and grandparents did will we survive will singapore prevail will singaporeans stay together as one people my answer we’ve done it before we will do it again majula singapura thank you and good night you’ve just been listening to singapore’s prime minister lee sin long deliver this year’s national day rally here at mediacorp a unique national day rally delivered even as singapore continues to battle covet 19 in a manner that we’ve become familiar with during this pandemic a hybrid event with most of the invited guests joining him digitally on zoom from around the world and front and center of the battle of covert 19 those on the front line the pm thanked those who have fought for so hard and for so long he gave the audience an update of the success of the ongoing nationwide inoculation program that all of you would have been familiar with eight in ten residents here in singapore now fully vaccinated he said and we are in a new situation now in a bid to become coveted resilient he also talked about the economy with covert 19 under control he said we must now refocus on the future singapore he said has survived its worst economic crisis since independence our recognition and appreciation of low-wage workers that grew significantly during this pandemic and the recognition that they need more support as well the prime minister saying that more workers are set to receive higher wages within the next two years as progressive wages are going to be extended to more sectors such as retail and food services singapore is also doing more against workplace discrimination we’re going to see laws against discrimination based on nationality age race gender as well as disability now the prime minister said that economic uncertainty has also intensified unhappiness of middle-income singaporeans that they have towards work pass holders especially when it comes to those jobs and opportunities at the workplace and to that end the tripartite alliance on fair employment practices also known as toughest that is going to be given more teeth through legislation to do more now on the emotive issue of nurses having the ability to wear the tudong he said that he wanted to have that decision by this national day rally and a decision has been made from the first of november female muslim nurses will be allowed to wear the tudong while they are at work that’s going to impact at least seven thousand of them he also addressed the thorny issue of work pass holders which he acknowledged is a very delicate subject to address on national day but he he needed to do it we must address those issues he said but we should not let our frustrations spill over and affect our racial harmony now there had also been expectations coming in today that he might talk about race and religion he did just that he spoke about the fact that it has come under stress during the pandemic racist incidents remind us of how fragile our harmony is he said now in closing his speech a final rallying call to the nation each generation will wonder will we survive will singapore prevail will singaporeans stay together as one people and the prime minister’s answer are resounding we’ve done it before we’re going to do it again now for more we are joined by professor pauline straughn she joins us she’s from the singapore management university good evening professor strong thank you so much for joining me this evening social cohesion was an issue that featured prominently across all three speeches this year what do you make of the timing of this and what it signals about the government’s priorities well thank you very much for having me don indeed i think prime minister has highlighted in the importance of singaporeans staying together as a cohesive commit community in all three speeches we are living in pandemic times so aside from economic stresses i think many singaporeans are still dealing with you know everyday life in the grey so certainly you know there are many who are suffering from stresses which then manifests themselves sometimes in poor behavior pm also highlighted that you know the good stories the interracial harmonies the friendships you know that the different races you know forge they seldom make news because you know they they are the norm so unfortunately it is the poor behavior that makes headlines and i think that um it’s important that pm highlighted these in this very important annual you know a conversation with singaporeans if not for anything else to contextualize the fact that these are rare instances right this is not the norm and i think it’s important for us to always remember that with social media poor behavior is is magnified right because echo chambers repeats these and then there is favor added to to that and then unfortunately you know it does take on a narrative of its own so i think for singaporeans to remember that we are singapore and we are strong because we stand together regardless of race language and religion that reminder is is you know i think what keeps us i think glued together and that’s what’s going to ensure that we will be able to emerge from this pandemic stronger well professor strawn the coveted 19 pandemic has stressed a lot of the fault lines in society one of those and a very emotive issue perennially is that of race religion as well in his chinese speech the prime minister talked about so-called chinese privilege and he’s he said it’s an entirely baseless to claim that the chinese have privilege at all he cited examples as well now professor there are those in society who might firmly disagree with the prime minister they might insist that there is chinese privilege what do you feel do you agree with the prime minister’s assertion and if so why i think it’s important for us to understand when we borrow these kinds of you know very convenient labors right that the labor themselves have they they carry inherent meanings that are you know sometimes uh not necessarily reflective of singapore culture it is true that the chinese are a majority right and and you know we always remind ourselves there is a certain privilege to being in the majority because it’s easier you know you know to it it’s easy to forget that you know it may not be so so um you know easy for minorities for example to get around because you know street signs privilege us and so on right however um when we think of the chinese group right the chinese are certainly not a homogeneous group though we are statistically in the majority simply because we classify race and ethnicity but if you look at the chinese you know community in singapore it is not a homogeneous group in fact um spn highlighted when singapore was developing right and we were um striving to to you know make our mark right uh in the global arena one of the big sacrifices that the chinese community had to to make was to transcend to to using english as a you know means of communication so i recall you know when i was growing up in the 1960s and 70s um we were you know teleport very quickly we were you know we in schools right we all spoke english right and it was very difficult for for example my grandmother right who couldn’t speak english at all and suddenly her world changed there was no more dialect on television and she had to learn how to you know