Wednesday 28 October 2015

Tripartism still the right model for Singapore: PM Lee Hsien Loong at NTUC National Delegates' Conference 2015

He urges labour movement to adapt to new economic challenges to stay relevant
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2015

In a time of global economic uncertainty and change, the model of the Government, employers and labour unions working together remains the right formula for Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The model, known as tripartism, must be safeguarded with continual adaptation to new challenges, he said. "Tripartite partners must upgrade themselves and raise their game," he said. "We need to maintain and strengthen the trust we have built into the next generation of tripartite partners."

Speaking at the National Delegates Conference of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), held once every four years, PM Lee urged union leaders to update their approaches to stay relevant.

He pointed in particular to two challenges: helping older workers stay employed, and meeting the desires of young professionals.

In response to the first, PM Lee noted that NTUC has designed jobs and salary structures for older workers and persuaded the Government and employers to agree to raise the re-employment age to 67 from 2017. As for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), he noted that the group already comprises 50 per cent of the workforce and is growing. "The labour movement cannot just be for the rank-and-file non-PMETs, it has to represent the PMETs who have different needs and issues," he said.

In his keynote speech that kicked off the three-day conference in which union leaders will draw plans for the next four years and elect a central committee, PM Lee said Singapore is facing an economic slowdown with the rest of the world.

Global forces disrupting traditional jobs are also putting stress on workers, he noted. The Singapore worker meets these challenges from a position of strength, thanks to the tripartism model, he said.

Over decades of government-facilitated cooperation, employers here have "learnt to see unions as partners rather than opponents". Also, the symbiotic relationship between NTUC and the People's Action Party - the labour chief is a Cabinet minister and union leaders sit on key forums - has led to "sound national policies which promote growth and work for the workers' interests".

PM Lee contrasted the dynamism of Singapore's unions with those in Europe or the United States.

In France, strong unions block reforms needed to prevent jobs from migrating elsewhere. While unionised workers enjoy strong social protection, the young and the unemployed carry the burden of employers' reluctance to hire, he said. In contrast, unions are weak in the US, which gives rise to a more dynamic economy, but at the cost of worker protection. The discontent of workers who feel that they are not getting a fair share shows up in gridlock in the political system and in popular opposition to free trade and immigration, PM Lee noted.

While Singapore's model is sometimes criticised over union leaders not being "fierce enough", it has worked, he said.

Union membership has declined in almost every advanced economy, but it has grown to nearly 900,000 members here, he noted.

"Cooperation, not strife; tripartism, not industrial warfare - that's how the NTUC has stayed relevant and has improved people's lives."

Skills upgrading and strong safety nets 'key to tackling job worries'
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2015

Workers may be anxious about losing their jobs in the onslaught of technological progress and globalisation, but tripartite collaborations on skills upgrading and strong social safety nets are key to meeting these concerns head-on.

The point was made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his keynote address yesterday at the opening dinner of the National Delegates Conference of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Workers everywhere, he noted, are feeling the pressure from wage stagnation and the disappearance of older jobs as industries evolve and the workforce, especially more mature employees, struggles to keep up through training.

"We have made Singapore a developed economy, but the truth is we have not solved for all time the problem of how to make a living for ourselves," he told about 1,100 union leaders at the dinner, which kicks off the three-day conference that starts today.

He warned that Singapore cannot resist globalisation, or hold back the progress of technology. "If we try to do that our economy will stagnate, our workers will become uncompetitive, and Singapore will be left behind."

Although Singapore needs to leverage on the free market to move forward, the state also has a role to play - in preventing monopolies from forming, for instance, and helping those displaced or left behind by a market-based system, he said.

"We've been strengthening our safety nets, giving our people better protection in a less stable economic environment," Mr Lee said.

He cited measures like the Progressive Wage Model, aimed at helping low-income workers such as security guards and cleaners upgrade their skills and, in turn, lift their wages, and MediShield Life, which gives every citizen lifelong insurance protection for hospitalisation bills.

The Government is reviewing its economic strategies to keep businesses and workers competitive, make the most use of the foreign workforce, and upgrade employees through initiatives like SkillsFuture.

"If you compare ourselves with other countries, Singapore is well placed to tackle these problems.

