A veteran unionist and trailblazer in labour movement

NTUC's newly elected president Mary Liew.
NTUC's newly elected president Mary Liew.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

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.

Toh Yong Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline 'A veteran unionist and trailblazer in labour movement'. Print Edition | Subscribe