PAP leaders to get more involved in NTUC

Unionists at the PAP convention on Sunday. Labour representatives said they hope that the greater involvement of PAP leaders in NTUC would help better reflect workers' needs in Parliament.
Unionists at the PAP convention on Sunday. Labour representatives said they hope that the greater involvement of PAP leaders in NTUC would help better reflect workers' needs in Parliament.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Move aims to strengthen partnership as workers deal with job losses amid disruption

People's Action Party (PAP) ministers and backbenchers will be taking on more roles in NTUC's unions and associations.

This latest move to strengthen the 63-year-old partnership between the ruling party and the labour movement comes as workers grapple with job losses arising from economic disruption.

Separately, some younger union leaders have also raised questions on whether the relationship, forged from 1954 when the PAP was founded, is necessary. Labour MP Zainal Sapari told The Straits Times some have queried the need to work closely with the PAP, adding: "Institutional knowledge must be passed on to the next generation."

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said yesterday that ministers and other office-holders will take on advisory roles in its various arms. These include its unit for freelancers and self-employed people, social enterprises and organisations for migrant workers.

All 82 PAP MPs, "where possible", will also be advisers in the 58 unions, two affiliated associations and 62 professional associations and guilds under NTUC, it said.

Currently, there are 71 PAP MPs who are advisers to unions.

It is the first time that NTUC will actively pair professional associations, known as U Associates, with advisers from the PAP. U Associates, which represent professions such as engineering and sales professionals, have seen their memberships swell as more Singaporeans join the white-collar trades.

NTUC did not say how many members it has, but says it serves more than 1.25 million people.

The announcement comes two days after the PAP's annual convention on Sunday, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for the "symbiotic relationship" between the party and the labour movement to be strengthened. NTUC has always stepped in in times of crises such as by tightening belts during recessions, he said, while the PAP, working with unions, strives to develop effective policies to help workers. While older union leaders had understood the relationship well, the same understanding must be nurtured with new generations of union leaders, added PM Lee.

In its statement, NTUC said it will continue to mobilise the broad middle ground to support the Government in policies that serve the long-term interests of workers, while in turn, the PAP must always be on the side of working people.

PM Lee had also said that Singapore's fourth-generation ministers will be working more closely with the NTUC, with each of them taking on a specific partnership with it.

The labour movement and ministers did not elaborate on the nature of the specific partnerships when queried by The Straits Times.

But Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who also chairs the Future Economy Council, told The Straits Times that the council will work closely with unions and forge strong links to companies in the light of changes in the global economy.

"In this phase of restructuring, where change is rapid, the trust and confidence built up over the years in our tripartite relations will be a key asset as we navigate the changes ahead," he said.

Labour representatives said they hope the greater involvement of PAP leaders would help better reflect workers' needs in Parliament.

Mr Alex Chua, president of the Singapore Sales Professional Association - a U Associate - said one issue his members face is that while sales professionals are found in all commercial sectors, they are underrepresented in industry transformation maps. His group has over 400 members and 7,000 associate members.

United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries general secretary Tan Richard said that if younger ministers or civil servants do not understand the role of unions and union leaders, it would be difficult to have continuity of the tripartite relationship that has helped Singapore weather crises so far. "If you don't know how people work, how will you work with them?" he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'PAP leaders to get more involved in NTUC'. Print Edition | Subscribe