Five things youth should know about PM Lee’s National Day Rally 2021 speech

From racial harmony to wearing of tudungs with uniform, Singapore’s Prime Minister made a number of announcements on Sunday, August 29, 2021.

Nigel Chin

Started writing for the passion. Now writing because it’s the only thing I can do.

Published: 29 August 2021, 10:57 PM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made several announcements in his nationally televised National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 29). 

Some issues raised include a new law to be passed to tackle racial issues, allowing nurses to wear tudungs with their uniforms, as well as supporting low-wage workers in Singapore. 

PM Lee said in his speech that Singapore has many strengths to be proud of, including it’s healthcare system, civil service, public infrastructure and national reserves. 

But Singapore’s greatest strength is her people, he said, calling Singaporeans united and resilient, steadfast and resourceful, in good times and bad. 

While PM Lee did not announce any new plans for dealing with COVID-19 in Singapore, he said that Singapore can live with the virus as 80 per cent of the population are now fully vaccinated, with added precautions. 

Here are five things youth should know about the announcements PM Lee made during his speech: 

1. Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act to be written into the law

A new law, named the Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act, will be passed by the Government to “incorporate some softer gentler touches” when it comes to dealing with racial issues. One such example is rehabilitation. Authorities will have the power to order a person who has offended to stop and make amends by learning more about the other race. 

PM Lee said that the Government hopes that this approach will “heal hurt, instead of leaving resentment”.  The Act will encourage moderation and tolerance between different racial groups. It will also signal the overriding importance of racial harmony to Singaporeans. 

The new law will be similar to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act – one in which the Government has not seen the need to invoke any of the punishments. Instead, it has helped to restrain intolerance and promote religious harmony. 

PM Lee also highlighted the hard work and sacrifices that have been done over the years to make Singapore a harmonious, multiracial country, although he did concede that racial harmony remains a work in progress.

The majority must be more sensitive to minority concerns, PM Lee stressed, while individuals must have the moral courage to take a stand against racist behaviour. Expressing clear disapproval of racist incidents and calling out deliberate racist agitation that masquerades as something else, such as the campaign against the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India that claimed to be putting Singaporeans first but had a strong racial undertone. 

The new Act is also one way the Government is keeping Singapore’s policies on race and religion up to date. 

In his Mandarin speech, PM Lee added that all races are treated equally in Singapore, and called it “entirely baseless” to claim that there is Chinese privilege in Singapore. However, he did say that decades of peace may have led to racial harmony being taken for granted by some, and Singaporeans becoming less sensitive to racial issues. 

“Some Chinese Singaporeans may be unaware of how our ethnic minorities feel. While the different communities have become closer, racial emotions still exist. 

Pointing out instances of Chinese home owners renting their place preferring not to have tenants of a particular race, or job postings that state speaking Mandarin as a requirement even though the jobs do not need it, PM Lee said it will be perceived by minorities as unreasonable and unfair. 

“If we let the preferences of such employers and home owners build up over time, they will become prejudiced, and minorities will feel they are being discriminated against.

“If left unaddressed, such preferences will gradually deepen the fissures in our society,” he cautioned. 

2. More support for low-wage workers

The Government will extend progressive wages to more workers in the future, starting with staff in the retail sector next year. 

This will be later followed by those in the food services and wage management sectors. Specific occupations, such as administrative assistants and drivers, will be covered too. 

Lower wage workers will receive significant support from the Government in housing, healthcare, retirement and education. 

Companies hiring foreign workers will also have to pay Singapore staff a local qualifying salary of $1,400.

The Government will also increase its annual spending on the Workfare Income Supplement to $1.1 billion in two years. The scheme tops up the incomes of lower-wage employees and self-employed people in cash and Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions, and benefits almost 500,000 workers currently. 

However, the cost of higher wages for lower-wage workers will have to be shared among workers, employers and consumers. This means that some of the favourite things among Singaporeans, such as bubble tea or bak chor mee, will cost a little more. 

A Progressive Wage Mark will also be introduced to accredit companies that are paying all their workers progressive wages. 

PM Lee also shared his concerns for delivery workers with online platforms such as Foodpanda, Grab and Deliveroo, as they lack job protection. 

The Ministry of Manpower is studying how to address this issue and give the workers more secure futures. 

3. Guidelines under national watchdog for fair employment practices to be written into law to deal with discrimination

Singapore will tackle discrimination issues at workplaces by writing the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Emploment Practices (Tafep) guidelines into the law. 

This will give Tafep more power and expand the range of actions that can be taken, in what PM Lee described as a “major move”. However, workplace disputes should still be resolved informally and amicably where possible. 

The move is designed to protect workers against discrimination based on nationality, age, race, religion and disability, as well as other kinds of discrimination covered by Tafep. 

Women will also get better protection. 

Set up in 2006 by the Government, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation, Tafeq provides guidelines, which all Singapore-based organisations are expected to abide by, on fair employment practices. 

4. Wearing tudung with uniforms

From November, Muslim nurses in the public healthcare sector will be allowed to wear a tudung with their uniforms. 

This comes following years of monitoring the situation, particularly on how Singaporeans of different races reacted towards seeing Muslim wear the tudung.

Pointing out that younger Singaporeans are more accepting of racial and religious differences, the Government have made the decision to allow Muslim nurses in the public healthcare sector to wear the tudung if they wish to. He also noted that wearing the tudung has become increasingly important for the Muslim community.

“I hope everyone will take this move on the tudung 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 multi-racial, multi-religious nation,” said PM Lee. 

He added that for school uniforms, the Government wants to emphasise on students’ similarities and minimise their differences, so as to allow them to build bonds with fellow students of different races and religions, and whether they are rich or poor, in their formative years that will shape their attitudes for life. Hence, tudungs will not be allowed. 

Those serving in the armed forces, police and civil defence are not allowed to wear the tudung with their uniforms either. This is because “they must always be seen to be [enforcing laws] here without fear or favour”. 

5. Singapore must pay extra attention to students who fall behind

In his speech in Malay, PM Lee said Singapore must pay extra attention to students who are falling behind. 

This is because these students may lack self-confidence and motivation, or might have family problems that prevent them from doing well. 

Singapore is striving to be more inclusive and education remains a key part. The Government is investing heavily in education and an Uplift task force exists to bring Government agencies and community partners together to provide early and sustained support for disadvantaged students of all races. 

PM Lee added that Malay and Muslim organisations and the M3 netwrok are complementing this effort. 

“By helping those who are struggling, we make meritocracy work for all of us and enable everyone to progress together as one nation,” PM Lee said.


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