"We can look forward to our future with confidence, because we have people who are well-educated, because we have an ethos which is outward-looking, because we are a tech-savvy society," he added.

Mr Lee also commended productivity measures like PSA's new automated gantry cranes which need only one supervisor to oversee three or four cranes - resulting in "more productivity, better jobs, better pay, better performance".

Such advancements were possible because of tripartite collaboration, he said. "We can talk to the unions, we can retrain the crane operators, we can restructure the jobs. Not every country can do that.

"In many countries, you want to restructure the job, you spend years negotiating, compensating, arguing - often sunk. But in Singapore, we work together. We work out the win-win solution... for all."

Tripartism a major policymaking tool in Singapore: Foreign delegates
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2015

Tripartism across the world may be in decline, but it remains a strong fundamental in policymaking in Singapore, said foreign delegates at an international forum on three-way partnerships between governments, unions and employers yesterday.

Industrial relations expert Sarosh Kuruvilla of Cornell University called Singapore "a classic example of a place where tripartism is deeply institutionalised".

He cited a 2012 study of eight countries that ranked Singapore and Slovenia highest in tripartite aspects such as scope of policy, number of agreements and strength of representation.

"I haven't seen the kind of commitment from top leadership (they have in Singapore) towards the concept in any other country."

About 800 delegates, including 100 foreign ones from 30 countries, attended the one-day conference organised by the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

The chief of the International Labour Organization shares his ...
Tripatism is Singapore's secret sauce to success. It was what brought us to SG50. Here the chief of the International Labour Organization gives ringing endorsement to the spirit of tripartism - something we've managed to painstakingly orchestrate.
Posted by FiveStarsAndAMoon on Sunday, October 25, 2015

International Labour Organisation director-general Guy Ryder called tripartism a "valuable instrument of policymaking".

He said: "Some countries, in trying to defend existing measures of tripartism, have lost it in the process. The need is to adapt and modernise tripartism."

"Singapore is not ready to stand still. I don't know if it is comforting or frightening that as you celebrate SG50, you're already talking about SG100," he added.

Mr Kevin Callinan, vice-president of the executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, remarked that if Ireland had had Singapore's scope and depth of tripartism, it might not have been as badly affected as it was by the 2008 financial crisis.

He said: "Although we have 20 years of social partnership agreements, I don't think we extended that scope to deal with the kind of economic matters which would have prepared us for the way the global crisis hit Ireland.

"My sense is that in Singapore, the early warning systems would have picked those difficulties up earlier and there would have been an opportunity for the social partners to respond and deal with them."

Still, Professor Kuruvilla said more needs to be done to make unions here more representative. "There are large numbers of foreign workers, new employers - particularly in the financial sector - and a whole new set of workers who don't work in companies but who would like to be contractors.

"These are people who have little interest in being part of unions. If you want to expand tripartism but the representative organisations are not representing everybody, that's a challenge you need to address," he said.

NTUC to get new president this week
Its first woman president not seeking re-election in move to refresh leadership
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2015

The labour movement will get a new president on Thursday in a move to refresh its leadership.

The incumbent president of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Ms Diana Chia, is not seeking re-election at its National Delegates Conference, which starts today.

The 59-year-old is NTUC's first woman president and was elected in 2011.

Her retirement, along with that of two other top grassroots unionists, was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a dinner last night to mark the conference's opening.

Besides Ms Chia, NTUC vice-president Nora Kang, 60, and secretary for financial affairs Lim Kuang Beng, 59, are also not seeking re-election to NTUC's central committee, its highest decision-making body.

On her decision to step down, Ms Chia, who is a nurse, said: "As I cannot serve the full term, I should leave and let the new leadership take over."

In 2011, the NTUC implemented a self-imposed leadership renewal rule that requires top union leaders to voluntarily step aside for new blood when they turn 62.

If the trio were to stand in the elections and win, their age would prevent them from completing the full four-year term, which ends in 2019. Elections to the central committee are held every four years.

"They have been effective union leaders," said Mr Lee of the trio. "They understand workers' concerns, they know the national interest, they have influenced the Government and helped the Government to implement policies which benefit workers."

Mr Lee said he had worked closely with them. "We speak candidly with one another, we know how each other thinks, we can rely on each other to get things done."

