Empowering our workers: Emotional well-being and work.


By Dr Ang Yong Guan, Chairman of Singaporeans First

Speech at Hong Lim Park on 1 May 2015

Good evening, fellow citizens, fellow Singaporeans. Ladies and gentlemen

  1. A Happy Labour Day to all our workers in Singapore. Thank you for your contributions to Singapore.
  1. This evening, I will focus on the PE fit. Fitting the Person (the worker) to the work Environment.


  1. So much emphasis has been given to the upgrading of workers’ skills and productivity. In this year’s May Day message, PM Lee said productivity has risen too slowly in the past few years. He warned that “if it continues to stagnate, so will wages, which may even fall back.”  This sounds like PAP is instilling fear and insecurity in you, warning you, shifting the burden to you. Upgrade your skills,  increase your productivity or else….wages will stagnate.
  1. In his message, he mentioned SkillsFuture which is about encouraging people to learn and upgrade their skills at every stage of their lives. They have been saying this for the past 50 years. It’s more of the same. Nothing has changed. Old wine in new bottle.


  1. Instead of just focusing on the P of the PE equation. I want to focus on the E: the impact of the work environment on the worker. We need to have a good PE fit so that the person (worker) feels good about going to work in a conducive work environment. How do we bring about a great working environment? A lot depends on the employer.



  1. Take American Taiwanese Tony Hsieh, aged 42 years old, for example. He started Zappos, selling shoes on line. It didn’t do well initially when it started in 1999 but by 2009, it was so successful that Tony sold his company Zappos to Amazon for 1.2billion. He was willing to remain as Zappos CEO at $36000 per year. He wrote a book called Delivering Happiness in 2010 and in that book he touched on 3 topics: Profit, Passion and Purpose. Yes, a boss wants to make money. But do it with passion and with a purpose. Tony Hsieh successfully promote a work culture in Zappos, maintaining a wonderful work environment. It’s an honour to be part of Zappos team. They even have a life coach, a counsellor in Zappos. That’s how progressive Zappos is.
  1. Recently, Tony Hsieh is bringing Zappos’ working environment to another height (not more of the same, not old wine in new bottle) by adopting Halocrazy? What is that? “In summary, Halocrazy is distributed leadership and self-management which leads to empowerment of each worker so that everyone is a leader within Zappos.” Unlike conventional top-down or progressive bottom up approaches, it integrates the benefits of both without relying on parental heroic leaders. Everyone becomes a leader of their roles and a follower of others, handling tensions with real authority and real responsibility, through dynamic governance and transparent operations. Sounds exciting. New wine in new bottle.


  1. Another example I can think of Tan Chade Meng of Google. He left Singapore in 2000. He worked as a software engineer for 8 years in Google before he took over as Head of Personal Growth. He started lunch time talk for Google staff on personal growth; introducing MINDFULLNESS and MEDITATION to the staff. He is known as Google’s Jolly Good Fellow. His current job description is: Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace. That’s the company culture of Google.
  1. Good companies create good environment and ultimately leads to a good PE Fit. You can be sure that the workers at Zappos and Google are emotionally secure, and highly motivated. They have high self-esteem too. They grow as persons. Their companies grow in profits. Conversely, a poor PE fit will lead to a lot of tension and insecurity. Ask yourself: Is your company having a good PE fit? If not, why not? How can it be improved?



  1. What is the role of the government improving the PE fit? By continuously improving policies to make sure the workers are not disadvantaged.
  1. Lack of employment security is the result of liberal immigration policies and pro-employer labour laws. This insecurity creates stress and lowers self esteem of our workers perpetuating our archetypal kiasu mentality.
  1. In his May Day message, PM Lee said we have tightened up on foreign manpower and we have to get used to slower growth than before. Outgoing Manpower Minister Mr Tan Chun Jin said “the growth rate of Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass holders has slowed from 20 per cent in 2011 to 4 per cent in 2014”.
  1. The good news is that because of the watershed GE 2011 and Hong Lim Park protest against the 6.9million population growth, they are reducing foreign manpower. Power to the 40% who voted against the PAP. More should vote against them this coming GE if you want to make the PAP listen to you more.
  1. But the bad news is that PM Lee partially blames the slower economic growth on the tightening of foreign manpower. Please don’t shift the blame to the workers, the people of Singapore. Find creative ways of solving this problem. Not just relying on SkillsFuture. Empower our employers to engage Singaporean workers more actively and creatively.


