'Even better business-labour coordination', say business leaders and unionists

OUTGOING labour chief Lim Swee Say's wealth of experience in labour issues will be invaluable in his new role as Manpower Minister, business leaders and unionists said yesterday.

His understanding of workers' concerns can help him better steer Singapore through a more challenging phase of economic restructuring and issues such as upgrading workers' skills, while at the same time paying heed to workers' welfare, they added.

The president of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), Dr Robert Yap, noted that Mr Lim's experience in helming the former National Computer Board and the Economic Development Board also helps him understand how businessmen think.

"His experience there and in the labour movement will give him a very deep understanding of the competitiveness issues faced by employers and the concerns of workers," said Dr Yap.

He was commenting on Mr Lim's move to the Manpower Ministry, announced yesterday as part of a larger Cabinet reshuffle and a leadership transition in the labour movement.

Mr Lim, 60, is resigning as secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), a position he has held since 2007.

Taking his place is outgoing Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, 45, who joined NTUC in January and is its deputy secretary-general.

I first joined NTUC in 1996, 18 years ago. I am stepping down as NTUC Secretary General on 4 May. My years in serving...

Posted by Lim Swee Say on Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The changes take effect on May 4.

But Mr Chan's replacement, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, will take over today.

Yesterday, labour MPs, bosses and unionists were unanimous in singling out Mr Lim's ability to strengthen the tripartite relationship among employers, workers and the Government.

The SNEF noted in its statement how Mr Lim's "pro-business and pro-worker position on many issues" had led to solutions that benefited all parties.

Similarly, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua said: "We can expect even better coordination (from Mr Lim and Mr Chan Chun Sing) in looking after the needs of businesses and workers' welfare."

Likewise, Mr Tan's experience in manpower issues puts him in a good position to help shape Singapore's social policies, said Mr Chua.

Unionists at NTUC cheered the new role for their chief.

Said NTUC vice-president and Nominated MP K. Karthikeyan: "He understands our wishlist... I think he will push harder and faster for skills upgrading and the progressive wage model, which the Government supports." The wage model, which links pay increases to training, is to boost workers' productivity and pay in certain sectors.

MP Zainal Sapari, who is also an NTUC assistant secretary-general, said "employers might perceive the Manpower Minister would not be neutral and would favour unions".

But, he added, "that will not be true because, having worked with Mr Lim for three years, I know he always does what is good for Singaporeans and Singapore".

Mr Lim's resignation from NTUC is part of its leadership renewal. He turns 62 in July next year and under an NTUC rule, he cannot serve beyond then.

In his resignation letter, Mr Lim reflected on how NTUC had become more inclusive, embracing white-collar, older and foreign workers as well.

Replying, its president Diana Chia thanked him for his contributions and wished him well.

On Facebook, Mr Chan promised to build on Mr Lim's work.

Brother Swee Say’s belief that a job is the best welfare and full employment is the best protection for our workers has...

Posted by Chan Chun Sing on Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he would have much work to do building on what Mr Lim had done, "but I am confident that he is up to the task".

charyong@sph.com.sg