Union sources said the front runners for the president post are two incumbent vice-presidents: Mr K. Karthikeyan, 56, and Mr Edwin Lye, 45.

Mr Karthikeyan is general secretary of the United Workers of Petroleum Industry and was a Nominated MP in the previous Parliament, while Mr Lye is general secretary of the Singapore Teachers' Union.

A total of 27 union leaders are vying for the 21 seats in the central committee. Among them are secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, who is facing his first union elections since joining the NTUC this year.

According to its Constitution, the 21 elected members have to elect among themselves the office bearers of the committee.

In his speech last night, Mr Lee urged the unionists to give a strong mandate to the team of leaders.

"At the national level, we just had our election and we have voted in a new Government," he said. "I am honoured that Singaporeans gave my team a strong mandate to take the country forward.

"Now, it is NTUC's turn to hold your elections. And you have to give your team a strong mandate to take the NTUC forward, " he said to applause from the audience.

Today marks the start of my first NTUC National Delegates’ Conference 2015. Together with some 800 union leaders, we...
Posted by Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

NTUC and civil service to start staff exchanges next month
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2015

In a bid to boost the ties between the Government and unions, the labour movement and civil service will start staff exchanges from next month.

Two mid-level civil servants who are assistant directors will join the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for two years, while the NTUC is sending a staff member to the Manpower Ministry (MOM).

Besides these postings, the NTUC unions will have 10 to 20 civil servants attached to them part-time. These officials will attend union meetings and work with union leaders for one year, on top of their regular jobs at various ministries.

The latest move will allow promising civil servants and union leaders to work together to further strengthen the three-way partnership between the Government, unions and businesses, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

"Strong tripartite partnership needs to be carefully nurtured over time through real actions," he said.

While there were ad hoc staff exchanges between the MOM and NTUC in the past, the practice was discontinued in recent years.

Mr Chan, who is NTUC secretary-general, said he was inspired to restart the staff postings because of the benefits of such exchanges.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong, the last NTUC employee posted to MOM for one year from 2002 to 2003, said her stint helped her understand how non-unionised firms operate when she had to mediate disputes involving them.

"They were weaker in human resource practices," she said.

Mr Nur Azarudin Putra Mohamed Jufri, assistant executive secretary of the Chemical Industries' Employees Union, is the NTUC staff member who is going to MOM from next month.

He said he hopes to "better understand how the MOM rationalises its manpower policies and resolves disputes for all groups of workers".

"All of us will have different positions on issues, but the key to finding a sustainable and win-win solution is by looking past these different positions and finding common interests, which is the welfare of workers and Singaporeans," said the 34-year-old who has worked in NTUC for eight years.

When asked about the details of its official who is heading to NTUC, the MOM said: "Details are being finalised."

While the scheme involves civil servants and union leaders for now, the Singapore National Employers' Federation is keen to join the exchanges in the next few months.

Said its president, Mr Robert Yap: "Tripartite relationship depends on trust. If we do not have trust in the relationship, it is very difficult to work together."

Today, union leaders voted for their new NTUC Central Committee (CC) members at the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference...
Posted by Chan Chun Sing on Thursday, October 29, 2015

Former NMP Mary Liew second woman elected to top NTUC post
Chan Chun Sing remains secretary-general; 9 new faces on 21-member central committee
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2015

For the second time in union history, a woman has been handed the top leadership position in the labour movement.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Mary Liew said she was truly humbled and honoured after she was yesterday elected by unionists as National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) president.

The 52-year-old takes over from Ms Diana Chia, who was NTUC's first female president when she was elected in 2011.

Ms Chia, 59, did not seek re-election because of her age.

Cabinet Minister Chan Chun Sing, 46, yesterday also won his first union elections and retained his post as NTUC secretary-general.

The president and secretary-general are the two top posts in NTUC.

The president is the highest-ranking position and it has always been held by unionists.

The secretary-general runs the labour movement's day-to-day business and heads a full-time secretariat to support the central committee in planning and implementing programmes in the labour movement. Since 1980, the post has been held by a Cabinet minister.

Ms Liew and Mr Chan are part of a new 21-member central committee that was elected by around 400 union leaders to lead the NTUC over the next four years.

