Ng Chee Meng steps up as labour chief, taking over from Chan Chun Sing

NTUC said its central committee had unanimously elected Ng Chee Meng (left) to succeed former Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing as labour chief. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG, JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - A month after joining the labour movement, Mr Ng Chee Meng was officially made labour chief on Tuesday (May 22), taking over from former National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Chan Chun Sing.

Mr Chan, who was appointed Minister of Trade and Industry in the recent Cabinet reshuffle, officially stepped down from his post in NTUC 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 over at 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.

They were chosen for the job after the NTUC wrote to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to request for suitable office holders to serve the labour movement. PM Lee had requested for Mr Chan to return to the Government.

At his appointment last month, Mr Ng had told The Straits Times that he is "always ready (to step up as secretary-general), when the moment arrives". He relinquished his roles as Education Minister (Schools) and Second Minister for Transport on May 1.

Mr Chan has spent three years with the NTUC, joining first as deputy secretary-general in January 2015. In May the same year, he was promoted to secretary-general, taking over from outgoing labour chief Lim Swee Say.

In his resignation letter to NTUC president Mary Liew, Mr Chan said 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."

Reiterating an aim he had put forward as labour chief, he said: "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'."

He 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.

During his time with the labour movement, he had expanded its reach to include more members from groups such as professionals, managers, executives, freelancers and migrant workers, she said.

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.

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

The NTUC central committee can appoint a new secretary-general at any time.

But at the next union election, the secretary-general is expected to stand and win the necessary votes 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.

At the election, union leaders vote by secret ballot for the 21 members of the central committee. The committee members will 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. It should be May 2015. We are sorry for the error.

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