New NTUC deputies Ng Chee Meng, Koh Poh Koon well suited for role: Unionists

Mr Ng Chee Meng and Dr Koh Poh Koon have been co-opted into the central committee of the NTUC, as part of its leadership renewal. They will carry out union activities and broaden the NTUC's outreach to professionals, managers and executives, includin
Mr Ng Chee Meng and Dr Koh Poh Koon have been co-opted into the central committee of the NTUC, as part of its leadership renewal. They will carry out union activities and broaden the NTUC's outreach to professionals, managers and executives, including the self-employed.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Ng Chee Meng has been addressing worries of transport workers; Koh Poh Koon has worked to implement ITMs

The two newly appointed deputy secretaries-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) may be relatively new to trade unionism and the manpower sector, but unionists say they are well placed to advocate for and work in the interests of workers.

Education Minister (Schools) and Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng, 49, has been addressing transport workers' worries about losing their jobs in the face of disruptive technology.

Meanwhile, Dr Koh Poh Koon, 46, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, has been working with industries, like the wholesale trade sector, to implement the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) that chart their future development.

Both men have been co-opted into the central committee of the NTUC, as part of its leadership renewal.

Together with deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How, the duo will carry out union activities and broaden the NTUC's outreach to professionals, managers and executives, including the self-employed.

Observers expect Mr Ng to eventually take the helm from Mr Chan Chun Sing, who is set to return to the Government following an imminent Cabinet reshuffle.

Meanwhile, unionists say the incoming duo have, in recent months, been actively engaging unions.

National Transport Workers' Union president Rosmani Juraini said Mr Ng joined its tripartite retreat in Bangkok earlier this month and was very receptive to feedback from workers. He has also met Mr Ng on multiple occasions to discuss issues in the transport sector.

"I see Mr Ng as a person who is firm and serious in his decisions, yet receptive to feedback.

 

"At a meeting we had last month, he was humble enough to admit he needs the assistance and guidance of all union leaders, and it touched hearts," Mr Rosmani said.

One pressing issue facing transport workers, particularly bus drivers without tertiary qualifications, is whether they will lose their jobs when, say, autonomous vehicles become a reality.

Mr Ng has assured them at dialogues that there will be new roles for them, like overseeing operations, Mr Rosmani added.

He hopes to see Mr Ng, apart from holding dialogues, adopt a more boots-on-the-ground approach by visiting workplaces.

Dr Koh has been overseeing food safety, the development of local agriculture, and entrepreneurship since he entered politics in 2015.

Last week, he met members of the Chemical Industries Employees' Union for a dialogue on issues like the carbon tax and ITM for the energy and chemicals industry.

"Dr Koh can bridge the gap between government agencies and the labour movement, and help workers in the area of implementing the ITMs," NTUC president Mary Liew told reporters yesterday.

She said union leaders are comfortable working with Mr Ng, who "has a heart for the workers" and is familiar with the transport and education sectors.

Mr K. Karthikeyan, NTUC vice-president and general secretary of the United Workers of Petroleum Industry, said Mr Ng will need time to gain all-round worker support and prepare to be the labour chief.

"He needs some time to learn and get ground-up support through his plans and programmes, but given his enthusiasm, he can learn fast," said Mr Karthikeyan.

On the perception that Mr Ng lacks experience in the manpower sector, labour MP and NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said: "Whoever is the leader, leading NTUC is a team effort. In terms of knowledge and experience, we will work as one team to overcome some of these issues together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2018, with the headline 'New NTUC deputies well suited for role: Unionists'. Print Edition | Subscribe