Productivity campaign (1970s–1990s)
The first productivity promotion campaign was inaugurated on 12 April 1975 by then Minister for Foreign Affairs S. Rajaratnam at Victoria Memorial Hall. As reflected in the slogan “Productivity Is Our Business”, the campaign aimed to instil greater awareness of the importance of productivity to Singapore.1 This pursuit intensified well into the 1980s with efforts directed by the Productivity Movement. In the 1990s, the campaign focused on quality, and efforts were guided by the Productivity 2000 report.
The achievements of productivity efforts in the 1980s can be seen at a macro level, where the rate of productivity growth was a proxy measure of how much the Productivity Movement contributed to the economy. During the period from 1981 to 1995, 60 percent of Singapore’s average economic growth of 7.6 percent came from productivity growth, which averaged 4.5 percent. In terms of the public’s attitude towards productivity, 93 percent of the workforce wanted the campaign to continue. The reason was that it provided the right environment for the implementation of company-based productivity programmes.2
Singapore’s pursuit of productivity began in the 1960s, when unemployment rates were high. In order to tackle this problem and grow its economy, the Singapore government began to embark on an industralisation programme that focused on labour-driven economic activities. Aided by healthy global economic conditions then, this labour-driven growth strategy served well for Singapore.3 It was against this backdrop that the seeds of productivity were sown to support Singapore’s industrialisation programme for the coming decades.
The government’s position on productivity was stated clearly by then Minister for Finance Goh Keng Swee in his speech at the third anniversary celebration of Shell Refinery Company Limited on 12 August 1964. Goh said the focus on productivity was needed for Singapore to compete successfully in the export market, extend the range of industries and increase the scope of existing ones. He envisioned productivity as a solution for unemployment. Although Goh acknowledged that he did not go ahead with the Ministry of Labour’s suggestion to establish a productivity centre in 1960/61 because he believed that the industrial relations climate then might have hampered the effectiveness of the centre, he found that conditions at the time of his speech in 1964 were conducive for the centre to be established. In his speech, Goh expressed that this was a time when “organised labour and organised management can work together for the common good of all”.4
The Productivity Unit in the Economic Development Board (EDB) was thus set up in 1964. The unit, which aimed to enhance workers’ skills and address needs of the manufacturing sector, subsequently became the National Productivity Centre (NPC) in 1967.5 Between the aforementioned years, a declaration of The Charter For Industrial Progress and the Productivity Code of Practice was made in January 1965. It called for the formation of a productivity centre, comprising tripartite representation from workers, employers and the government, to spearhead the productivity movement in Singapore.6 In 1972, NPC developed into the National Productivity Board (NPB), which was instituted to instil a culture of productivity in Singapore, modernise businesses and improve the quality of the workforce to meet the challenges of a competitive global economic environment.7
By the start of the 1970s, the industrialisation programme went full steam ahead as EDB aggressively marketed Singapore as an attractive location where factories could be built quickly and a skilled workforce was readily available. The task to support this highly intensified export-oriented industrialisation strategy rested on NPB, which ramped up the drive for high productivity.8 On 12 April 1975, the first national productivity campaign in Singapore was launched by S. Rajaratnam at Victoria Memorial Hall. Stretching over six months from April to September 1975, the campaign aimed to instil greater awareness of the importance of productivity to Singapore. The themes for the first campaign were centred on increasing productivity by reducing costs and wastage of materials and time, improving quality and efficiency, as well as promoting an ethos of mutual co-operation and trust between management and labour. The campaign was backed by the slogan “Productivity Is Our Business”, and the productivity message was disseminated through various channels including television and radio, seminars, and paraphernalia such as pamphlets, key chains, posters and car decals.9
The beginning of the 1980s saw the world economy becoming more complex as more countries that offered cheap labour were plugged into the global economy. As a result, Singapore had to compete with these countries to attract foreign investment.10
In order to stay competitive, the 10-year Economic Development Plan was drawn up for the 1980s, specifically highlighting productivity as the key strategy to achieve the targeted annual economic growth of 8 to 10 percent. The plan proposed that the Singapore economy be restructured towards more capital skill and technology-intensive industries, using automation and computerised machines to increase productivity. This meant that a better-educated, skilled workforce was needed to run and maintain the machines.11 However, most of the workers had difficulty understanding the productivity concept as it was new, complex, and required a change of attitude and mindset.
