Top labour award for former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say

From left: President of the Singapore National Employers Federation Robert Yap, NTUC deputy secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, NTUC president Mary Liew, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Lim Swee Say, 63, was presented with the Distinguished Comrade of Labour at the annual May Day Awards ceremony. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say received the labour movement's highest award this year for his contributions in improving the lives of Singapore workers.

He has also been appointed as NTUC trustee, chairman of the NTUC Administration and Research Unit's board, and as adviser to a newly set up NTUC Training Council which will focus on career and training opportunities for workers.

The announcements were made on Saturday (May 5) at the annual May Day Awards ceremony held at Mediacorp's MES Theatre.

Mr Lim, 63, was presented with the Distinguished Comrade of Labour by labour chief and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) president Mary Liew.

In the award citation, the NTUC credited him for making a positive impact on the lives of workers, driven by his firm belief that "a job is the best welfare and full employment is the best protection for our workers".

During his 14 years at NTUC - first from 1996 to 1999, and later from 2004 to 2015 - he played a pivotal role in helping workers weather two financial crises, said the NTUC.

In 1997, when the Asian Financial Crisis hit, he led the drive to enhance the employability of workers as the executive secretary of two major industrial unions. He also helped retrenched workers and job seekers secure new jobs so as to minimise unemployment and underemployment.

By the time the Global Financial Crisis happened in 2009, his leadership as secretary-general and strong relationship with the tripartite partners cushioned the impact on workers in Singapore, the NTUC said. He persuaded employers to agree to "cut costs to save jobs" and the Government responded with measures to help businesses.

In his eight years as secretary-general, he also advocated for change and pushed for initiatives that were adopted at the tripartite and national levels, added the citation.

This included skills re-development, progressive wage, individual and collective representation of professionals, outreach to migrant workers and freelancers, as well as back-to-work and flexible work arrangements for women, among others.

Mr Lim's time at the NTUC also saw union membership grow from 500,000 to over 850,000.

This was possible after he re-positioned the labour movement to include workers of "all collars", "all ages" and "all nationalities" in the mid 2000s, in a bid to address divides caused by an ageing workforce, widening income gap and greater dependency on foreign manpower, said NTUC.

Renewing union leadership was also a priority for Mr Lim, who put into place system to recruit, promote and retire unionists in a planned and orderly manner, added NTUC.

"This seamless and selfless transition of leadership at all levels has put us in good stead to secure the future of the labour movement in the broader interests of our workers. Indeed, the labour movement has been made stronger with Swee Say's selfless leadership," it said.

Mr Lim takes over from Mr Lim Boon Heng as NTUC trustee and chairman of the NTUC Administration and Research Unit's board.

The NTUC Central Committee expressed its deep appreciation to Mr Lim Boon Heng "for his astute stewardship and thought leadership as one of the custodians of NTUC's assets and for his valuable inputs to the human resource management of NTUC ARU".

The Distinguished Comrade of Labour award is conferred upon "individuals who have made unique and supreme contributions to the labour movement".

Those who had received the award include Mr Stephen Lee, former President of Singapore National Employers Federation (2015); Mr Lim Boon Heng, former NTUC secretary-general (2007); Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (2001); the late President Ong Teng Cheong (1994) and the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (1991).

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