President Halimah, ministers pay tribute to former labour minister Jek Yeun Thong

Mr Jek Yeun Thong had served in the Cabinet, as minister for labour, then culture, and science and technology.
Mr Jek Yeun Thong had served in the Cabinet, as minister for labour, then culture, and science and technology.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - When former labour minister Jek Yeun Thong attended the International Labour Organisation Conference in Geneva in 1966, he spoke so passionately that many in the audience started to take notice of the fledgling nation of Singapore.

In his seminal speech, recalled President Halimah Yacob, he spoke about the importance of "setting a correct climate of labour relations", she said on Wednesday (June 6) in a condolence letter to his wife, Madam Huang Kek Chee, 84.

Mr Jek, an Old Guard minister and member of the People's Action Party (PAP), had died on Sunday (June 3) at home, said the Prime Minister's Office in a statement on June 6. His family, heeding his wishes, held a private wake and funeral that took place on June 5.

Mr Jek was one of the 10 ministers who signed the Separation Agreement in 1965 that led to Singapore's independence. He had served in the Cabinet, as minister for labour, then culture, and science and technology.

Said President Halimah: "Singapore owes much to Mr Jek and the other founding fathers for their untiring dedication and desire to do what is needed for our nation to thrive."

She also said that as the Labour Minister from 1963 to 1968, Mr Jek had the foresight to build "the foundation in Singapore's foreign policy of seeking friends with all like-minded countries to facilitate our trade and industrial development".

This has remained a cornerstone of the nation's economic development to this day, she added.

Others who paid tribute to Mr Jek included Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who said that as a Cabinet minister, Mr Jek championed an emerging Singaporean identity.

He "took pride in our Asian values and culture" and as a backbencher in Parliament in his later years, was adamant that the fruits of progress be shared with many, often raising the issue of wealth distribution, said Mr Masagos in a Facebook post.

Mr Alex Yam, an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, said he had met Mr Jek on many occasions after he entered politics 2011.

He first came to know of Mr Jek in 2006, when he joined the National Trades Union Congress and learnt about his role in reforming the labour movement.

 

Mr Jek, appointed labour minister in 1963, had been given the task of reforming the trade unions, which had been taken over by the communists.

"With his passing, Mr Ong Pang Boon remains the sole surviving signatory of the Separation Agreement," Mr Yam noted. Mr Ong, Singapore's first home affairs minister, is 89. 

The People's Association (PA), which Mr Jek led as deputy chairman between 1971 and 1977, expressed its condolences on Facebook as well.

It was under his guidance that the PA organised its first Chingay Parade in 1973, the PA said. "The vibrancy of the parade added to the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, and Chingay today has grown to become a national celebration of our multiracial harmony."

"Mr Jek strongly believed that the arts transcended barriers of race, language and culture, and under his tenure, the PA started many community arts programmes which saw active mass participation," it added.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said Mr Jek's contributions "laid a strong foundation for our vibrant arts and culture scene, as well as common spaces where Singaporeans could enjoy shared experiences".