Hence, the Committee on Productivity was formed in April 1981 to examine issues pertaining to improving productivity, work attitudes and labour-management relations.12 Two of the committee’s major recommendations were: the adoption of some aspects of the Japanese management system, which involved workers in productivity efforts; and the launch of a productivity movement on September 1981. This movement was spearheaded by the National Productivity Council, a high-level tripartite policymaking body with representation from the government, employer groups and unions. By creating a platform for concerted effort to be taken to address all aspects of productivity, the council aimed to create an environment that was conducive to productivity improvement at the national, industry and company levels.13
Productivity was also promoted in schools and tertiary institutions, where teamwork and team spirit were encouraged.14 Some of the better-known programmes initiated by the productivity movement included: the formation of work improvement teams and quality control circles; yearly productivity campaigns fronted by a bee mascot called Teamy; and the introduction of the National Productivity and Singapore Quality awards.15
Productivity Month was launched by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the Singapore Conference Hall on 1 November 1982, where Lee urged trade unions and employers to be influencers and embrace the concept of productivity.16 Coordinated programmes and activities were to be held every November. The themes, slogans and productivity messages were disseminated through posters, songs and newsletters. These revolved around the need for higher productivity, and the importance of teamwork, human relations, worker participation and better labour-management relations.17
Another aspect of the productivity campaign of the 1980s was the use of the mascot Teamy to front all publicity related to the campaign. The bee mascot had a positive association with high productivity: organised and industrious, working as a team and communicating well among themselves. The name “Teamy” was derived from the word “team”.18 Teamy Club was launched on 15 September 1985 for children.19 According to a Times Organisation survey, nine out of 10 Singaporeans knew Teamy as the productivity mascot. Hence, the National Productivity Board (NPB) felt that the mascot effectively helped to spread the productivity message.20
Productivity 2000 report
By the 1990s, Singapore’s economy had progressed to the innovation-driven stage from the factor- and investment-driven stages in the 1970s and ’80s respectively. Singapore faced new productivity challenges: Externally, the world was changing how business operated and competed; internally, there was a need to sustain productivity interests among the Singapore workforce.21 Productivity efforts in the ’90s were guided by the directions set out in the Productivity 2000 report, with the emphasis on quality. Quality – the overarching theme for the productivity campaigns in the 1990s – was considered the bridge to the goal of higher productivity.
NPB also drafted its mission – “to develop a world-class quality workforce with a rewarding work-life” – in the Vision 95 plan. Through this theme, the workforce would view themselves as an integral part of their company – not only in terms of work contribution but also the distribution of rewards.22 With more attention paid to innovation, innovation was added to the theme of quality from 1995 to 1999.23
The story of the productivity movement and campaign in Singapore from the 1980s up to 1995 can be seen at a macro level, where the rate of economic growth was a proxy measure of how much the movement had contributed to the economy. During the period from 1981 to 1995, 60 percent of Singapore’s average economic growth of 7.6 percent came from productivity growth, which averaged 4.5 percent.
A productivity survey conducted in 1989 captured data that indicated some headway made by the productivity movement. For instance, in terms of the public’s attitude toward productivity, 93 percent of the workforce wanted the campaign to continue because the campaign provided the right environment for the implementation of company-based productivity programmes.24
1. “Production Drive Displays at 10 C-Centre,” Straits Times, 2 June 1975, 9; “Driving Home Need for Higher Output,” Straits Times, 5 April 1975, 6; “Drive to Make All Aware of Productivity Importance,” Straits Times, 24 April 1975, 24 (From NewspaperSG); Kin Chung Woon and Ya Lee Loo, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive (Singapore: World Scientific Pub., 2018), 79. (Call no. RSING 338. 45095957 WOO)
2. Productivity and Standards Board, Singapore, Innovation & Quality: Mastering the Best Practices: 15 Years of the Productivity Movement, ’81–’96 (Singapore: Singapore Productivity and Standards Board, 1996), 19–20. (Call no. RSING 338.06095957 INN)
3. Productivity and Standards Board, Singapore, Innovation & Quality, 4.
4. Goh Keng Swee, “The Third Anniversary Celebration of Shell Refinery Company (Singapore) Limited,” speech, Pulau Bukom, 12 August 1964, transcript, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19640812b); Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 45–46, 87–88.
5. “New Approach,” Straits Times, 17 August 1964, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 87–88.
6. Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 46–52, 57.
7. Soh Tiang Keng, “A New Boost for the National Effort,” Straits Times, 4 September 1971, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 87–88.
8. Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 79.
9. Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 79; “Driving Home Need for Higher Output”; “Drive to Make All Aware.”
10. Productivity and Standards Board, Singapore, Innovation & Quality, 3.
11. Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 110–11.
12. “Events That Led to New Drive,” Straits Times, 31 October 1986, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Productivity and Standards Board, Singapore, Innovation & Quality, 5–6; Fong Mew Leng, “Productivity Plan Well Received,” Business Times, 18 July 1981, 1; “The Aim Is to Make People Work Better,” Straits Times, 19 July 1981, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Events That Led to New Drive.”
15. Productivity and Standards Board, Singapore, Innovation & Quality, 14–18.
16. Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 151; Lee Kuan Yew, “The Launching of Productivity Month,” speech, Singapore Conference Hall, 1 November 1982, Ministry of Culture. (National Archives of Singapore document no. lky19821101)
17. Hao Keng Chia Hao, Good, Better, Best, National Productivity Board, Singapore, 1982, compact disc (Call no. RSING 784.6833806 GOO); National Productivity Board, Singapore, Productivity Digest (Singapore: National Productivity Board, 1982) (Call no. RCLOS 338.06 PD); National Productivity Board, Singapore, Come on Singapore, Together We Work Bettery, 1984, wall calendar (Call no. RSING 743.99658515 COM); Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 151–54.
18. Teamy the Bee,” Straits Times, 2 September 1982, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 148.
20. “Year-Old Teamy Is Set for Bigger Things,” Straits Times, 2 September 1983, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Productivity Begins with a Right Mental Attitude, Says Mah,” Straits Times, 2 November 1989, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Kin and Ya, 50 Years of Singapore’s Productivity Drive, 211, 226–55.
23. Productivity and Standards Board, Singapore, Innovation & Quality, 13–18.
24. Productivity and Standards Board, Singapore, Innovation & Quality, 19–20.
“Milestones of Singapore Productivity,” Straits Times, 9 April 1999, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
National Productivity Board, Singapore, Productivity 2000 (Singapore: National Productivity Board, 1990). (Call no. RSING 338.095957 PRO)
The information in this article is valid as at August 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.