Fighting for progressive workplaces wins SNEF executive director May Day award

Mr Koh Juan Kiat has spent 25 years in the Singapore National Employers Federation.
Mr Koh Juan Kiat has spent 25 years in the Singapore National Employers Federation.PHOTO: SNEF

SINGAPORE - Trade union veteran Koh Juan Kiat has received the distinguished service award, the highest accolade in this year's May Day Awards.

Mr Koh, 67, has spent 25 years in the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) promoting family-friendly practices in companies and campaigning for fair, responsible and progressive workplaces.

The award is conferred by the National Trades Union Congress on tripartite partners that have made significant contributions towards better wages, welfare and prospects for workers.

Mr Koh, the SNEF's executive director, said on Saturday (May 30): "I feel that the award is for SNEF as an organisation and how it has developed over the last 25 years.

"I had very committed presidents, council members and dedicated staff to support me. SNEF members were also very committed to finding balanced solutions to address their concerns.

"In tripartism, it takes three to make things work out. I did not achieve anything on my own. All the time, I was working with amazing counterparts from the Ministry of Manpower and NTUC."

Mr Koh was involved in major initiatives such as the introduction of the quantitative wage guidelines for low-wage workers in 2012 and the extension of the Employment Act to cover all employees.

He said: "There is a balance between employment protection and labour market flexibility so that the regulations are not so rigid as to affect job creation and worker mobility."

These efforts also led to new benefits for more workers and the introduction of childcare, paternity and parental leave.

Mr Koh was also involved in the first extension of the retirement age, from 60 to 62 in 1999, and the introduction of the re-employment age in 2006.

Mr Stephen Lee, the immediate past president of SNEF who worked with Mr Koh from 1995 to 2014, said: "He helped SNEF reach a consensus in the National Wages Council year after year to make recommendations to increase wages for workers in a sustainable way.


"He (also) mobilised SNEF resources to assist employers to train and retrain their workers especially during the 1998, 2003 and 2009 crises."

The other award recipients were Mr Loh Khum Yean, permanent secretary for the Public Service Division and permanent secretary of the Ministry of Law, and Ms Yong Ying-I, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Communications and Information.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng emphasised the importance of tripartism: "A fundamental reason for Singapore's success lies in the strong tripartite relationship that we uphold between the Government, employers and unions.

"A central tenet to that is putting workers at the heart of all that we do. Our highest awardees are exemplary individuals who have demonstrated this throughout their careers, working closely with NTUC and our unions to bring about better wages, welfare and work prospects for our workers."

He added that it is strong partnerships like these that will be key in ensuring workers are supported and protected through both good and bad times.

Mr Koh added: "In a crisis like Covid-19, where the situation can evolve very quickly, we need to respond swiftly. This requires trust among the tripartite partners...Our role is to then rally employers to take responsible actions when managing excess manpower to save jobs and to take advantage of all government schemes to reskill workers."