Maritime union sets up $1.1m care fund for members in need, $1.5m for seafarers' welfare

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Maritime Officers' Union (SMOU) has set up a $1.1 million care fund to support members in need and their children's education in case of financial difficulties, unforeseen medical conditions, or even death.

It will also be handing out $1.5 million to certain shipping companies to increase training and improve welfare for its members on board their vessels.

At their Chinese New Year luncheon on Thursday (Feb 11) at Raffles City Convention Centre, which was attended by National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, the union announced that the fund would provide assistance schemes such as subsidies for transport and assistive devices like wheelchairs, scooters or prosthetics.

It will also offer caregiver training and bursaries that will allow the children of dead members to continue pursuing their education.

Said SMOU general-secretary and NTUC president Mary Liew: "This fund is especially practical with an ageing population. With age, members may be more susceptible to various health problems that may affect their mobility. The funding will help alleviate their financial burden and give them an assurance that they can still continue to lead their lives as normal."

Close to 1,000 SMOU senior members and corporate guests were at the luncheon, its highest attendance to date. It has more than 29,000 members currently.

The union also provided transport to the luncheon for the first time for members who rely on wheelchairs or have other physical difficulties.

One of these was former marine chief engineer Leo Boon Hui, 77, who has been using a wheelchair since he suffered a stroke nearly 30 years ago.

His wife and sole caregiver, Madam Dan Wah Eng, 76, said her husband, who has trouble speaking, was "delighted" to attend the luncheon, which he has not been able to for 26 years. "It brings back memories of his old life, when he was still sailing," she said in Mandarin.

Madam Dan, a part-time shop assistant, welcomed the aid that the new care fund will bring the couple. "It's very good. Whatever we need, we can ask them for it."

At the luncheon, senior SMOU members aged 62 and above received $65 worth of hongbao, a figure which marks the union's 65th anniversary.

During this festive period, about 500 senior citizens will receive more than $30,000 from SMOU in the form of hongbao and food aid.

The union has given close to half a million to more than 6,000 senior citizens during Chinese New Year for the past decade and more.

It will also be disbursing $1.5 million to companies with which it has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), to cushion the impact of the global economic slowdown.

The initiative will see a one-off contribution of $1,000 per vessel to each CBA company. Ms Liew said it is meant to ensure seafaring members continue to receive adequate welfare and training despite the uncertain economic conditions.

Mr Chan cautioned that the economic slowdown, characterised in the shipping trade by excess capacity and a sharp drop in freight rates, might be structural rather than cyclical.

He called upon the shipping community to work closely with the Labour Movement to forge stronger connectivity between Singapore and the rest of the world.

"For instance, many people are talking about using big data to analyse changes in trade patterns, and start new services and lines of operations to meet tomorrow's needs," he said. "These are also the things we need to do."

oliviaho@sph.com.sg