The committee - NTUC's highest decision-making body - saw an infusion of new blood, with newcomers filling nine of the 21 seats.

The youngest member is 39 and the oldest, 58.

The new leadership team is a "balanced" one in terms of experience, age, gender and the union sectors they represent, said Mr Chan.

"The new team has a strong mandate from the (union) delegates," he added.

The NTUC did not release voting results, but sources said that Mr Chan was the top scorer, winning more than 90 per cent of votes.

"Of course having very high votes is a strong mandate, (and) is an affirmation of the work that the previous central committee has done. It also shows confidence in the new central committee. So we'd like to take that in that spirit," he said.

But he preferred to focus on how well the committee members can work together instead of the numbers. "To us the most important characteristic of this 21-member team is really the teamwork. We are not particularly focused on who has the highest vote."

Several veteran unionists retained their posts. Mr K. Karthikeyan, 56, and Mr Edwin Lye, 45, were re-elected vice-presidents. Mr Heng Chee How, 54, and Ms Cham Hui Fong, 47, were re-elected deputy secretary-general and assistant secretary-general, respectively.

Three unionists were elected to key posts: Mr Toh Hock Poh, 58, is the new secretary for financial affairs; Mr Tan Hock Soon, 53, the new vice-president; and Mr Yeo Chun Fing, 58, the assistant secretary for financial affairs, a newly created post.

Along with Mr Yeo, other fresh faces are labour MP Patrick Tay, 43; Mr Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab, 43; Mr Luke Hee, 41; Ms K. Thanaletchimi, 49; Mr Philip Lee, 58; Mr Tan Richard, 50; Mr Thuvinder Singh, 46; and Ms Eileen Yeo, 50.

Mr Abdul Samad, general secretary of the Union of Power and Gas Employees, said he was inspired by the late Nithiah Nandan when he became a union leader in 2006.

"I learnt from him to put workers before myself," he said.

Mr Nithiah, a former NTUC vice-president who died of cancer in 2007 at age 57, was highly regarded for fighting for the rights of daily-rated workers.

Rounding up the central committee are four re-elected members of the previous committee: Mr Arasu Duraisamy, 47; Mr Andy Lim, 39; Mr Ong Hwee Liang, 50; and Mr Benjamin Tang, 39.

The NTUC said in a statement that the central committee has appointed three assistant secretary- generals to the secretariat: labour MPs Ang Hin Kee and Zainal Sapari, and former MP Yeo Guat Kwang.

A veteran unionist and trailblazer in labour movement
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2015

A veteran unionist for more than 30 years, Ms Mary Liew has been a trailblazer in the male-dominated labour movement.

In 2013, the full-time unionist became the first woman to helm the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union in its 64-year history when she became general secretary.

The 52-year-old has also cut her teeth on the international front. In 2010, she became the first woman from South-east Asia to be elected into the International Transport Federation (ITF) executive board, representing the Asia-Pacific region.

The ITF is a London-based international union federation that represents transport workers in 150 countries. As a member of the ITF's Women Transport Workers' Committee, she champions female transport workers.

Ms Liew, who is single, was also a Nominated Member of Parliament from 2012 to last year, representing the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Besides speaking up for workers in the House, she also raised issues such as having family-friendly workplaces to get more women to return to the workforce.

During the Budget debate in March 2013, she also made a passionate plea for single mothers not to be excluded from the Marriage and Parenthood Package, which was meant to encourage Singaporeans to marry and start families.

"If these incentives are not offered to unwed mothers, it is the children who will suffer more than the parent," she said in Parliament.

The soft-spoken Ms Liew yesterday paid tribute to her predecessor, Ms Diana Chia.

"She has served with such care for the labour movement," she said.

"It is an honour for me to take over her place and to continue the good work that she has begun."

As for being a female NTUC president, she said: "NTUC is an inclusive labour movement. Whether it is male or female, we represent the interest of our workers, be it the youth, the women, the low-wage workers, the professionals, managers and executives."

She said that her priority is to work with the members of the newly elected central committee to implement the new four-year plan that has been drawn up by union leaders.

"Moving forward, we know that the times may not be rosy, given the economic situation," she said.

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