In the lead-up to the May Day Rally, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat spent several months meeting workers and companies to understand their concerns. Among other events, he visited port workers on the first day of Chinese New Year, as well as NTUC FairPrice's Benoi distribution centre.
He also hosted lunch for two groups of union leaders at the Finance Ministry, labour chief Ng Chee Meng revealed in his opening speech at the rally. Said Mr Ng: "The man, we know, has capabilities, but what I want to tell you is that he has a big heart for all of us workers on the ground."
In fact, having the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) arrange these visits to meet workers and hear their views was a condition Mr Heng gave when it was decided that he would deliver the keynote speech at the rally, Mr Ng said.
He shared that he discussed who the keynote speaker would be with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Heng. PM Lee gave the speech at the last 14 rallies, since becoming prime minister in 2004, as well as several in the years when he was deputy prime minister. In the end, Mr Heng was invited to address the labour movement.
He readily agreed, on the condition that he meet workers.
NTUC assistant secretary-general Desmond Choo, who worked closely with Mr Heng for the visits, said the DPM would be so interested in how individual workers are adapting to change, and what their concerns are, that he would far exceed the amount of time scheduled for these meetings. In sessions with unionists, for example, he would ask them how they thought schemes could be fine-tuned based on their experiences, Mr Choo told reporters.
"That is important, because workers want to play a role in shaping the prospects of companies and, more importantly, for Singapore," he said.