New labour chief pledges to build on strong foundation

Mr Ng Chee Meng speaking at a May Day Rally. In a Facebook post yesterday, he thanked outgoing labour chief Chan Chun Sing for his work, and vowed to strengthen the labour movement.
Mr Ng Chee Meng speaking at a May Day Rally. In a Facebook post yesterday, he thanked outgoing labour chief Chan Chun Sing for his work, and vowed to strengthen the labour movement.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Ng Chee Meng takes over from Chan Chun Sing with promise to improve workers' lives

A month after joining the labour movement, Mr Ng Chee Meng officially took over as labour chief yesterday, pledging to work closely with tripartite partners - the Government, employers and unions - to improve the lives of workers.

He took over the role of secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) from his predecessor, Mr Chan Chun Sing, who stepped down on the same day.

The NTUC said in a statement that its central committee had met in the afternoon and unanimously elected Mr Ng to take the helm after accepting the resignation of Mr Chan.

This completes the leadership handover at the NTUC, which has been widely expected since Mr Ng, together with Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon, were co-opted into the labour movement as deputy secretaries-general on April 23.

Mr Ng, who is now Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, relinquished his roles as Education Minister (Schools) and Second Minister for Transport on May 1.

In a Facebook post yesterday, he thanked Mr Chan for his work at NTUC, promising to build on the strong foundation to strengthen the labour movement.

Mr Chan, meanwhile, wished Mr Ng great success in his new role.

FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

Under Brother (Chan) Chun Sing's leadership, the labour movement of Singapore has bucked the global trend of shrinking union footprint... Building on the strong foundation laid by him and former secretary-generals including Brothers Lim Swee Say and Lim Boon Heng, together with all sisters and brothers, we will continue to strengthen the labour movement, work closely with tripartite partners and create a brighter future for you and your family.

MR NG CHEE MENG, the new NTUC secretary-general, on his vision for the labour movement.

AIMING HIGH

Rather than just 'placing today's unemployed into today's jobs', we need to do better by 'placing today's unemployed into tomorrow's jobs'. Ultimately, the greatest achievement is to 'place tomorrow's unemployed into tomorrow's jobs'.

MR CHAN CHUN SING, outgoing NTUC secretary-general, on the role of the labour movement and its partners.

MORE REPRESENTATION AND RELEVANCE

During your time with us, you had constantly emphasised that tripartism is Singapore's unique competitive advantage and we must never take it for granted... You 'disrupted' the labour movement and turned us into an Unusual Labour Movement - one that is more representative and relevant to our working people.

MS MARY LIEW, NTUC president, on Mr Chan Chun Sing's contributions to NTUC.

Among labour chiefs in recent times, Mr Ng has had the shortest period of time to understudy his predecessor, underscoring the urgency of leadership renewal in the labour movement and the Cabinet.

Mr Chan was appointed Trade and Industry Minister in the Cabinet reshuffle which took effect on May 1.

He first joined NTUC as deputy secretary-general in January 2015, and was promoted to secretary-general in May, taking over from outgoing labour chief Lim Swee Say in four months.

During his three years with the labour movement, Mr Chan had expanded its reach to include more members from groups such as professionals, managers, executives, freelancers and migrant workers.

He also encouraged workers to take up training courses and led efforts to raise additional funds for NTUC's Education and Training Fund in 2016.

In his resignation letter, released by NTUC to the media, he told NTUC president Mary Liew that while he may be officially stepping down as labour chief, the labour movement will always have in him "a friend, a partner and a supporter".

He added that his portfolio at the Ministry of Trade and Industry is an extension of NTUC's work - ensuring that Singapore's workers can continue to benefit from good jobs, and businesses will have the opportunities to become more competitive.

He also acknowledged the fears, concerns and aspirations of workers in an age of increasingly volatile economic headwinds, and unforeseen disruption to businesses and jobs, saying: "Our aim is not just to protect jobs, but more importantly, to protect our working people."

Mr Chan promised that he would work together with the NTUC in his new capacity, to "write the next chapter of our country's economic development, together".

Ms Liew, in a valedictory letter to Mr Chan, credited him with "disrupting" the labour movement, by turning it into one that is more representative and relevant to Singapore's workers.

"Your perseverance and tireless efforts to strengthen the labour movement was evident to all," she said, noting that he had been voted into the central committee at his first union elections in October 2015, less than a year after he joined.

While the NTUC central committee can appoint a new secretary-general at any time, the secretary-general is expected to stand in the next union election to be elected into the committee to keep his position. Union elections are held every four years, with the next one taking place some time next year.

Union leaders vote by secret ballot for the 21 members of the central committee, who then decide among themselves who will be the secretary-general.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story stated that Mr Chan Chun Sing was promoted to secretary-general of NTUC in April 2015, taking over from outgoing labour chief Lim Swee Say in three months. It should be May 2015 when he took over from outgoing labour chief Lim Swee Say in four months. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2018, with the headline 'New labour chief pledges to build on strong foundation'. Print Edition | Subscribe