understand mandarin and certainly english was really you know too far for her and there were many many singaporean chinese who were in those positions and and they made those sacrifices for the good of the larger you know community um so i i think that that’s something that you know we have to remember um every race every sub group every ethnic group in singapore had to make concessions so that we could move forward together as a community um i don’t think it is fair and nor law is academically correct right to say that there is chinese you know privilege as you know in singapore because certainly uh our cultural context is very very different in his speech as well professor strong the prime minister talked about how racial and cultural preferences they can sometimes turn into perhaps a bias or a prejudice do you think that as a society we’ve evolved enough that we are savvy enough or even sensitive enough to perhaps balance you know what’s what is a private personal choice what we call it that’s our preference that’s our personal choice with what will actually impact the wider community because we all have to live together peaceably we’re trying to but what if you’re what if there is that bias that inherent bias i think many of us take it for granted that you know because we mouth it every day right that we are a you know multicultural society and um you know we are you know social integration is is something that we have always strived for um and we do tend to forget that it takes work right to to stay together as a whole to learn how to respect each other and to value people who are different from us so so don i think it’s always timely to remind ourselves that um while we value you know diversity we have to also work hard towards appreciating appreciating what it means to to say that you know we are a multicultural society certainly personal preferences you know those who always you know we will always have them right because we would you know prefer certain you know cultural practices we prefer certain colors and and and and pop culture and so forth i think the trick here is you know can we you know have our personal preferences but at the same time be respectful of those who are different from us it takes hard work it doesn’t come naturally right but as long as i think you know our the the social environment that we live in predisposes us to do that and encourages us to always know mind what we say don’t be too quick to criticize be very mindful of you may feel and think something you know but when you articulate it in the presence of others and we must always be very very mindful that our words will not you know divide and that we will be able to strive towards learning more about each other so so we also have to be you know careful that we don’t become so timid that we don’t dare to question and that you know we see differences and we just go oh you know better not say anything because i may be misunderstood i think that that will not you know that will not work you know well for us as a multicultural society so moving forward you know while we are respectful of each other i think what we also must learn how to do is um to ask questions you know and to learn more about each other don’t just live with uncertainties and unknowns and just go don’t talk about it we should not be talking about race and religion i don’t think that’s that’s a healthy move forward rather i think we should be confident and comfortable about asking difficult questions and learn more you know about each other and learn about those of us you know about you know aspects which we are not familiar with and and for for for those especially those who of us who are you know in the minority settings and so forth but you know it’s good to welcome right um these questions because prejudice sets in when there is ignorance and fear and we can certainly alleviate right prejudice when we advance knowledge so we should you know encourage our youth in particular to learn more learn how to question respectfully and then we would be able to live together knowledge is power professional knowledge is power professor strong it is another issue that he talked about and coming into this national day rally we expected him to address the issue of low-wage workers now it wouldn’t have been lost on anybody in society in singapore society over the pandemic how much we rely upon the hard work of those who actually are some of the most vulnerable among us and yet they’ve been possibly some of the most hard affected by this pandemic by the fallout of the of the the economy the economic fallout and so on you know he said we’ve gained respect and recognition for these people for for the work that they do and that their position is precarious do you think that we can go further perhaps professor strawn in rewarding and recognizing the work of blue collar workers versus white collar workers because there is this massive divide just even in terms of mindsets about the value of work the definition of it spot on don i think that this is very timely right for us to recalibrate how we value talent um i think that uh you know singaporeans you know lever up on education and training we shouldn’t see you know this big divide you know between blue and white color because rather we should you know look at the skill sets that these different groups bring to you know to to to to to the economy and how you know they they jealous together right yeah each each of these skill sets are critical and important you know for the everyday function you know of singapore society so i i hope that you know as we move forward um certainly that inequality will be bridged i do think that i i think prime minister has also assured us that we would continue to you know work towards upskilling of um different sectors of society so that we would be able to see some you know um leveling up on wages um i i and and you know this rhetoric is very similar to when we advise the parents and and and when we you know put our students our kids in schools right and we remind them that every school is a good school so you know don’t have to worry you know about queueing up for the elite schools and so forth i think we should also then take that to the next level and say every job is important and we would have to value them and value these you know different different sectors in terms of um upskilling so that you know the wage of these um uh workers will also be leveled up right and we don’t see such a huge gap between you know different different professions and in that way i think we would we would protect ourselves certainly right we won’t end up having a skewed distribution of uh skill sets and then having to rely you know on foreign talent to augment certain sectors where we don’t find you know we find that we don’t have enough singaporeans to fill we certainly have to keep working towards narrowing that income gap gap professor strawn towards social and economic equality thank you so much for joining us this evening professor pauline strong there from the singapore management university
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[LIVE] National Day Rally 2021 - PM Lee Hsien Loong\'s English speech

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