WhyItMatters

NTUC's clout and impact

Last week, union leaders from 60 unions affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) huddled to draw up a new four-year plan and elect a new leadership team to implement it.

The impact of a new plan and leadership will be felt well outside union circles in at least three ways.

First, top union leaders shape politics and policies. A newly elected 21-member central committee headed by former Nominated Member of Parliament Mary Liew is now in charge and it has nine new faces. The political clout of union leaders stems from NTUC's longstanding symbiotic relationship with the People's Action Party (PAP). NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing is a Cabinet minister and PAP stalwart.

Just for some perspective - if NTUC were a political party, it would overshadow even the Workers' Party in Parliament. It has six elected labour MPs in the House - as many as the WP - and it can count on alumni members such as House Speaker Halimah Yacob, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say and Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who were former top union leaders.

Second, the NTUC can easily flex its muscles by mobilising its ranks. NTUC has 888,000 members, up from 500,000 in 2007. While unions worldwide have falling membership, unions here have made themselves relevant to workers.

Third, NTUC's new plans will boost existing government programmes like SkillsFuture. It has identified 12 areas that it wants to work on. There are the usual areas like maintaining the tripartite relationship between unions, employers and the Government, and nurturing younger union leaders.

The most impactful plans are those that affect workers and the public directly, like helping workers gain relevant skills and giving more protection to freelance workers.

With the new plan and leadership in place, NTUC will continue to make its presence felt in Parliament, in the manpower sector and in workers' lives.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'NTUC's clout and impact'. Print Edition | Subscribe