NTUC 'won't be defined by a numbers game'

Achieving one million members is not its priority, taking care of workers is: minister

Membership figures are important and the labour movement could have had one million members if it had wanted them, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing.

But the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) would not be defined by a numbers game, said Mr Chan yesterday as he unveiled the unions' new four-year plan.

"We have many ways of achieving (the millionth-member mark), if that is the most important thing to us," said the secretary-general of the NTUC, responding to media reports yesterday that the organisation was about 100,000 shy of that target.

Instead, the labour movement is focusing on strengthening its coverage of workers, he added.

The NTUC had 10 years ago set a target of reaching one million members by this year, but had 888,000 members as of August. Mr Chan said it would keep working towards it.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari, assistant secretary-general at NTUC , also responded to the issue in a Facebook post yesterday, saying: "Unionisation is not a numbers game. It is about getting workers to organise, to unify; and consolidate (union) strength to achieve the desired outcomes for workers."

While growing its membership and cohesiveness of the network will feature in its plans for the next four years, the NTUC's key focus will be on maintaining a strong tripartite relationship with the government and employers, and engaging union members and other workers, said Mr Chan. It will also prioritise the development of the younger union leaders and help workers gain relevant skills.

These were four of the 12 action areas drawn after discussions by some 800 union leaders on the second day of a National Delegates Conference at Downtown East.

Other plans are to work with more associations of freelance workers, and step up the work of NTUC's social enterprises.

More details will be released in the coming months, said Mr Chan. "We are working to give workers peace of mind. We want to ensure that they are well taken care of," he said.

The plans will be led by the 21 members of the central committee whom union leaders will elect today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'NTUC 'won't be defined by a numbers game''. Print Edition | Subscribe