Chee Hong Tat partners NTUC unit as part of efforts to deepen PAP-NTUC symbiotic ties

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Chee Hong Tat has taken on an advisory role with U SME, the National Trades Union Congress' unit for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Chee Hong Tat has taken on an advisory role with U SME, the National Trades Union Congress' unit for small and medium-sized enterprises.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

SINGAPORE - Smaller businesses may soon have a bigger voice in policymaking, thanks to a new partnership with a junior government minister.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Chee Hong Tat has taken on an advisory role with the National Trades Union Congress' unit for small and medium-sized enterprises - called U SME.

He said on Monday (Feb 26) at an event unveiling the partnership that he hopes to gather feedback to improve policies that affect SMEs. He was speaking at a Lunar New Year celebration for the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore (Acaps).

Mr Chee is the first fourth-generation political office-holder to be introduced as an adviser to the NTUC's various segments, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at a party convention last November that each of the younger ministers will take on a specific partnership with the labour movement.

Such partnerships will strengthen the "symbiotic relationship" between the People's Action Party and NTUC, Mr Lee added.

Since then, NTUC has invited government leaders to advise various segments of the labour movement, and Mr Chee expressed interest in helping SMEs, said NTUC assistant director-general Yeo Guat Kwang, who is director of the SME unit.

Mr Yeo told reporters before the dinner that through the partnership, Mr Chee will be able to better understand the concerns of SMEs and their workers, as well as lend weight to U SME's efforts to explain government policies to businesses so that they can make the most of the schemes available.

"He will be able to serve as the bridge between government agencies and businesses," he said, adding that the unit works with more than 16,000 SMEs.

"This arrangement will strengthen our symbiotic relationship, (and) more importantly it will help the labour movement to stay relevant and be able to help all the stakeholders to come together - strengthening the tripartite collaboration."

Such a collaboration will help workers adapt to the new economy, he added.

Mr Chee said on Monday that it is important to look at how to make the rules simpler and more pro-business while ensuring they remain nimble enough to accommodate new technologies and business models.

He added that the Pro-Enterprise Panel - a group of business leaders and government officials - is working with U SME on a series of workshops to examine regulatory issues and challenges in the catering industry.

"I cannot promise that every feedback (we receive), we'll be able to accede to, we'll be able to change the rules, but you have my commitment we will look at all your feedback seriously and where we can we will do our best to change our rules to make them more pro-business to help you reduce costs and improve productivity," he told some 480 catering company representatives at Fairmont Singapore.

Some Acaps members are concerned about red tape. It sometimes takes government agencies quite long to reply to enquiries or to process certificates, said Acaps president Daniel Ang, adding: "Members (also) tell us some rules are too inflexible. Every situation is unique and there are sometimes mitigating factors that have to be taken into consideration."

Mr Chee also said in his speech that the three-way partnership between the Government, unions and employers is Singapore's "unique strength".

Stressing the non-confrontational model of labour relations here, he added: "We have a strong labour movement which has the interests of workers at heart, and also a labour movement that wants companies to do well. At the same time, we have employers who see the unions as valued partners and who pay a lot of attention to looking after the welfare and skills development of their workers."

This provides the foundation and trust to enable the country to transform its economy and compete with other cities, he said.

He added: "On our part, the Government will continue to pursue national policies that promote economic growth, that benefits our enterprises and workers, because we believe this ultimately will improve the lives of all Singaporeans."