  1. One person told me that her company employs foreign auditors because they are cheaper by a few hundred dollars. Her boss is cutting costs and maximizing profits. Can the government step in to encourage bosses to think long term: employ the Singaporean worker, pay more, nurture him, let him feel proud to belong to the company, feel proud to be Singaporean. This is the core of Singaporeans we must nurture and build. Employers must think long term for the sake of Singapore and future Singaporeans. Government must help employers “think local, act global”; giving them incentives for every Singaporean they employ. Reverse the quota, the more Singaporeans employed, the highly the company is regarded, more assistance will be given to the company.
  1. Our skills training must be radically revamped as it has been proven ineffective. A recent NTUC survey shows that 60% of PMEs do not have the relevant skills needed.
  1. One CEO recently told me that he employs workers from more than 10 countries in his company. He has no choice because he needs IT programmers but no locals are interested. What has gone wrong? Are we not churning out enough workers with relevant skills? Is there a real need to look at the real needs? No more broad strokes, no more motherhood statements, but fine ones to address specific issues.
  1. The union and the government must be proactive in interviewing PMETs who recently lost their jobs. Find out their reasons. Assist them to tie over the transitional period of looking for another job.
  1. One engineer lost his lucrative MNC job to a foreigner. He was angry and depressed. He even became paranoid. He became a taxi driver but he was unhappy. He couldn’t fulfil the 250km per day he must drive. He got involved in an accident and developed psychiatric problems. His problems affected his family too. So much tension at home.
  1. There may be many others out there having lost their jobs and having nowhere or no one to turn to? Languishing in emotional pain. How do we assist them? How do we tie them over this difficult period?



  1. Spore has moved from Third World to First World in economy and physical infrastructure but we are still stuck in the Third World in the areas of labour laws.
  1. Our labour laws are too biased in favour of employers giving them virtual right to hire and fire. Our laws must be changed to protect our workers from arbitrary actions of employers. We must provide the workers who are dismissed with proper reasons and adequate compensation like they do in the 1st World.
  1. To empower workers, we may have to relook at the present tripartite arrangement. The government keeps saying it’s working. But in reality, Tripartitism is actually bipartitism because the union chief and the government rep is the same person and wears one hat. How much can the workers trust such a chief who invariably will have conflict of interest because he wears two hats.
  1. There were only two workers’ strikes in the last 50 years: one legal in 1986 and the other illegal in 2012 by SMRT workers. The only legal strike in 50 years involved 61 workers from an American oilfield equipment company, Hydril, and was sanctioned by then Secretary General of the NTUC, Ong Teng Cheong.
  1. In an interview, the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong, our first elected President said: “I did not even tell the cabinet about santioning the strike. And some of them were angry with me about that. The minister for trade and industry was very angry, his officers were very upset…. if I were to inform the cabinet or the government they would probably stop me from going ahead with the strike.”
  1. How many Ong Teng Cheongs are there in the PAP cabinet or Parliament now? Dare to go against his cabinet ministers to do something that he considers right. If the PAP government does not have enough OTCs, let us send in a few more opposition OTCs into Parlimanent!
  1. The outgoing union chief Mr Lim Swee Say said on Monday 27 April 2015: “a foreign union leader jibed him as the union leader representing Singapore workers who are not allowed to strike…I explained to him that there is a difference between not allowing (workers) to go on strike versus no need to go on strike.” The two topics are totally different: allowing vs not allowing, need vs no need. What if there is a need to strike but workers are NOT allowed to strike? Mr Lim should learn from our late Ong Teng Cheong and tell his foreign counterpart: “I will sanction a strike if the need arises….even though they are NOT allowed to strike.”



  1. If we break our last 50 years into 3 periods:

a. 1st period: In the first 20 years (the 60s and 70s), we were struggling for economic survival we were at level 1 of                         Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basic needs) and level 2 (safety needs),

b.  2nd period: Then in the 80s and 90s there was about rapid economic upgrading (we were at levels 3 (belonging)                        and 4 (esteem). We were proud to be Singaporeans. We sang “Count on Me Singapore” and Stand Up for                                Singapore with gusto. We could identify with our selfless leaders.

c.  3rd period: Then in 2000s, we regressed with liberal immigration, depressing wages and displacing Sporeans; we                     are now back at level 2 (security and safety needs), consumed by economic insecurity, highest income                                       inequality, most expensive city in the world, inadequate retirement savings, and with half of us who say they do                       not want to be born in Spore again.

d.  We must bring Singapore back to level 4 (self-esteem) and 5 (self-actualisation) again. Independent unions.                                Empowered workers and Enlightened government.

  1. While we spoke of a PE fit for a person in his work environment, at a national level, we are also looking forward to a PG fit between the people (P) and the government (G). The government must examine its policies to make people fit into the nation, to sink roots here and to feel proud to be Singaporeans. They have been at it for 50 years; the last 10 years seem to get worse. They seem to have blindspots. Only an effective powerful opposition voice, occupying more than one third of parliamentary seats or forming a new coalition government, can remove their blindspots. I trust you know what to do this coming GE. Thank you. Have a nice Labour Day.

Dr Ang Yong Guan

Chairman SingFirst

1 May 2015

PS: Please click here for the video of this speech.

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1 reply »

  1. Excellently Well-said Dr Ang !

    I am one of those to be able to have only one meal per day is considered a luxury.
    This GDP- hungry regime has to go. It only benefits the upper class.

    Any plan to contest West Coast GRC?
    Haven’t seen RP on the ground since the last GE. Being abandoned by Kenneth for Punggol East.

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