SINGAPORE - Cabinet minister Chan Chun Sing has joined the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) immediately on a part-time basis, the labour movement announced this evening.
Mr Chan, 45, who is Minister for Social and Family Development, will be appointed NTUC deputy secretary-general on Jan 27. He will join the movement full-time from April 1, in a move seen as signalling the start of leadership renewal.
He is expected to take over the helm of the NTUC from Mr Lim Swee Say before Mr Lim turns 62 in July next year, due to a self-imposed NTUC rule to encourage union leadership renewal.
Mr Chan's move was announced to about 150 union leaders at NTUC Centre on Friday afternoon. It came about a month after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in December that a successor to Mr Lim would be named "within a few months' time".
NTUC's central committee released to the media a letter it wrote to Mr Lee. In it, the 17-member committee asked the PM to consider releasing Mr Chan to serve in the labour movement as early as possible, to strengthen its leadership as well as links between workers, businesses and the government.
In his reply released to the media, Mr Lee said he supported their choice.
"I agree fully that tripartism is a key asset of Singapore. I also agree that we must continue to strengthen the NTUC's leadership and maintain its strong links with the People's Action Party government," Mr Lee wrote.
"I am confident that in the NTUC, Chun Sing will make a positive contribution in all these respects," he added.
At the gathering of union leaders at NTUC Centre, Mr Lim said: "We must make sure the labour leadership continues to be strong, vibrant and effective."
To applause, Mr Chan said: "Thank you for giving me this opportunity."
Mr Lim became NTUC secretary-general in January 2007, taking over from Mr Lim Boon Heng who had served as labour chief for 13 years.
Mr Chan, who is also the Second Minister for Defence, is one of the youngest ministers in the Cabinet.
The former Army Chief entered politics in May 2011 after being elected an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC. After the general election, he was appointed Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, and Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts. He rapidly rose in Cabinet, being appointed Acting Minister for Social and Family Development on November 2012, and taking over as full minister a year later.
Mr Chan is not a completely new face in union circles. He is the chairman of the National Taxi Association, which has more than 13,000 members.
The former President's and SAF Overseas Scholar is married with three children.
But his imminent move to NTUC full-time in three months has also raised the question of who will succeed him at the helm of the Social and Family Development Ministry.
In response to media queries, the Press Secretary to PM Lee said an announcement regarding Cabinet changes will be made after the Budget session.