Khaw Boon Wan receives NTUC's top May Day honour

Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan receiving the Medal of Honour from National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and NTUC president Mary Liew. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan has received the labour movement's Medal of Honour for his contributions to Singapore's workforce and tripartism.

Mr Khaw, who is Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, was presented with the award at the National Trades Union Congress May Day Awards ceremony on Friday (May 3).

NTUC president Mary Liew said in a speech at the event that Mr Khaw stood with healthcare workers during the Sars crisis in 2003 when he was heading the Sars combat team in the Health Ministry.

"You walked the talk, you held them together, and you fought their battle, and you uplifted their lives as well," she said.

He also promoted productivity so that Singapore workers can be "world class", but also enjoy the gains from productivity improvements.

"Thank you Brother Boon Wan for all that you have contributed," said Ms Liew.

In its citation for the Medal of Honour, the highest award to be given out by the NTUC this year, the labour movement said that under Mr Khaw's leadership, centralised academies such as the Singapore Rail Academy and Singapore Bus Academy have been set up to train public transport workers.

To improve rail reliability, he started the "early closure, late opening" initiative to give rail engineers and technicians more time to safely complete repairs, maintenance and renewal work on MRT lines.

He also visits workers at depots, interchanges and tunnels to understand their daily work and challenges, and celebrate key milestones.

With the advent of private hire car services, the Transport Ministry and Land Transport Authority worked with the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicle Association to help drivers keep up with the changing landscape.

The NTUC also highlighted Mr Khaw's role as chairman of the council of advisers of the Education Services Union since it was formed in 2006. He was vital in identifying the rapid growth in the private education industry and has seen the union's membership grow from 4,500 members in 2006 to 25,000 now, it said.

As People's Action Party chairman from 2011 to 2018, Mr Khaw also "affirmed and nurtured" the longstanding symbiotic relationship between the party and the NTUC, it said.

"(Mr Khaw's) belief in prioritising workers and his continuous efforts in advancing tripartism have left an indelible mark on the lives of our workers."

Past recipients of the Medal of Honour include Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (1999) and Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean (2014) and Tharman Shanmugaratnam (2017).

At Friday's award ceremony, held at the University Cultural Centre in Kent Ridge, the NTUC recognised 117 unionists, workers, company leaders and public servants who have supported its initiatives and sought to improve workers' lives.

For the first time, it commended workers who exemplify what it calls Worker 4.0 - people who improved their employability through skills training, adopted or initiated productivity improvements and are adaptable to changing work environments. Six workers won the inaugural Model Worker award.

One of them was Tan Tock Seng Hospital patient service executive Johnsten Wee, 30, whose team initiated mobile billing at his specialist outpatient clinic. They loaded a computer and printer system onto a trolley and can go from person to person to process payment while they are waiting to see the doctor, so that they no longer have to wait for billing after the consultation.

He also learnt how to do medication supply verification to help patients order medicine while they are at the clinic, to shorten their waiting time at the pharmacy.

"I hope to inspire others to look at personal upgrading as a way of life, whether it's learning new things or taking on new challenges," he said.

The NTUC also celebrated the contributions of the late veteran union leader Cyrille Tan, who died in 2017 at the age of 67. He was conferred the Distinguished Service (Star) Award posthumously.

Mr Tan was a retired NTUC vice-president who also served as the general secretary of the United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries for 22 years.

A video was played showing him during his time with the unions, which included footage of him singing in a musical, before his son Jaimes Tan received the award on his behalf.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said that the late Mr Tan helped workers and management alike overcome three major recessions, "with grit and positivity", and strongly encouraged union members to upgrade their skills.

"Brother Cyrille left an indelible mark on the labour movement and he will influence many generations of union leaders to come," he said.

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