Lim Swee Say tops May Day award list

Former manpower minister Lim Swee Say with his Distinguished Comrade of Labour award at the May Day Awards ceremony yesterday. With him are (from left) Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap, NTUC deputy secretary-general Ng Che
Former manpower minister Lim Swee Say with his Distinguished Comrade of Labour award at the May Day Awards ceremony yesterday. With him are (from left) Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap, NTUC deputy secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, NTUC president Mary Liew, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Ex-minister gets labour movement's highest honour for his efforts to improve workers' lives

Former manpower minister Lim Swee Say received the labour movement's highest May Day award this year, in recognition of his contributions to improving the lives of Singapore workers during his time in the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

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

Past recipients of the award include Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2001, the late president Ong Teng Cheong in 1994, and the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1991.

Yesterday also marked a homecoming of sorts for Mr Lim, who stepped down as NTUC secretary-general in 2015 to take the helm at the Manpower Ministry.

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

The announcements were made at the annual May Day Awards ceremony, where 141 organisations and individuals were honoured for their contributions to the labour movement.

Mr Lim's time at the labour movement - first from 1996 to 1999, and later from 2004 to 2015 - coincided with two financial crises.

A year after he first joined NTUC, the Asian financial crisis hit, displacing workers on a scale never before seen in Singapore, Mr Lim said in an interview with LabourBeat, a blog run by NTUC.

Many of the workers who lost their jobs came from the two major industrial unions where Mr Lim was executive secretary, and this experience drove him to push for improved training to help workers stay employable.

By the time the global financial crisis happened in 2009, his leadership and strong relationship with the tripartite partners cushioned the impact on workers, said NTUC in its award citation. He persuaded employers to agree to "cut costs to save jobs" and the Government responded with measures to help businesses.

NTUC also gave Mr Lim credit for making the labour movement stronger through his "selfless leadership".

In his eight years as secretary-general, said NTUC, he advocated for change and pushed for initiatives that later became tripartite and national policies, including skills redevelopment, progressive wages, and individual and collective representation of professionals, among other things.

Union membership also grew from 500,000 to over 850,000 under Mr Lim, after he pushed to include workers of "all collars", "all ages" and "all nationalities" in the 2000s. This helped to address potential divides caused by the ageing workforce, widening income gap and greater dependency on foreign manpower, added NTUC.

In a statement released yesterday, the NTUC Central Committee also expressed its deep appreciation to former NTUC secretary-general Lim Boon Heng "for his astute stewardship and thought leadership" as NTUC trustee and at NTUC ARU's trustee board, after Mr Lim Swee Say took over his roles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 06, 2018, with the headline 'Lim Swee Say tops May Day award list'. Print Edition | Subscribe