Swift rise to power and fall from grace

Phey, who ran as the PAP's candidate in Boon Teck, celebrating his victory in the 1972 General Election. Four years later, he stood for re-election and won.
Phey, who ran as the PAP's candidate in Boon Teck, celebrating his victory in the 1972 General Election. Four years later, he stood for re-election and won.ST FILE PHOTO

Former chairman of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Phey Yew Kok was once described as a "god in the labour movement" and enjoyed a meteoric rise to power.

In the 1970s, he helped to create a united front for workers, also strengthening the foundations of tripartism.

But soon after becoming NTUC chairman in 1979, he was investigated for malpractices and fled after being charged with misappropriating union funds.

Now 81, Phey pleaded guilty to 12 charges yesterday after living 35 years as a fugitive.

• Phey grew up in poverty and worked to support himself through school.


Phey, who ran as the PAP's candidate in Boon Teck, celebrating his victory in the 1972 General Election. Four years later, he stood for re-election and won. ST FILE PHOTO

• He was an English teacher for two to three years before joining the Malaysia-Singapore Airlines as an accounts clerk.• 1966: He became treasurer of the Singapore Air Transport Workers Union (Satu

1968: He became president of Satu.• 1964: He was seconded to NTUC as an industrial relations officer.

• 1970: He became president of the NTUC at age 35, and was the youngest to hold the post.

• 1970: He was also elected general secretary of both the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (Silo) and Pioneer Industries Employees' Union (PIEU), which represented a total of around 80,000 workers.

• 1972: Phey contested the general election as a candidate of the People's Action Party and became the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Boon Teck. He successfully stood for re-election four years later.

• 1979: He became NTUC's chairman.

• 1979: The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) started investigations against Phey for malpractices in Silo and PIEU.

• 1979: He was arrested and charged in December, and released on bail of $100,000 with two sureties.• 1979: On Dec 31, Phey absconded to Malaysia and, eventually, Thailand.

• 2015: On June 22, he surrendered himself at the Singapore Embassy in Thailand.• 2015: On June 23, he was repatriated to Singapore and has since been held in remand.

• 2016: Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to 12 charges, with 22 remaining charges taken into consideration for sentencing. He was sentenced to 60 months in jail, backdated to June 23 last year.

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Swift rise to power and fall from grace'. Print Edition | Subscribe